Scottish football is entitled to feel a collective chill over the prospects of Celtic going through the entire domestic season unbeaten, as assessed by David Amoo. The Englishman was part of the Partick Thistle side ruthlessly dismantled by Brendan Rodgers’ team in Friday’s 4-1 win at Firhill.
That success extended the number of games Celtic have played without loss on the home front under the Irishman to 18, all but one of these victories for the recently crowned League Cup winners.
Amoo does believes there is one club that could stop Celtic from taking a treble without experiencing a reverse across the whole campaign. The problem is, he sees that can only be Rodgers’ men themselves.
“It’s up to them. If they play the best they want to play, they can go through the whole season unbeaten,” the Thistle man said. “They’ve still got some tough games to play but it’s possible that they could go through the whole season unbeaten. They’re on a different level to anyone else in Scotland, no other team is as good as them. If they play with the right intensity and don’t get complacent, they could do it.
“It was tough for us on Friday night. They pretty much bossed it. We played against them three times last year and they’re so much better now. They move the ball quicker and they’re deadly in front of goal. Celtic are comfortably better than any team we’ve played this season. They press so well off the ball and you don’t get any second chances. On the ball they’re so good. They know what every player is going to do. There’s obviously a big difference in them from last season. You can see that Brendan Rodgers has made a huge impact.”
Rodgers’ impact could yet be historic. In the post-war period covering the past seven decades, no side has gone through the domestic season untouched by defeat. On only four occasions, indeed, have there be longer unbeaten runs from the first day of any campaign than that which Celtic are currently on. The 26-game record for such a sequence was set by Jock Stein’s quadruple-snaring European Cup winners in 1966-67.
Four of Celtic’s next five games are at home – Amoo reflecting ruefully that his team face up to Rodgers’ team again, in Glasgow’s east end, a week on Tuesday – so edging towards the Lisbon Lions’ record unbeaten sequence in the modern era is probable, never mind possible.
And the very fact that this dynamic has been added to the mix actually makes the potential for avoiding defeat all the greater. For being poured into every encounter at Celtic is more than the pursuit of a league effectively won, or even a treble. There is an overarching narrative that injects a real significance into even the most mundane league fixture. Not that extra motivation is needed with the mindset that Rodgers has instilled in his players.
“There’s a lot of pressing, high tempo, that’s the way the manager wants to play. Whether it’s Man City or Partick, we play the same with the same tempo which is obviously hard work but very rewarding,” said Stuart Armstrong , who scored twice at Firhill on Friday.
Rodgers’ revitalising abilities have brought Armstrong as rich rewards as any player that the former Liverpool manager inherited on pitching up at Glasgow in June. In the past five weeks he has bagged five goals from open play – with this streak beginning in the 4-0 win over Ross County in late October that witnessed Moussa Dembele’s last goal from open play.
Armstrong’s recent goals, and those that Tom Rogic has been regularly conjuring up, create a clear impression. Aside from their array of frontline attackers, Celtic now seem to possess matchwinners in areas where previously they have been weakened by players – Nir Bitton, at times, a culprit – becoming passengers.
Even Rodgers hinted at that last week. He did so in ruminating on the development of his team from the side that could lose in Gibraltar to part-time team Lincoln Red Imps to one that, with the odd break, could have scored away victories in Champions League group stage matches against Borussia Monchengladbach five weeks ago and Manchester City five nights ago.
“I thought the midfield three were brilliant [at the Etihad]. They were up against three proper players,” he said. “I felt at the beginning of the campaign you had Scott Brown in midfield playing against two/three and now we have three players.
“How we play they all have to be connected, they have to be together, there won’t be any one of them better than all three but all three of them have to learn how to play together: how to be synchronised in terms of their movement, their spaces, their positioning both to press the ball and to attack it. The three midfield players were brilliant, in terms of their energy to press.
“You do well to see Man City play so many long-balls from their goalkeeper and back three. And that’s the tactical idea of the team and then their positioning when they had the ball, how they rolled out of pressure.
“Stu [Armstrong] is getting better all the time, in terms of understanding about consolidating the game in certain areas of the field, how you have to keep the ball at that level and keep it with a purpose. Not be frightened to make simple passes. But I’ve been proud of them all and now we must carry on and keep believing in what we’re doing and keep developing.”
A crumb of comfort for Celtic’s opponents is presented as the fact that they needed to overturn a 2-0 half-time deficit at Motherwell eight days ago to snatch a closing seconds winner for a 4-3 victory. Amoo concedes it would be embarrassing for the rest of Scottish football if this is as close as they get to halting the six-in-a-row champions in waiting.
“It must be easy for them in Scottish football. Other teams have to try and bridge the gap,” he said. “They need to step it up and compete. It’s not Celtic’s fault – they just turn up and do what they have to do. It’s up to the rest of the league to catch up. Or at least find ways to make it harder for them. Motherwell showed there might be a vulnerability there. They’re not invincible. But ultimately, they still found a way to win there.”
That is surely the crux. Celtic will have off-days. Yet, these could end up the same way as the one they appeared to be having at Fir Park.