It’s not the first time I’ve said this. Back in the summer I pointed out that the Lisbon Lions played as many games to get to Lisbon as the current Celtic team played just to get to the group stages.
We’re currently in the busiest period of the season. Traditionally the festive period was always a busy one where games are crammed into time that really should be kept free for families to be together but actually people are glad of the distraction after a while! But in recent years, the whole of December has been crammed with games.
This was a World Cup year as well, so we didn’t get Dedryck Boyata back from Russia until we were well into those European qualifiers – although the less said about what happened next, the better. Belgium finished third, so he was the last to return from a World Cup that also featured Mikael Lustig, Cristian Gamboa and Tom Rogic.
Now we’re hearing that Rogic won’t even get the winter break as Australia have demanded his release for the Asian Cup that takes place in January. Unfortunately for us, that release is demanded after our Boxing Day fixture away to Aberdeen and not after our final game before the break!
By the time the full time whistle blows at Ibrox, Celtic will have played no fewer than 70 games in 2018. That’s a crazy amount of fixtures to fulfill around international tournaments where countries get to take away a significant number of our players. It’s the price of being a successful club, the players are going to go play for their country too.
Something surely has to give soon though? These players are top athletes, but they’re going to keep burning out if something doesn’t let up.
And it’s not just them either. I dread to think how much it would have cost to go to every single Celtic game this season. The ticket prices alone can be eye watering at times, never mind the cost of fuel for cars and buses and trains and flights depending on where Celtic are playing and where the fans are coming from.
It’s not unusual to see attendances drop off at this time of year, given the additional strain on money and time for people trying to organise their Christmas presents and dinners and time to see family members for the one time of the year they actually get to do so.
With so many games, and so many demands on the players, long gone are the days of a tried and tested starting eleven for every game. A good squad is needed if you’re to keep up with the pressure of trying to win cups and league titles. Tiredness and injuries take their toll, and we’ve been seeing that all too frequently lately.
The most recent worry from Wednesday night’s match was the injury to Odsonne Edouard. The minute Moussa Dembele was sold to Lyon at the end of the summer transfer window, we were taking a gamble with only having two recognised strikers available. Leigh Griffiths was in and out of the squad due to injury and when it was announced he had to take a step back from football altogether we were left with just Edouard.
It wasn’t a good position for him to be in, and it was pretty obvious that he was looking very tired in some of our more recent games. He still managed to cause all sorts of mayhem in the Motherwell defence before he was forced off with a thigh injury though, so you can’t say he hasn’t been contributing.
Thankfully it seems that injury isn’t quite as bad as it could have been and he may well be back for the games next week, but it does mean we go into today’s game against Dundee with no fit striker available.
So what options do we have? It won’t be the first time we’ve played without a striker, but more often than not I seem to remember Boyata being the man to come up with the only goal of the game. We’ve tried Scott Sinclair and James Forrest, but it never seems to get the best out of them. Ryan Christie was tried up there too earlier in the season, and although he should thankfully return today it seems like a waste of his abilities to put him up there too. We’ve been getting the best out of him in midfield before he was injured against Salzburg, I’m not sure we would want to change that if it can be avoided.
What about Mikey Johnston? He finally got his first senior goal in midweek, so maybe it’s the beginning of the next stage of his Celtic career. Could he do the job against Dundee today? Perhaps.
Or maybe we can get away without one? We’d miss the movement of a striker and the holes that can create in defences, but then if Dundee play like they did when we visited Dens Park earlier this season – or even like they did against Aberdeen on Tuesday night – then perhaps those holes will be there anyway.
Dundee have certainly improved since Jim McIntyre replaced Neil McCann as Dundee manager, but they still have a lot of work to do if they’re to avoid relegation or the playoff at the end of the season. As with most teams in their position, they won’t be expecting anything today but sometimes that can make all the difference. There’s no pressure, they come to defend and to frustrate and maybe to nick something. If they don’t? Well, its teams like St Mirren and Hamilton they need to be beating, not Celtic.
The pressure is all on us. We went back to the top of the table in midweek, a position that has changed hands after almost every game lately. Of the three games remaining before the break, it’s pretty clear this is the easiest one on paper. We should be winning this comfortably, and going into the two difficult trips next week full of confidence.
But games are played on grass, not paper. And while we probably will win today, nobody watches football for the probability factor. Hopefully today we’re watching for the beautiful football Celtic are playing and not getting some shock result that football so often throws up.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)