The need for a new goalkeeper is pressing
It is little wonder reports have suggested that Celtic have stepped up their pursuit of £6m-rated AEK Athens and Greek international goalkeeper Vasílios Bárkas, with a bid around the £4.5m mark apparently lodged. Scott Bain finds himself in an invidious position as the club’s only senior keeper following Craig Gordon’s departure and the inability to attract Fraser Forster back from Southampton.
Bain performed competently in the three-game French tour – aside from appearing suspect at Paris Saint-Germain’s third goal in their 4-0 thumping of Neil Lennon’s side on Tuesday night. He kicked well and his handling was sound.
The issue, though, has almost become one of perception. The six-footer doesn’t have the presence, or exude the assurance, of the two who departed. The forte of Forster last season - and of Gordon in the preceeding three seasons, it is too readily forgotten - was an ability to pull off crucial, totemistic saves. Since Bain’s purple path in the period following his move from Dundee two-and-a-half-ears ago, he hasn’t been able to offer such command and confidence, with injury playing its part.
Leigh Griffiths can still have a key role if he rises to the challenge
There was a determination to talk up Patryk Klimala’s efforts in France following his goal in the 1-1 draw with Nice last Thursday. The Pole certainly looks strong and willing. The sort of firepower and finesse that Leigh Griffiths can offer has yet to be in evidence, though. Moreover, the Scotland international is capable of being a foil in-and-around-the-box for Odsonne Edouard that Mohamed Elyounoussi - though impressing in the three French games - just is not. Little wonder then that Lennon kiboshed any talk of a loan move for Griffiths in the aftermath of the Paris encounter.
Celtic cannot be expected to provide the motivation for the player to achieve the conditioning he let slip during lockdown. Just as Jock Stein went the extra mile to keep Jimmy Johnstone on the straight and narrow, though, it is surely in the club’s interests to maximise Griffiths’ potential on-field contribution. Not least because Lennon has dropped heavy hints lately that once the English transfer window opens on Monday - it will run to October 5 - the potential for receiving an irresistible bid for Edouard remains eminently possible. If not probable.
Celtic’s flexibility remains impressive
Even in ultimately being schooled by a powerhouse PSG, the Scottish champions still had a spell when their fluency and forward thrust was in good working order. It was a similar story in the 1-1 draw with Nice and the 2-1 defeat by Lyon on Saturday, with some sleek passages. Lennon switched between 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 in the French tests and his players appeared anything but fazed doing so.
Warning signs ahead of one-off Champions League qualifiers
The Covid-19 pandemic will demand Celtic progress through three single-leg ties to simply reach the Champions League play-off round. It could necessitate they make it through three away assignments.
That will require Lennon’s men being switched on, both at the start and restart of any tie - something that wasn’t the case in conceding a goal in 55 seconds to PSG, another in 47 minutes, and going one-behind inside five minutes to Lyon.
European group qualification has been rendered a tightrope by the abridged format and so any such early slips could easily prove fatal.
Celtic retain strength in numbers
The club will be heavy favourites to land an historic 10th title when the Premiership season begins in a week-and-a-half. The squad depth clearly apparent in their French foray is precisely why.
Nir Bitton attracts few headlines but the Israeli was excellent operating at centre-back, either as one of a two and a three. He is equally adept as a deep-lying midfielder.
He is unlikely to be required in that central role, though, when the club have a plethora of options for midfield. Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Tom Rogic, Olivier Ntcham, James Forrest, Ismaila Soro, Mikey Johnston - in the event of shaking off fitness concerns - and Elyounoussi are nine players pushing for, at best, four or five berths.
Rogic’s career has been derailed by injury in the past 18 months and as result, it can be overlooked what a peerless matchwinner he was in the club’s invincible treble-winning season. Celtic may have prospered with him on the fringes as they blitzed teams earlier in the year, but if the Australian is restored to his best, Lennon’s men can grow the gap over Scottish opponents.
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