Few players should be safe from the axe
Brendan Rodgers is the highest paid manager in Celtic’s history. He doesn’t have this distinction because Celtic are terrified of losing the title to Rangers in their rivals’ first season back. He’s earning the money to guide the team into the Champions League and to build a team capable of getting there year-on-year without much fuss. With that in mind, who in the Celtic squad is safe from the exit door? Moussa Dembele because he’s a new signing and a young, highly thought of prospect. Kieran Tierney for similar reasons... and that’s about it. Regardless of what some of the players have done in the Scottish top flight - Leigh Griffiths, Craig Gordon, Tom Rogic - it will matter little to their prospects of being a Celtic player long-term if they cannot raise their game in Europe.
The Brown-Bitton partnership is nearing the end
At least you would think so. The decision to have both players stay on the park for the full 90 minutes was a curious one from Brendan Rodgers. With an opponent sitting back in a 5-4-1 without the football, with two regimented banks of five, Celtic needed their centre midfielders to be incisive and creative. Instead, either Brown or Bitton would routinely take the ball, make five unnecessary touches, look around and then play it to the other. With the manner in which Lincoln were playing, it didn’t require both of them to be there, pretty much doing the same job. And with Brown seemingly losing the strong running ability, both on and off the ball, that once defined him as a player, is there much need for them on the field together against any opponent?
Unless Brown can recapture his 2014/15 strength and fitness, which looks increasingly unlikely, he can no longer be the all-action centre midfielder operating between the sitting player and the No.10. And while they’ve wanted to turn him into a more attacking player to utilise his terrific shooting, Bitton is still a long way from meeting those expectations. It leaves two players capable only of doing the same tempo-setting defensive midfielder job on a team that only needs one.
Leigh Griffiths the right midfielder works better in theory
This idea may come good in time, though Rodgers may need to be patient and live with any growing pains. The knock on Griffiths’ when playing in Europe is that he doesn’t have the attributes to play with his back to goal as the lone striker in any sort of 4-5-1 variation. Last season’s showing against Malmo at home was the exception, not the rule. And yet, he scored 40 goals in all competitions, making it difficult to leave him out of the team.
During his time at Hibs, Griffiths proved before himself to be a capable threat playing deeper. He regularly lined up in a two-man strikeforce for a struggling side and had to drop deep to pick up play and make things happen. That he picks up the ball much closer to goal with Celtic is the main reason he’s lost that reputation as being someone who is a threat striking the ball from distance. Presumably, he still has that skill in his locker, along with the capability of squaring up an opposing defender and beating him with skill and quickness. With all that in mind, stationing him wide on the right, where can cut in on his stronger left foot, makes perfect sense. The only problem is that, barring a few games, Griffiths has been a centre forward his entire career. Not surprisingly, while showing a couple of flashes on the right against Lincoln in the first half, he largely looked uncomfortable in the unfamiliar role.
The age of the underdog rolls on
The Imps were 28/1 before this game. That’s incredible. Yes, it pales in significance to what Leicester were prior to the outset of last season’s English Premier League, or even the odds Portugal were with most bookmakers before Euro 2016. But for an individual match, have you ever heard of a team with such outside odds earning a win? The ridiculous thing is that they had chances, good chances, to win by a greater scoreline. Everyone, even fans of other teams, are caveating their fun with the suggestion that the second leg is a foregone conclusion. In all likelihood it will be, but with all we’ve seen of football from the past 12 months, we should count nothing as a certainty.
Efe Ambrose’s Celtic career has more lives than a cat
We shouldn’t be surprised Ambrose made an error that cost Celtic. We should be astonished that he’s still there to make these mistakes in the first place. Someone on Twitter last night referred to him as Efe “New Leaf” Ambrose. Every time he comes back from a brief wilderness in the reserves, where presumably he’s the best player in every game by far (it’s the only way to explain why he keeps getting another chance), a story appears in the papers saying this is a “new” Ambrose. I could give a similar prophecy to one regarding Bitton and Brown, but people have been predicting the end of Efe for three years and he’s still hanging around. Here’s to him (*raises glass*) committing a howler in Alan Stubbs’ first game as Celtic boss in 2019. Cheers.