The notion Celtic are on a downturn doesn’t marry up with the fact that, for the first time in 15 years, they have entered February and theoretically could still be on for a quadruple.
There is no denying they have been unable to produce the pyrotechnics of Brendan Rodgers’ first season – as evidenced by the poverty of their display in losing at Kilmarnock last week – but their unbeaten treble then was the footballing equivalent of Halley’s Comet. Which no-one needs to tell Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor, as the treble hopes of the Premiership leaders and League Cup winners go on the line when Partick Thistle make the trip to the east end for today’s Scottish Cup fifth-round tie.
“It was impossible to do what we did last season again, an unbeaten treble,” said the 25-year-old. “It was a perfect season. If you disregard that and look at this season on its own then it has still been a great season. You are always going to get people in football who are not happy with what you’re doing. That is just part and parcel of it. But in the dressing room as a group we know exactly what we’re doing and we are trying to progress.”
The progress has taken the form of making it out of their Champions League group to set up a Europa League last-32 meeting with Zenit St Petersburg. Roberto Mancini’s side are visitors to Glasgow next week for Thursday’s opening leg but, in terms of tangibles from this season, the Maryhill cup clash has the potential to shape the campaign more.
Celtic are attempting to become the first team to claim back-to-back trebles. Only eight weeks ago, there were pundits venturing this could be snared without defeat.
“I think when you do what we did last season then everybody expects you to do the same,” added McGregor. “It is just human nature. A lot of the time last season we were making it look easy when really it’s not. You look at some of the days we had last season. Everybody was at their peak, everybody was performing at their maximum. We had luck in the games as well. Everything just seemed to come together.
“This season, we have got a trophy, we are eight points clear, we are in the Europa League after Christmas. If you take that as its own season then it’s a great season as well. It’s important for us not to get too down or too disheartened with anybody who’s trying to criticise us. We know exactly what we’re doing and what the goal is. We just have to brush that off and keep going.”
That is true, too, for McGregor, personally, with the Scotland international benched by Rodgers for the past couple of games. “It’s the way he wants to play and when you go into the games you have to be fresh.
“With us having a big squad he’s getting that from loads of different players in loads of different positions. That always keeps the intensity and when you’re out you have to work hard to get back in and get your jersey back.”