Celtic’s domestic form this season has been close to perfect. The one blemish on an otherwise 100 per cent record domestically is a 2-2 draw away to Inverness in September. It’s 26 wins out of 27 so far in the league, along with the capture of the Betfred Cup in November with a 3-0 win over Aberdeen.
It’s safe to say Brendan Rodgers has revitalised the club. Despite the majority of the current team featuring last season, Deila’s side are a shadow of the domestic force that Rodgers has built this year.
As the Glasgow giants aim for their first treble since 2001, they are also aiming for a feat they’ve never achieved, finishing a league campaign unbeaten. Celtic would join company with the likes of AC Milan, Ajax and Arsenal in a group of teams who have accomplished such a goal. So realistically, can Celtic do it?
Strength and depth
Celtic’s squad is by far the strongest in Scotland. While the additions of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair have been massive, in reality they still could have won the title without those two adding a new level of ability to the squad.
Liam Henderson has returned from his loan spell at Hibs and has fitted into the first team without any issues. Stuart Armstrong, a player who looked as though he would be on his way out of Celtic Park in the summer, has been completely rejuvenated by Rodgers and has been one of the players of the season so far.
Rodgers’ arrival has also inspired Scott Brown to improve on last year’s disappointing performances. The captain was another player who looked as though his Celtic career was on its last legs. Instead he’s been transformed - a massive improvement on last season.
Celtic are even in a position where they can afford to loan out Ryan Christie to second place Aberdeen, with first-team opportunities to few and far between for the talented youngster.
The best example, though, is last season’s top goalscorer Leigh Griffiths struggling to get into the starting 11.
When Celtic arrive at opposition stadiums or when the opposition arrive at Celtic Park, the result can be decided within that moment. Opponents change their attitude and, often this season too many teams, those who could perhaps cause Celtic problems have shown them too much respect. Instead of stepping toe to toe with them, they have sat back and allowed Celtic to completely dominate.
That tactic is fine and well until Celtic score and you have to figure out a way how to get back into the game. Teams have found themselves in that position multiple times this season and haven’t been able to offer a new game plan.
Inverness manager Richie Foran recently stated after his side’s 4-0 defeat at home to Celtic that the game was already lost before the players stepped on to the pitch due to the attitude they showed upon the arrival of Celtic. That sort of mentality will hurt the chances of any side taking all three points off the league leaders.
As mentioned earlier, no Celtic team has every finished a full league season undefeated before. It’s a feat that’s only been achieved prior to the First World War in an 18-game season. With this side already breaking the club’s unbeaten run set by the Lisbon Lions, they will be looking to continue rewriting the history books.
Rodgers’ side will also be looking to emulate the achievement that Martin O’Neill’s side set in 2003/04 when they won 25 games consecutively. The current team are on 22 and can take a great stride towards breaking that with victory in this weekend’s Old Firm derby.
A key factor towards Celtic’s success this season has been the coaching abilities of their new manager. He has taken a side that looked uninspiring at times last season and given them a real belief that they are by far the best team in the country.
Rodgers’ managerial ability was questioned following his sacking from Liverpool, but he has certainly showed those who doubted him this season. Where as last season Deila’s team seemed to wilt under pressure, this squad has thrived on the big stage.
And when they’ve had to follow a packed house in front of the lights with a Saturday kick-off against an easier opponent, they’ve shown the required concentration when other Celtic teams in the past may have taken their eye off the ball.
After a summer of hype with Rangers bringing in big names from England such as Niko Kranjcar and Joey Barton, there was a slight expectation that Rangers could challenge Celtic for the title.
Those beliefs were well and truly smashed just over a month into the new season with events unfolding on and off the pitch. Whether Celtic genuinely believed Rangers could challenge them for the title, they have definitely gone out their way to put any doubts to bed.
With a mammoth 33 point gap between the two, Celtic can officially end any hopes – as if there still were any – of Rangers catching them this weekend in the Old Firm derby. Increasing the gap further before the season’s conclusion will be added incentive for the leaders, as if they needed any.