With the first competitive game of the new season now just five days away, it’s time for a look at the squad of players Neil Lennon will have at his disposal.
The transfer window is still open, and there may be another couple of ins and perhaps several outs before business is over. So this isn’t a final assessment, but rather a snapshot as the league season begins.
The official club website lists over 30 first team players, with our three latest signings still to be added. But only two of the squad are goalkeepers. Lukasz Zaluska is the senior man, but is no more than a good back up in my view. Dominic Cervi is untried and really needs to go out on loan to get some first team football.
It may be that Croatian Stipe Pletikosa is signed following his trial/ fitness assessment and he would fit the bill nicely. A vastly experienced international player, he has had fitness worries but if he can get back to anything like his best he would be a fine addition. Last year’s loan ‘keeper Fraser Forster remains another possibility.
But whatever else might happen, a new number one is a necessity.
We look well covered in the full back areas. Player of the year Emilio Izaguirre will return on the left, backed up by Charlie Mulgrew. At right back Cha Du Ri has returned from injury and will face a challenge from both Mark Wilson and new bhoy Adam Matthews for a first team spot.
Centre back has been an area of weakness for a while now, and long time Lennon target Kelvin Wilson has been brought in to strengthen the team. He is short of match fitness but will be expected to bring pace to the back line. Daniel Majstorovic will probably be his partner in the first choice line up.
With cover coming from Glen Loovens, Thomas Rogne and Charlie Mulgrew, as well as returning loanees O’Dea, Hooiveld and Thomson, it is likely that a couple of centre backs will be moved out, possibly on further loan deals. And there is talk of turning newly signed 20 year old Kenyan defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama into a centre half too.
In central midfield, Beram Kayal, Joe Ledley and Ki Sung Yueng are the potential starters. Club captain Scoot Brown seems to be looked on more as a right sided midfielder, and this is where his strongest performances have come, but he can play centrally too.
There are plenty of other options in the wide areas with Kris Commons offering a consistent goalscoring threat. James Forrest, Paddy McCourt and fit again (for how long?) Shaun Maloney are the other possibilities.
The Czech twins Filip and Patrik Twardzik along with Richie Towell have all been added to the first team squad and may see some action from the bench. Naill McGinn is out on loan for the season while the future of Efrain Juarez is unclear.
Up front, Gary Hooper is the main man. He will be expected to improve on a return of 22 goals from a debut season curtailed by injury. Anthony Stokes and Georgios Samaras will fight it out for the other place in the team with Daryl Murphy as back up. Morten Rasmussen is something of a forgotten man and may not be around much longer.
I would like to see a striker of quality added to the squad, and various players have been looked at over the summer, but without a signing to date. The way this Celtic side plays, chances are created and another front man could make all the difference.
So a goalkeeper and a striker remain the priorities, while a trimming of the squad players is also required.
With a manager who will have learned a great deal from his rookie season and a group of players with a good spirit after the trails and tribulations of last year, there is reason for optimism. And without the major overhaul of the squad that took place in the last close season there is some consistency too.
This squad is now very much Neil Lennon’s. With a couple more signings it will provide optimism among fans as another season and another championship campaign kick off.