Whilst this summer’s pre-season games weren’t against the football elite, there was not one of them that could have been characterised as easy. We chose to play difficult matches against difficult teams, teams in different stages of their own cycles. For the games in Asia, these were clubs in the middle of their domestic campaigns … it’s tough playing against that.
Yet Celtic has emerged from the pre-season relatively pain-free. Yes, there was some momentary hysteria over the first game and the six goals we conceded, most of it with what amounted to a backup defensive line, but it was the first one and our steady improvement was noticeable and the team emerged from it all pretty well in the end.
Watching the second half last night, and some of the football we played in Dublin, I was conscious of how good we look under Brendan already, different than we did under Ange, more careful, but in some ways no less potent. Kyogo’s leading of the line against Wolves was immaculate, whilst against Bilbao I thought the star man was big Oh … Maeda, of course, had done his bit for the pre-season with his astonishing opening game hat-trick.
With Carter Vickers back last night, with Starfelt no longer getting treatment, with Maik Nawrocki having made his debut (and impressively), the back line looks good again. Sure, we all want to see Alastair Johnston back in training soon but regardless, there’s a solidity again to our defence which we thought we might be missing come Saturday.
We have options out wide, more than we know what to do with, and Tillio to come in still. We have a central midfield with bags of talent in it; Iwata got caught out a couple of times last night, in his not-native right back position, but he’s had a good pre-season and will offer us something. Kwon had a poor game but it was his first. Holm looked quality. David Turnbull grabbed his chance, and he always does. He just needs an extended run.
Under Rodgers he might well get one. He might not be the only player in the squad who does. Liam Scales anyone? He had an excellent pre-season, and with the manager’s penchant for making people better I think he had enhanced his own chances massively.
I don’t know how you guys feel about it, but I think we’re ready. I think we’re up for it. Even without further transfer business – and more signings are a certainty – I reckon we’re ready. We look strong, we look determined, and the new manager means we’ll mix up the tactics … and he has got the squad now which will let him do it.
We’re hurtling into the weekend … and I think this squad can do it all again, I think it can dominate and win this league. Europe … that’s another story, and that will depend on the boss and his ideas and may come down to who those last bits of business are.
But domestically … as strong as we’ve ever been at the start of a season.