AS we head into the international break, the Bhoys are still nine points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership with just nine games left to play.
Victory over Hibs last Saturday, which made it 15 out of 15 league games at Parkhead this season, moved Ange Postecoglou’s side to within six victories of retaining the title.
Most bookies now have Celtic 1/33 to become champions, which is slightly generous given how consistent the Hoops have been. Of course, it isn’t over until it’s over, but fans have every right to be confident of more silverware. Talk of another treble is also ramping up.
The Scottish Cup semi-final draw has given us another Glasgow derby at Hampden, scheduled for Sunday, April 30.
This is effectively the last throw of the dice for the second biggest club in Scotland – virtually out of the title race, lost the League Cup final to Celtic and no European football.
The rallying cries have started already, with their captain James Tavernier vowing that we’ll see the “real Rangers” in the next set of derbies – the first of which is a league tie at Celtic Park on April 8.
Last month’s final, although a 2-1 victory, demonstrated the gulf in class between the two teams.
In reality, Celtic should have won by a superior margin and were very wasteful in the closing stages. I understand that their skipper isn’t going to come out and concede defeat before a ball is kicked, but we’ve already seen the “real” Rangers – and they’re nothing special.
Meanwhile, as we await for the international lads to make their return, it’s worth analysing who might prove pivotal in the final weeks of the season. As I’ve said in the past, Sead Haksabanovic has impressed every time he has stepped onto the pitch.
The 23-year-old Montenegro winger was snapped up for a bargain fee of just over £1m from Rubin Kazan last summer.
He may not have the pace of a Daizen Maeda or the quick feet of a Jota, but his strength and skill are a nightmare for defenders and he has been unfortunate with injuries preventing him from having a long run of games in the starting XI.
At the weekend he came off the bench to grab his seventh goal of the season and Haksabanovic, who’s in his country’s squad to face Bulgaria and Serbia this week, wants to be known as more than just a super-sub.
He said: “I give my all in training every day. I keep working hard - extra training after the training.
“The boss decides who is going to play. The only thing I want to do is give him a headache, but I’m enjoying myself out there, and when I get game time, I’m trying to do my best out of it.”
The competition is fierce on the wings. After the World Cup, Maeda stepped up his performances, Jota is arguably the best player at the club and Liel Abada is always reliable for a goal.
You can never have too many good players, though, and it’ll be interesting to see if Haksabanovic will maintain his momentum between now and the end of May.
Speculation also continues to mount over the future of Abada, who’s with Israel as they prepare to face Kosovo and Switzerland. Stories emerged on Tuesday morning that Celtic are willing to listen to offers for the 21-year-old after talks over a new deal stalled.
A premature departure for Abada would be a blow. He has been a revelation since arriving in July 2021 from Maccabi Petah Tikva and has netted 26 times for the Hoops.
However, opportunities this season have been less frequent due to the consistency of Maeda and Jota, and rumours are circulating that Premier League vultures are starting to circle.
Stephen McGowan of the Daily Mail has reported that bottom-of-the-league Southampton are readying a £10m bid, which would be a sizeable profit on the roughly £3.5m Celtic paid two years ago.
Abada is an ambitious young man with aspirations of playing in a higher standard of league one day – that’s completely understandable. But would a switch to Southampton be a wise decision?
🇮🇱 | Liel Abada - No Deal— Everything Celtic (@aboutceltic) March 21, 2023
Celtic & Liel Abada have failed to come to an agreement over a new deal & the club are now willing to listen to offers.
Premier League side Southampton are readying a £10M offer for the 21 year old winger.
They’ve just hired Rubén Sellés after sacking Nathan Jones and Ralph Hasenhüttl, and there are no guarantees the Spaniard will still be in the job if he fails to keep them up.
Yes, Abada would be earning more money, but to languish in relegation battles or the second tier of English football for a slog of a season doesn’t seem as appealing as playing in Europe and winning trophies. That may be said with green and white tinted specs on, but if he makes it clear that he wants out, then he’ll be granted his wish.
Postecoglou has spoken about Celtic adopting an “aggressive” transfer policy, meaning the club is constantly on the lookout for upgrades on players and will sell when someone says they want to move on.
While £10m is a solid price for Abada, I would have hoped for around £15m given his potential.
He played in the Champions League this season but appeared over-eager to impress on such a grand stage, and one more year’s experience at that level won’t do him any harm at all.
This is the way it must be now at Celtic. The benchmark of progression can’t be compared with Rangers. The bar needs to be set much higher than that, with the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk, Salzburg, Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, Feyenoord and Lazio.
Celtic is on the right track and with automatic Champions League group stage football guaranteed to the title winners this season, it allows the management to plan ahead for recruitment.
The standard of the Scottish Premiership is largely terrible, but the same can be said of other leagues, and their “big” clubs continue to make strides.
It took a while for Celtic to enter the modern era of the game, let’s just hope they stay there.