Erik Sviatchenko: Celtic staying unbeaten is '˜a nice goal'

Thirteen down, 25 to go. Even with more than half of their Premiership fixtures remaining, Celtic already find themselves surrounded by speculation over whether they can complete the season unbeaten in pursuit of their sixth consecutive league title.
Celtic's Erik Sviatchenko has called on his team-mates to raise their game against Partick Thistle. Picture: SNSCeltic's Erik Sviatchenko has called on his team-mates to raise their game against Partick Thistle. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Erik Sviatchenko has called on his team-mates to raise their game against Partick Thistle. Picture: SNS

The possibility of matching a feat achieved only twice before in Scottish football history – by Celtic themselves in 1897-98 and then Rangers the following season – was gently dismissed by Brendan Rodgers a couple of weeks ago as he recognised the likelihood of his team slipping up at some stage of the campaign.

But with their Champions League adventure now behind them, that is not to say that remaining undefeated in domestic competition is not an ambition for the players who have been so impressively revitalised by the arrival of Rodgers, pictured right.

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The latest test of their dominance against Scottish opponents comes at Firhill tonight where a victory over Partick Thistle would take them 11 points clear at the top of the table with two games in hand over second-placed Rangers.

With the League Cup already in the Parkhead boardroom and a Scottish Cup campaign to begin against Albion Rovers next month, the prospect of Celtic winning the treble and avoiding defeat all the way to the end of May remains very much alive.

According to defender Erik Sviatchenko, it is something he and his team-mates have in mind, with last Saturday’s dramatic 4-3 win at Motherwell, after they trailed 2-0 and then 3-2, encouraging the belief that this is a Celtic side capable of something special.

“It is always nice to have a goal in some way,” said Sviatchenko. “Whether it is achievable or not, it is nice to say it out loud sometimes, that it would be nice if it happened. Should we lose a game, which is obviously quite natural sometimes, then it is just about how we bounce back and how we move on.

“But I think the Motherwell game showed something. People were probably thinking this was the game we were going to lose but we kept working and working. We know that we will create chances, because we know our players are good enough.

“It would be nice if we got through the season unbeaten but it is a long season, there are a lot of games and probably there will be a game when it happens. But as a defender, you always hope to be unbeaten.”

After their win at Fir Park, Celtic were branded champions-elect by their former captain and now Motherwell skipper Stephen McManus who insisted the title race is effectively already over.

It is a view which would find little dissent throughout Scottish football but Sviatchenko is adamant it will not breed any complacency in Celtic’s performance levels.

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“Not at all,” he added. “If there was, then you shouldn’t be playing football. It’s all about improving. The good thing about this squad is that everyone wants to improve and be better, so we can be even more dominant.

“I wouldn’t say the league is over yet. It’s about being relentless and keeping going on. If you want to go from good to great, at some point then you have to do something extra. It’s about everyone doing something to be better than before.

“After playing in the Champions League in the first half of the season, it shouldn’t be difficult for us to switch just to domestic games and keep the same levels. As a footballer, you want to win every game.

“If you play the game against Partick Thistle and play badly, then it says something about a player if they can’t get themselves going for that game. This game can mean three points and being one step closer to something we want to achieve.

“So I don’t think there will be any problems. It’s just nice that people think we are the big ones in this league. We just need to go into our games and do the very best. If we don’t, Motherwell have already showed that teams can be competitive against us.”

Sviatchenko’s form this season has been indicative of the improvement Rodgers has been able to effect among a playing squad which attracted so much criticism last season under Ronny Deila’s management.

The 25-year-old Danish international relishes the input of the former Liverpool manager which complements his own meticulous self-assessment process of editing video highlights from every game he plays.

“I have done it since I was 15,” explained Sviatchenko. “You can see all your clips from each game, go through them minute by minute. Then I take down some notes, on what was good or what should have been better. Then I go through it with the management later. In the sense of how the manager wants to play, that is where I really want to improve.

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“You take a decision based upon something you see in the game but you also have to know how your team-mates will react. It is about all working together. That is why I also look in the clips for how I work with the other guys, because it is all about the collective.

“I feel fitter this season, I think that is because I have been playing so many games. It is nice to be in good shape but I still think I can improve and I know that is the main thing.

“I know the manager wants me to be even better and do things 100 per cent sometimes, rather than 90 per cent. Although I always try to do things 100 per cent, it is about the power and the attitude you show.

“I don’t know if the manager is hard to please but he always demands and that is a good thing.

“Because his players want to improve as well as he wants us to improve. The combination is good but I always take a good positive if people want you to improve because that means they see something in you.”