FATIGUE appears to be viewed as the biggest enemy to his team’s trophy-snaring ambitions by Celtic manager Ronny Deila. Virgil van Dijk was this week forced to admit it was becoming an unwelcome presence as he reflected on the home loss to St Johnstone that has shattered the club’s air of domestic invincibility ahead of today’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at Tannadice.
“We are tired and we should be a little tired, said the 23-year-old Dutchman, one of a clutch of Celtic performers racking up an eighth outing in 26 days as they were picked off by the Perth side on Wednesday.
“We’ve played more than 40 games in the season but, you know, that’s not an excuse. Mentally, everybody is ready and we want to win the treble.”
The fact Deila’s side could turn in such a stodgy display suggested they struggled to raise themselves following the rich picking in the previous six days – the puncturing of Aberdeen coming on the back of their courageous showing as van Dijk was red-carded in the San Siro. Yet the defender denies Tommy Wright’s men caught them on a downer, or that they have now been made aware of previously unrecognised dangers going into their Dundee United trilogy.
“We are professionals, we know we have a lot of games, every one is big, especially in this moment,” he said. “It was easy to prepare ourselves and play well but we didn’t. You see what happens – they scored a beauty. I don’t think he [Danny Swanson] will ever score a goal like that again. No game is easy for us. Everybody knows that.
“The message now is don’t panic. We’ve been playing good football and dominating teams, but we need to do better again.”
Celtic’s last loss at a Scottish away ground was inflicted by United when the teams met on Tayside in December. The two sets of players might be sick of the sight of each other by the end of the month, their League Cup final coming next Sunday before United visit Celtic Park in the league the following Saturday. Van Dijk, like most, has never played the same club in three different competitions and three different venues in three successive matches. Before the first match-up, the novelty of the situation seems to make the run more appealing than awkward.
“It’s special but we need to be up for it. Every game for us is full of pressure. We can handle that. On Wednesday we didn’t play well. There is no particular reason for that.”
The opportunity to make this season only the fourth in nearly 70 years wherein Celtic have claimed all the domestic honours contested is bound to motivate Celtic to improve on their lethargic showing in midweek. Not that doing the treble causes the players to bounce out of bed every morning.
“We don’t talk about it every day. But we know we have the quality in the team to do it. The next couple of weeks are very important. Let’s see where we stand after those. Some people underestimate it but we know what we have to do to get the treble. We need good football and a good team spirit.
“The last couple of weeks have been brilliant but we need to learn from St Johnstone.
“It would will be amazing if we can do it. Celtic is all about winning championships and cups. I hope we can write history. When I came here I didn’t think about the treble particularly. I thought about the fans, European nights and the Old Firm.
“Those were the first things. Now, the treble is very close and we can do it. It’s just difficult to tell how close.
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