Celtic strength and depth key to treble ambitions
The strength of depth available to them is phenomenal by Scottish football standards. Look anywhere on the field and you’ll find a deputy ready to step up who’s capable of starting for most other teams in the league. Dembele and Griffiths are out? It’s ok, there’s Scott Sinclair and Patrick Roberts. Jozo Simunovic is down, why not take Kolo Toure out of storage? Kieran Tierney will miss two months? Just slot Emilio Izaguirre in.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario that’ll cause enough damage to the starting XI where you would no longer fancy them to win the treble. Not the mention the goal of ending the season as the first unbeaten Scottish side in history across all domestic competitions.
They’ve rarely even looked close to losing and have never even trailed a game going into the final 15 minutes. What’s more, they have an unquenchable thirst for blood. As evidenced by the Tynecastle massacre, they keep on going until the very end, not content with sitting on a 3-0 lead with the points most definitely in hand. They want to entertain. They want to wow. And they want to remain unbeaten.
But at what cost? Manager Brendan Rodgers said himself after the game, Champions League qualifiers start in late June. Five members of the first-team - possibly seven if Callum McGregor plays his way into Gordon Strachan’s plans and Leigh Griffiths returns from injury in time - will almost certainly be in the Scotland squad for the 10 June battle with England.
Can Celtic continue to keep playing Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest every game between now and then and expect them to be at peak condition when it’s time to begin the arduous march toward the Champions League group stages?
Then there’s the small matter of the all-Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final, a significant hurdle on the journey towards achieving the treble, not to mention the final itself against either Hibs or Aberdeen.
It’s a balancing act Brendan Rodgers will have to handle pretty well. Celtic fans won’t like the comparison, but you only have to look back to last season and Rangers for the detrimental effect late-season rest can have on a side. The Scottish Cup final was one of the worst displays we saw from Mark Warburton’s men in that campaign, and you have to imagine having three weeks off going into the match was a hindrance rather than a help.
Celtic, though, are a more dominant side in their division than Rangers of 2015/16 season were in theirs, and with the determination to see this through it’ll highly unlikely that they fail to complete the treble at the campaign’s end. But what of the unbeaten season?
The aforementioned seven players aren’t going to be rested for cup games, but there will surely be the odd league game or two where they’ll watch from the stands. How will that impact the flow of the team?
Making one or two changes to a starting XI is fine, even when the league is already wrapped up. From what this team has shown, they’ll take the fight to the very end regardless of whether there is anything to play for or not. But it’s when a manager makes wholesale changes to a starting XI that things can become a little disjointed.
Putting out a deliberately weakened unit also gives a lift to the side they’re facing. Regardless of occasion, opposing players are always up for facing Celtic. It’s a standard they want to reach and they want to prove they belong by performing against them. Seeing it’s Liam Henderson and Nir Bitton they’ll be facing rather than Stuart Armstrong or Scott Brown, with all due respect, would only boost their confidence.
Pragmatism would dictate they should focus on the long-term benefits for the club and its players. But this is a chance at making history. Such an accomplishment is what football is all about. This squad and Brendan Rodgers will be remembered forever if they manage to achieve it. And, let’s be honest, it’s theirs if they want it.