Why Celtic’s centre-back ‘problem’ has been massively overblown

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers and his side have achieved what they set out to do without any extra help in defence. Picture: PA
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers and his side have achieved what they set out to do without any extra help in defence. Picture: PA
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Could failed to sign a fourth experienced centre-back in the summer, but did they truly need one? Craig Fowler asks

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“Like I said earlier it wouldn’t make a single difference if we had the greatest centre half in there tonight. They are too good. END OF! Celtic can’t compete with this standard of football.”

Those were the words of Kris Commons, writing on Twitter during his former side’s mauling at the hands of PSG. The ex-Celtic attacker was going across the grain with his comments. The perceived wisdom, a narrative running throughout Celtic’s season thus far, is that they’re paying for their inability to sign another centre-back in the summer. Commons doesn’t believe so, and he’s completely spot on.

As the Sky Sports pundit says, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference to the result last night. PSG would still have won. Perhaps they may “only” have scored five or six, but they’d still have won comfortably. More than any of their defenders, Scott Brown was at fault for the first two goals; giving away possession for the equaliser, and then failing to track Neymar for the second. The third and fourth were then sloppy goals from set-pieces. Good centre-backs obviously help in a crowded penalty areas, but the biggest problem was a lack of organisation.

There are so many hours in a day for Brendan Rodgers to spend with his Celtic side. He prefers to spend those hours concentrating on attacking football, and at the highest level that leaves them short in other areas. That’s not a criticism of Rodgers, his brand of football enables Celtic to be so thoroughly dominant on the domestic scene. You can’t be perfect at everything.

What about the rest of the Champions League campaign, you may ask. Well, what about it? Celtic went into the group aiming for third place and, guess what, third place is what they’re going to get - barring a spectacular collapse in their final match. In the upcoming Anderlecht match, unless either pick up a late injury, Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic will be the starting centre-back pairing, just like they were in the away win in Belgium. Would Celtic have cut down the embarrassing results had both of them, or an equivalent, been in position throughout the group stage? Perhaps, but the performance of both players in some of the other games - Boyata last night and Bayern Munich at home, Simunovic in the first game against PSG - would suggest that’s not the case.

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That’s the biggest problem with the ‘Celtic are paying for their failure to sign another centre-back’ argument. At the very most, they would have spent £5million or so on such a player. That gets you someone of the quality of Boyata or Simunovic. It’s not the standard required to take on the likes of PSG and Bayern and think you’ve got a realistic shot at winning. Sure, they could strike gold and secure another Virgil van Dijk for a paltry fee in comparison to the player’s talent, but there are no guarantees. Even van Dijk struggled in Europe against the big sides in his debut season, especially Milan in 3-0 home defeat.

They could just as easily sign another Rafael Scheidt, especially if you’re spending money just because everyone else is telling you to. Rodgers and Celtic have to be positive that whomever they’re signing won’t just help them in the short-term, but in the future as well. The club are not in a position to throw tens of thousands of pounds per week at an ageing EPL veteran. Because, even if they went down such a route, the bottom line remains that they’re still nowhere near strong enough to compete with the elite of Europe.

Celtic’s (realistic) aim at the start of this Champions League campaign was to get third place and continue their unbeaten run in Scottish football. So far they’re achieving both. So tell me, what would another centre-back have done to improve that?

That doesn’t mean they should ignore the issue forever. All three of their central defenders have suffered from lengthy injury issues during their time at Parkhead. If they want to be serious about going deep in the Europa League, where they’ll be battling the likes of Sporting, Spartak Moscow and Napoli, another centre-half would very handy and could actually make the difference between success and failure.

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