- By Martin Dowden
- BBC Scotland at Celtic Park
A tough week for Celtic just got tougher. Two games, no goals, an abandoned trophy and now two priceless championship points lost.
And at the worst possible time as they drive through Glasgow to face Rangers at Ibrox next week.
Things have quickly gone downhill over the past seven days amid a series of key defensive injuries following the decision to allow key player Carl Starfelt to leave for Celta Vigo. In hindsight, this may seem misjudged.
Suddenly Celtic appear to be under pressure, with a number of issues to be resolved based on the evidence gathered so far.
Last season’s three-time winners were renowned for their tenacity under Ange Postecoglou. So far, that’s less the case under Rodgers.
“They have to go to Ibrox next week and it will be a very big task for them, especially with their confidence down,” the former Celtic keeper told BBC Sportsound.
“It’s a big job for Rodgers to really tune this group in to what they should be doing on the pitch and how they’re going about it, with the Champions League also approaching. The supporters weren’t happy on Saturday night.”
Full-time reaction reveals underlying frustrations
It’s no surprise to hear a backlash when points are lost at Celtic Park, especially against a side that struggled in their early games, as St Johnstone did.
What will worry some is how noisy it seemed, especially in some sections clearly containing a clearly lukewarm contingent about the manager’s return. They certainly shared their thoughts with him.
As Rodgers conceded, Celtic did not deserve victory, despite having clear chances.
They met a goalkeeper in top form but hardworking and sometimes uncertain in their actions. It all seemed like a struggle. We are a long way from the last two seasons.
It seemed like a strong August was needed to appease those who doubted Rodgers’ return. The Viaplay Cup exit at Kilmarnock followed by this result was detrimental ahead of such a crucial game.
“It’s my job to find solutions,” the multi-hatred manager told BBC Scotland after the 0-0 stalemate.
“We are still at the start of the season but clearly there is still a lot of work to do. We definitely need to improve the squad and hopefully we can do that.”
The solutions lie in the recruitment and the approach
Celtic will clearly be active before the transfer window closes this week.
Rodgers made that clear and his comments were illuminating, without revealing exactly who or what he is looking for.
Admitting that key departures and injuries made the team “weaker”, some wonder how that could possibly be the case. From a triple winning position of strength.
Six new signings, as well as the permanent acquisition of Tomoki Iwata, have been completed.
Three main elements from last season left in Jota, Starfelt and retired Aaron Mooy.
Considering there wasn’t just a treble to defend but another guaranteed chance in the Champions League group stage, there’s a growing sense that the manager is frustrated on that front. He was supported, but supported as he wanted? It’s not clear.
Rodgers says he is looking for “starters”, giving the impression that a number of recent signings are not there yet.
Based on this week’s evidence, the next few days could go a long way in determining what kind of season Celtic enjoy.
Sportsound pundit Michael Stewart is puzzled that Celtic appear to be doing their transfer business ‘upside down’.
“It was telling when Rodgers explained how Celtic had strengthened their squad but needed to strengthen the starting XI,” said Stewart.
“Surely that’s what you do first? And then you can look to strengthen the team. Ideally, you wouldn’t look to do the reverse.”
If it ain’t broke….
Rodgers was always going to impose his own style and his own ideas. It differs from Postecoglou and, in all honesty, the Australian approach is quite unique.
It did, however, bring considerable success and a style of play the fans loved. Celtic last week seemed only a shadow of last season’s winners.
Again, injuries haven’t helped, but there are legitimate questions to be asked as to whether these issues are the natural first embers of implementing change, or the imposition of something for which players are not equipped, or perhaps even willing to accept.
Time will tell once the team is finalized.
Take Kyogo Furuhashi. The Japanese striker’s positioning looks deeper than last season, when he netted 27 league goals, perhaps intended to leave others behind and capitalize on his movement and sharpness.
Stats against St Johnstone show he had three shots and 17 touches in the 90 minutes.
It’s incredibly similar to last season’s average, but its threat seemed lesser, save for a glorious first-half chance.
That said, midfielder Matt O’Riley had three outstanding chances from close range while Kyogo’s movement could be said to have played a role.
“Kyogo was really isolated on Saturday,” former Hibs and Dundee boss Jim Duffy told BBC Scotland. “He’s had very little support and that’s something Rodgers will have to look at, how to chain the game. Celtic haven’t had enough body around Kyogo to give him chances.”
Fluidity and constant threat may come, but Celtic fans will demand much better when they venture to Glasgow next weekend.
Rodgers has been there, done that. He would be very happy to do it again, given this week’s experience.
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