Celtic’s title challenge is now in full flow


ANGE Postecolgou is no longer the bad joke that many in the other half of Glasgow thought he would be, after having delivered an unwelcome punchline in the Glasgow derby. Whether or not his side goes on to lift the league title, his side’s frantic dismantling of Rangers has shown that the jibes made against him at the start of this season—and even well into the hostilities—were well wide of the mark.

Celtic took the honours with a scoreline of 3-0, but in reality it could have easily been more, such was the ease with which they picked apart a bamboozled Rangers defence. Gone was the swagger that Celtic’s failure last year had injected into the likes of James Tavernier and Borna Barasic, replaced by the mad-eyed stares such players were regularly displaying before the pandemic spared them the ordeal of having to the play before spectators.

Celtic Park was raucous and even unruly, and it did not suit the men in blue. Their January form has been so abysmally bad that Celtic are well ahead of schedule in their plan to haul back the former league leaders and get the bit between their teeth. The perfect record of Postecoglou’s men in difficult ties against the better sides in the league combined with the traditional January loss of form at Ibrox has meant that Celtic have already hit the front, with their manager talking threateningly about how he likes his sides to peak for the end of the season.

All about Ange
There is still much to be decided in this contest, but the Australian has proved that he is more than capable of setting a side up for a title challenge—an achievement made even more impressive by the complete overhaul he was forced to perform in the summer. Now with a second transfer window under his belt he has given his side their best chance to make good on his word.

“I always try to coach a team to reach a peak at the end of the year,” he explained. “The reason for that is my history in the beginning is in Australia, where to be a champion you have to win a grand final at the end of the year.
“I’ve maintained that throughout my career because I think that’s when, for the most part, things get decided.”
Such words will be causing no small amount of concern at his rivals, who are already questioning if they have in Giovanni van Bronckhorst, a manager of the necessary stature, but they should also provide a wake-up call to those who simply wrote Postecoglou off.

He has three major achievements in his time so far at Celtic, namely: his success in the transfer market; his connection with supporters; and his ability to create a clear footballing philosophy.

From the concern at the early stages of the season in which he had a limited squad playing a challenging style of football he now has the club’s supporters fully buying in to the overwhelming attacking force his exciting new signings have brought (above).

With a mere 12 league matches remaining he will now be able to scent another piece of silverware to add to the League Cup which he won at the first time of asking.

Test of mettle
This time of the season is traditionally when Celtic start to show their mettle. Gone are the memories of frustratingly dropped points in the early stages, replaced by a hope that a new era is beginning at Celtic. It is in these coming weeks that supporters will find out if this is merely the first step towards that by a manager who has demonstrated his title-winning potential or if this is in fact a juggernaut rumbling toward a Scottish league title.

We will not have to wait for long to find out. Matches are coming thick and fast for Celtic in three competitions, and while the league is the be-all and end-all, both players and manager will have ambitions in all three. The level of success this side can achieve, however, is entirely dependent on Postecoglou’s ability to complete his transformation of Celtic’s fortunes from a threadbare collection of players in August to a well-drilled outfit of winners in May.

“We’re in a good place and the key word is progress,” he explained. “That’s what I’m always looking for. I don’t say it to discount the position we are in, and I think the players and everyone’s been really fantastic in the way we are performing, but I still really think we are still building something.

“We’re not anywhere near the point where we can start thinking about our way forward, we are still putting pieces together in being the football team we want, so for me progress is the number one thing.

“Every week I am looking for some improvements in how we overcome challenges. We’ve seen that over the past seven days, we’ve had the derby, then we’ve had a difficult away game against Motherwell and we had a different challenge at Aberdeen.

“That’s what I’m constantly insisting on—how we’re improving, how we are dealing with the different challenges that are put before us.

“From that point of view it is pleasing because I think, not just from a results perspective, but performance-wise and the trajectory of the team, we are seeing that every week we are adding a little bit, which is vital if we’re going to be the team we want to be.”