It is no secret that Celtic have been in a rich vein of consistent form with regards to results over the past few months, with the Parkhead side finding themselves three points clear at the top of the Premiership table in February.
It is also clear that the players have fully bought into Ange Postecoglou’s methods and that the Australian coach has delivered on bringing an expansive and exciting style of football back to the east end of Glasgow.
However, it would be naïve to suggest that there has not been a dip in form recently, with Sunday’s 0-0 stalemate against Hibernian being the proof of the slump catching up on Ange and the players, along with the comprehensive Europa Conference League defeat at the hands of Bodø/Glimt last week. Previous performances against Aberdeen and Dundee have also been alarming despite both games going in Celtic’s favour.
The performance at Easter Road was especially concerning as Celtic had most of the ball possession against a poor Hibs side yet could not find the breakthrough at a venue where they strolled to a 3-1 victory just four months earlier. Players who have been instrumental to a lot of the success so far this season such as Jota, Tom Rogic & Reo Hatate are noticeably underperforming in the side at this moment, and it is clearly affecting the team’s overall play and results.
The relief that the manager must secretly possess is that Rangers are also faltering when it comes to their performances, although their results are far sketchier than that of Celtic’s. Many assumed Rangers would stroll to a much-needed three points against Motherwell as they were 2-0 up at half-time, yet the Steelmen came back to clinch a point at Ibrox. This in turn changed a negative result at Easter Road into the more favourable out of the two Glasgow sides.
The conundrum for Ange and his squad of players which they must figure out is how do they get back to the scintillating style of football that was present just a few weeks ago? It is clear the footballers that the manager has at his disposal are more than capable of playing the required standard of football that excites both the gaffer and the supporters.
With regards to changes that could potentially be made ahead of tomorrow’s home game against St. Mirren, January signing Matt O’Riley must surely make his way back into the starting line-up after his impressive cameo against Hibs. He is in better form than his Australian teammate Rogic and gives the side more of an athletic edge both in possession and when pressing the opponent.
Focussing still on the midfield, captain Callum McGregor has had a quiet couple of games since shining against Rangers, and perhaps could do with being positioned further up the pitch with Nir Bitton or Yosuke Ideguchi playing the number six role just behind him. McGregor could even take the place of Reo Hatate, as the Japanese playmaker has looked out of sorts over the past couple of weeks. A trio of Ideguchi, McGregor and O’Riley could be very exciting to watch if Ange decides to go with that midfield three.
Personally, Giorgos Giakoumakis should lead the line tomorrow, as his physical and aerial presence was sorely missed against Hibs last Sunday – the manager has his chances of playing at 50-50. Daizen Maeda, despite scoring four goals for his new club, has struggled to convince a lot of Celtic supporters so far and a spell on the bench may do him some good after just coming off the back of a full season in Japan for Yokohama F. Marinos. Jota & Abada have been poor recently but remain the strongest on each side and should get the nod against the Saints.
Arguably the most important factor in the way Celtic play is the speed in which the team knock the ball about and their accuracy in doing so, two components which have fallen short of the required standard over the past two weeks or so. These areas must be improved upon if Celtic are to push on in the run-in.
St. Mirren will look to frustrate the team tomorrow at Celtic Park and the Hoops will have to up their game if they are to get back to winning ways. With little to no margin for error, the Bhoys simply must win against Stephen Robinson’s Buddies – hopefully in convincing fashion – to send a message out to their title rivals.