7 reasons for Celtic's poor start to the season

Celtic currently sit sixth after a poor start to the season.
Celtic currently sit sixth after a poor start to the season.
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Celtic have had a frustrating start to the season and currently sit sixth in the Ladbrokes Premiership. Joel Sked looks at the reasons behind the poor form.

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The ex-factor

Celtic started the season, as they have done in recent years, making their way through the Champions League qualification process. In knocking six past Armenians Alashkert over two legs Brendan Rodgers started with Moussa Dembele and Odsonne Eduoard in attack and with three at the back.

Between them, the Frenchmen netted three times. It suggested that, having spent £9 million on Edouard Rodgers was set to favour a two-pronged attacked on a regular basis for the first time since arriving at Celtic Park.

The Leigh Griffiths and Dembele combo never really got up and running but the Dembele and Edouard partnership offered so much potential. The former is a focal point, while the latter is Thierry Henry-esque in the way he moves to the left flank and attacks from different positions, comfortable dribbling with the ball at his feet.

The duo picked up injuries as Celtic dropped from the Champions League to Europa League. Then came the short-lived Dembele transfer saga which saw Rodgers robbed off a talisman on final day of the transfer window. The injuries followed by the sale of Dembele to Lyon forced Rodgers back to the tactical drawing board.

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The transfer window

Ahead of the second round, first-leg Champions League qualifier against Rosenborg, which Celtic won 3-1, Brendan Rodgers was not confident that his squad would be stronger this season than it was last.

After the closure of the transfer window, Rodgers spoke of a need to review what happened.

He said: “I felt it was a straightforward window for us, and it was two-fold: keep the players we wanted to keep, then add the quality into key areas of the field. Which I didn’t think was many."

Celtic stumbled from one issue to the next. They failed to complete a deal for John McGinn, they struggled to strengthen the problematic centre-back area, there was the Dedryck Boyata affair, which was closely followed by the Dembele situation.

Having two key players want to leave is not ideal. Even less ideal is appearing to not have a structured plan in place in terms of additions, something that has been very unlike the club in recent years.

It led to frustration and anger with fans joining Rodgers in their disgruntlement at what they saw was the club standing still as others in the league looked to improve.

There is still a hangover from transfer window, perhaps epitomised by the fact Mikael Lustig is still first choice right-back.

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The XI?

As mentioned previously, Rodgers seemed to favour a strike pairing of Moussa Dembele and Odsonne Edouard in a 3-5-2 system but injuries and a transfer has prevented that coming to fruition.

The Northern Irishman therefore has reverted to a lone striker. Behind that he has flitted between a back three with a box formation in midfield - two 'holding' midfielders with two No.10s - and a 4-2-3-1.

A mixture of poor form, injuries, European involvement and transfer business has seen Rodgers make a total of 20 changes from XI to XI in the league so far this season. He is still working out the XI which he can trust in the short-term.

But with the changes it is difficult for relationships to build. Ryan Christie, Mikey Johnston and Scott Sinclair were brought in to face Kilmarnock but there was little cohesion to Celtic' attack, the goal they scored owed to Griffiths' ability to sniff out chances in the box.

Out of form

Rodgers has not been aided by some key players being out of form. There is no one who falls into that category more than Scott Sinclair, the Englishman is a shadow of the player who petrified defences in his first season at Celtic.

It was a concern in the second half of last season but it is more serious than that with the player not repaying his big wages. He has become predictable and lethargic. Since February he has finished a match he has started on just nine occasions. In that time Celtic have played 33 times.

Tom Rogic is another who has not reached the heights this season with a number of games passing him by, his matchwinning contributions conspicuous by their absence.

After a wonderful start in Europe Edouard has struggled, while a number of other players have let their consistent high standards drop.

Reliance on Scott Brown

The rejuvenation of Scott Brown under Brendan Rodgers has been stark. He was the perfect player for the manager to have on his side. Experienced, he knew what it took to win at Celtic, had the respect of the dressing room and set standards in training and on the pitch.

It could have been expected that with Brown having turned 33 this year that Rodgers would look to manage his minutes with a younger midfielder acting as back-up with an eye to becoming a successor in the heart of the Celtic midfield.

Yet, here we are, 16 games into Celtic's season. Brown has played every minute and been Celtic's best player. In the insipid draw with St Mirren it was Brown who was trying to probe and stimulate the team. Against Killie he seemed to be doing a number of jobs across the pitch.

It's a catch-22 situation. Celtic are a different team without Brown and with the team's struggles he is needed.

It goes back to Celtic's lack of succession planning with regards to recruitment.

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In Brendan Rodgers first season Celtic hit a mammoth 106 goals in 38 league games. An average of 2.79 a game. That fell to 1.92 last season and has fallen further still to 1 goal a game this season, albeit a much smaller sample size.

Yet, according to stats provided by Wyscout, the professional football platform used by clubs, this season Celtic's expected goal in the league is more than 10 - the highest in the Premiership.

They have had a higher percentage of possession so far this season compared to the previous two years and are still getting the ball into the final third and box more than any other side.

However, teams are becoming more resolute in their defensive shape against Rodgers' men. It is therefore easy to see why he was keen to pair Dembele and Edouard together.

The Jack Hendry conundrum

Let's get this straight. Jack Hendry is not to blame for Celtic's ills. He is a symptom of Celtic's issues rather than the cause. However, his regular involvement has not aided Celtic's progress.

He struggled badly in the Champions League defeat to AEK Athens, while domestically he was found wanting in the loss to Hearts and suffered a bizarre glitch in the Betfred Cup win over Partick Thistle.

His presence unfortunately spreads an uneasiness among some fans. He is at the stage John Souttar and John Stones have been at, where he is a better football player than he is defender. He requires an experienced head alongside him to guide him forward, to drum into him the basics.

Celtic, however, don't possess one.

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