CELTIC manager Ronny Deila believes Aberdeen pose a serious title challenge to his team this season and insists he will be content to win the Scottish Premiership by a single point in May.
Despite closing to within two points of the champions at the top of the table at the weekend, Aberdeen have been seeking to play down their status as a potential threat to Celtic’s bid to retain the crown.
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But as the campaign approaches its halfway point with tomorrow’s New Year’s Day fixtures, when Celtic could kick off their evening fixture at Partick Thistle in second place if the Dons beat St Johnstone earlier in the day, Deila insists he regards the Pittodrie club as a credible rival.
Since Rangers were ejected from the top flight of Scottish football in 2012, Celtic have romped to their last two title triumphs by yawning margins of 16 and 29 points. Deila, however, is unconcerned by how emphatically the league is won as he pursues his repeatedly-stated ambition of a domestic treble in the first season of his tenure.
“I would be happy to win the league by a point if we win the treble,” said Deila. “I don’t care if it is by one point or ten points, so long as we win the treble.
“No one asks how many points you win it by. It’s all about trophies. That’s always been the case. You never remember who was runners-up or how many points you win by.
“Aberdeen are getting better and are on a good run. We will see in the end how many points they get and we can get.
“I think Aberdeen and Dundee United have the mental strength for a title challenge. Especially Aberdeen. They have consistency and they won a trophy last season. They are a big club and of course they have a chance. But we have to do everything we can to make sure they can’t cope with it. We can’t do anything about Aberdeen or Dundee United. We just have to win games and go on a run of good games.”
Celtic have dropped five points from their last two matches, losing to United at Tannadice and then drawing 0-0 at home to Ross County. Deila admits his team can ill afford another slip-up at Firhill.
“It’s only really a must-win game when it’s in the cup, but we really want to win this game,” he said. “Three points is the only thing I’m thinking of on Thursday.
“If you look at our last ten league games, most of them have been good. But the last two haven’t been good and we have to get back on track again and get the victory against Partick Thistle. If we keep doing that, it is going to be tough for the other teams to follow us.
“I had hoped to have more points in the league by now. We dropped some stupid points at the start of the season but over the last month-and-a-half there was good consistency before the last two games. If we win on Thursday, we will be over 40 points and I think that is half of the total we will need to win the title.
“Of course it is unthinkable for Celtic not to win the league. I say it all the time, winning the league is the most important thing here and that’s what we are aiming to do.
“I am totally aware of the demands for the title, from everyone here at the club. The mentality is to win and we are leading. We are ahead now. If we win it by 20 points, that’s good, but the most important thing is just to win it.
“A title challenge from someone else could be a positive thing for the league, but we want to win as many things as possible and as soon as possible.”
Deila, meanwhile, has repeated his assertion that Virgil van Dijk will not be sold by Celtic during the January transfer window which opens tomorrow. The Dutch defender has been consistently linked with English Premier League clubs, including Arsenal, Spurs and Southampton.
“I believe Virgil is going to stay here for the rest of the season and maybe longer,” said Deila. “We are going to keep him for this window. I am 100 per cent sure he will be alright with that. He is more settled now, training and playing well. He is happy on and off the pitch. He is looking more to the summer now than January.
“Nobody is going to leave this club that we want to stay.
“We don’t need to sell and we don’t want to sell. My main priority in January is to keep our best players.”
Deila refused to comment on speculation linking Celtic with a move for Dundee United striker Nadir Ciftci.
“We will talk about players on 1 February,” he replied. “We also want to get other players in so we are a better squad than we are now.”
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