At the end of the 2020/21 season, Celtic’s bid to become the first side ever to win ten consecutive Scottish titles lay in tatters. They finished 25 points behind rivals Rangers, losing the final Old Firm game 4-1 under the interim management of John Kennedy after Neil Lennon’s departure left the team even more rudderless than they had been before it. When Eddie Howe pulled out of contention for the manager’s job after a long spell of discussion, tragedy seemed to be turning to farce, especially – in the eyes of many – when the club turned to Ange Postecoglou, a name little known on these shores, to replace him.
One season on, Celtic have won their tenth title in eleven seasons. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to consider Rangers fully vanquished, as a side now managed by Giovanni van Bronckhorst after Steven Gerrard’s departure won the Scottish Cup to end the season. Adding this to their run to a Europa League final, and things look interesting for 2022/23. But Celtic will likely start the new season as favourites at sources like these credit card casinos, and it’s worth looking at how this transformation took place.
A tactical revolution with early form its only martyr
Exiting the Champions League at the first hurdle and losing three of the first six games, the early derision over “Angeball” seemed justified. Australian football fans were the lone voices cautioning that Postecoglou could be effective given time. They meant a season, but by December Celtic had lifted the Premier Sports Cup and were busily eating into the lead those early setbacks had handed Rangers.
How was it achieved? Innovation. Postecoglou’s 4-3-3 was anything but basic – the full-backs reinforced midfield as playmakers drove forward from 6 and 8, while a front three swapped positions with pace and – as their belief in the system grew – visibly improving technique.
Postecoglou blends old and new; emphasis on latter
Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths, Patryk Klymala, Albian Ajeti. Those were the strikers that formed the basis of Celtic’s attack under Lennon. Of those, only Ajeti is still on the books, and his role in the campaign could best be described as “fleeting”. If the feeling was that Postecoglou had been hired as a safe option for the board, he quickly set about dismantling both that impression and Lennon’s squad.
Only the midfield from Lennon’s campaign survived the first transfer window under a new boss. In goals, central defence and across the entire front line, the names were new. Kyogo Furuhashi was the revelation of the season’s opening half. Injury kept him out of all but the final skirmishes post-Christmas and he still scored twenty goals – then the more pugnacious Giorgios Giakoumakis took over and the goals kept coming. Liel Abada and Jota provided running, assists and goals from the wide areas, while the winter additions of Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Matt O’Riley meant that the energetic playing style could be supported for 90 minutes more often.
Further back, Joe Hart returned from the dead (or Nuno Santo’s Spurs, which was much the same thing) to have a superb season in goal, while loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers gelled excellently with new arrival Carl Starfelt to form the division’s meanest back line. Croatian international Josip Juranovic played both full-back slots at times and brought consistency in defence and attack.
Ah, yes. At the beginning of the season, you’d have got long odds on Greg Taylor and Anthony Ralston even still being at Celtic Park in May, let alone regular starters. Reimagined as inverted wing-backs in Postecoglou’s transformed side, both were exemplary for long stretches. In midfield, Tom Rogic put in a virtuoso final season, scoring in a pivotal 2-1 win at Ibrox. Callum McGregor, masked for most of the second part after a broken nose, has replaced Scott Brown more than amply both as captain and heartbeat of the side at the base of midfield.
It remains to be seen how much both Glasgow bosses will – or can – augment their existing squads in the summer, and that could be pivotal. First order of business for Postecoglou should be doing all he can to make permanent Carter-Vickers and Jota’s loan moves. He’ll also need to add bulk in central defence, where only Stephen Welsh could step in as cover. Manchester City’s Ko Itakura, familiar to the Australian from his time in the J-League, has been mooted and would be a smart addition. On top of that, who knows? There’s space in midfield too, given the departures of Rogic and Nir Bitton, but there’s a long summer ahead and undoubtedly some twists and turns to come.