Well, the less said about that the better. One day I dream we’ll get a group where we’re not facing two of the favourites to win the competition! That’s not even a joke, in betting terms we had two of the top five last season and two of the top five this season. The only one of the top five we haven’t played is the holders Real Madrid!
Maybe that’s next season.
We came back from that tough test at 4am on Thursday and by lunch time on Saturday we were back in action to try and retain the League Cup by booking our place in next month’s final. It wasn’t one of our better performances, but we still managed to score four goals and book our return to the final despite another blatant honest mistake from the officials. At least they apologised for this one.
Now we turn our attentions back to the league, and probably our toughest fixture of the season – a visit to Pittodrie.
It’s a tough place to go at the best of times. Even last season when we went undefeated our two games up there were tight victories. This time last year it was a 1-0 win courtesy of the boot of Tom Rogic, whereas the post-split victory in May saw us run off to a 3-0 lead in the opening eleven minutes before Jonny Hayes pulled one back almost immediately. The rest of the game had us hanging on to the lead we had, something we did all the way to the full time whistle.
That came before our last meeting with Aberdeen on the the Scottish Cup final where they gave as good as they got, if not better, for a large part of the game. Hayes gave them the lead, but with Stuart Armstrong equalising soon thereafter things were tight until Aberdeen tired. Then, of course, up popped Rogic again to get the late invincible treble clinching winner.
The season before, under Ronny Deila, there were two defeats up there in a campaign where we only lost four games in total. The others being a home defeat to Motherwell and our last domestic defeat, of course, away to St Johnstone some sixty games ago now.
Even Deila’s first season saw us earn narrow wins up there, 2-1 and 1-0, while Neil Lennon’s final season in charge saw us lose just once in the league. .. Yep, you guessed it, at Pittodrie with that man Jonny Hayes on the scoresheet again.
Well, at least if Hayes scores this time around we should be able to celebrate, though it seems unlikely he’ll feature in this top of the table clash. His move to Celtic from Aberdeen in the summer has yet to see him reach the form that earned him that move, and this doesn’t seem like the kind of match that Brendan Rodgers will mix up the team again.
After all, if you think it’s been difficult away to Aberdeen in recent seasons, it might be even more difficult this season. For this Aberdeen have yet to lose a league match, and are currently level on points with us after nine games.
I’ve said for years now that the way to compete at the top in Scotland is to have consistency against the rest of the league and then it will come down to the possibility of being able to beat the champions on any given day. So many teams struggle with the former that even when they do win that odd game it doesn’t affect the destination of the title.
So far then, Aberdeen are keeping pace. Having dropped points away to Hearts at Murrayfield and then at home to Kilmarnock, they haven’t conceded a goal in their three games since the Jordan Jones equaliser. They beat St Johnstone 3-0 at home, and most recently beat Hibernian at Easter Road – the two teams we’ve dropped points to at home.
It’s not all been plain sailing for Aberdeen though. A 3-0 defeat away to League Cup finalists Motherwell saw one of their chances of silverware evaporate, and even beating that same Motherwell team 1-0 away in the league just days later couldn’t reverse that disappointment.
The last time Aberdeen faced a Glasgow team, Partick Thistle scored three goals at Firhill – the most Thistle have scored in any game this season. Mind you, Aberdeen scored four that day themselves so that got them the three points anyway.
Their other disappointment would be the early exit from Europa League qualifying. Having seen off Siroki Brijeg in the second qualifying round, they took a 2-1 lead away to Apollon Limassol in the third qualifying round but sadly lost 2-0. To be fair, Apollon Limassol did advance to the group stages, and are currently sitting third in their group ahead of Everton.
The key to Aberdeen this season has been their shrewd signings. They may have come to the end of their cycle, to paraphrase another team’s manager, but they’ve adapted well. As well as losing Hayes to us, other names like Niall McGinn, Peter Pawlett, Ryan Jack, Neil Alexander and Miles Storey have all moved on as well.
Fortunately for Kieran Tierney, so has Jayden “Elbows” Stockley, although unfortunately for us, so has Ash “good for a goal for us” Taylor.
But what they’ve brought in to replace those names has arguably improved them further. Greg Tansey finally came in from Inverness, Kari Arnason returned to the club, while Gary Mackay-Steven left us to go to them on a permanent deal. Ryan Christie also went on loan for another season, although clearly he won’t be able to feature tonight. Greg Stewart, formerly of Dundee, is also in on loan from Birmingham City.
But it’s the acquisition of Stevie May that really caught my eye. Back when Celtic were trying to sign Leigh Griffiths, I had suggested that May was possibly a better option given he was slightly younger and came with less baggage. Now, of course, since then Griffiths has gone on to prove his worth and doesn’t get into off the field issues any more. Meanwhile, May’s career went nowhere following quiet spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End.
So, as per usual, what do I know?
Well, since signing for Aberdeen he’s started to find his form that made him such a valuable striker for St Johnstone. On his debut he helped create the goals that beat Ross County, and he’s since found the net a few times himself. His form has been such that he’s keeping Adam Rooney out of the team, although Derek McInnes seems to be trying to fit all of his striking options in somehow.
And perhaps that’s where the uncertainty tonight lies. Aberdeen don’t really seem to have found their settled team yet. Mind you, neither have we as we’ve tried to balance a crowded fixture list. No such problems for Aberdeen of course, who haven’t played since that Hibernian game a week and a half ago. We’ve had two tough games since then, and can expect a third against a refreshed Aberdeen.
Throw in the ongoing uncertainty about our own defensive lineup and who knows what could happen. I don’t particularly fancy going up against Aberdeen’s attacking options with a makeshift defence, but we don’t really have much option. Jozo Simunovic is out, Erik Sviatchenko isn’t back to full fitness yet, and so we’re left with either playing Mikael Lustig or Nir Bitton along side Dedryck Boyata – and those options have conceded five goals between then in the last two games.
If our unbeaten domestic run is to come to an end, most people would point to this game as the most obvious place for that to happen. We’re playing a team who haven’t lost a league match, at a venue where we’ve either won narrowly or lost narrowly on our most recent visits there, against a team who have played two games less than we have in the last week, one who have improved since arguably dominating for long periods in their last two games against us.
Aberdeen must be confident going into this game tonight.
But these are the games where Brendan Rodgers has shown his true worth. Every time a big game has come around domestically, and quite often in Europe as well, Rodgers has got his team to pull out the right result. A draw wouldn’t be a bad result here tonight, but I doubt that’s enough for this Celtic team. They’ll want to get the win to go clear at the top, and we’ll set up to try and get that.
It certainly won’t be easy, but when there’s a proper challenge it makes victories taste all the sweeter.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)