Five wins on the bounce, a Scottish League Cup Semi-Final place secured, and sitting atop of our Europa League group at the half way stage, can we now say Ronny Deila’s Celtic have turned the corner from the doom and gloom of our poor early season form?
Football is, of course, a results business, but it is the overall performance of a team that gives the best indication of how they are progressing. Games earlier on in the season, including victories away at St Johnstone (until they went down to ten men), St Mirren, and at home to Aberdeen, became a chore to watch. We weren’t playing well. There seemed to be no structure to our game, and, whether reports of off the field unrest, over issues such as diet, were true or not, their seemed a lack of chemistry amongst the players and coaching staff.
With one defeat in our last twelve games the results have certainly picked up of late, but since the last international break we have really began to appear united as a team. The return from injury of Mikael Lustig and Scott Brown have had a massive impact on our recent form. The influence of both men on how we play is enormous. Brown brings a physical presence and energy in the middle of the park that is non-existent in his absence. With Lustig adding stability on the right hand side of defence as well as consistently offering an attacking option down the right flank. It is not only the quality of Lustig’s crossing that is so promising to see return, but with both him and Emilio Izaguirre overlapping the wingers in front of them, the opposition defence becomes stretched. They open up space in the middle of the park as the opposing fullbacks split to track their runs, creating two or three extra yards around the penalty box which allow our creative players to express themselves. It is no surprise that the return of Lustig has coincided with the sharp rise in form of Stefan Johansen.
We also have a lot to thank our new super Swede for. Guidetti has been a revelation since getting clearance to join us. I was excited when he signed and he hasn’t disappointed in the slightest. The passion he has to win alongside his natural talent guarantee’s success. If we can keep him on a permanent basis it will be a massive signing for us going forward as a club.
The most important factor in our change of fortunes is that Ronny Deila now seems to have decided on his best team, or at least know who his most important players are. Gordon, Lustig, Denayer, van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Johansen and Guidetti are the core of our side, when fit they must all start. It takes time for a new manager in a new country to identify his strongest team but since Lustig’s return from injury against Ross County we have at last seen a settled side, with those eight players starting nearly every game. Ronny now knows his squad and the qualities each of his players have. Likewise they now know him, what he expects of them on the pitch and as athletes in their day to day lives. The 2-0 win over Kilmarnock was our first victory after a European match since the first game of the season back on the 13th August. This to me is the biggest indication that we are now on the right tracks. Ronny has realised who his key men are, who he can rotate, and who he can rest on occasion. We are by no means the finished article. We still waste too many chances, we still struggle to break teams down on occasions, and, like against Inverness yesterday, if we haven’t put the game to bed by the 80th minute, we still become very nervy in defence. However, the high pressing and the quicker tempo is definitely coming along, the players are getting fitter and are beginning to link up in patterns across the pitch in the style of play that everyone wants to see. We’re still a little while away from the free flowing philosophy that Ronny expressed his desire to play when he first arrived, but we have turned the corner and are now progressing along the right path. At long last this season, the real Celtic appear to have now stood up.