I enjoy listening to Ronny Deila pre- and post-match. He is a modern tactician with a methodical approach to all aspects of the game, which is evident whenever he faces the media. Even after each one of their shocking Champions League efforts he cut a reasoned figure in a difficult situation. After his side laboured to a 1-1 draw against a newly-promoted Dundee, however, even he was struggling to find any acceptable excuses.
When referring to his central defence, Deila stated that ”...you can’t expect too much from young players”. This excuse would maybe carry some substance had Celtic actually started the match with Eoghan O’Connell and Jason Denayer. In reality, O’Connell took to the field at half-time for Adam Matthews (with the amount of time the Welsh full-back spend on the treatment table a separate defensive concern) and, moreover, Denayer is currently valued at around £10m and tipped to be the future of a highly-rated Belgian national side. Besides, the young centre-back pairing actually managed a clean sheet over their forty-five minutes on the pitch together, aiding their side in winning the half and tying the match.
The truth appears to be something closer to the following: shortly after arriving at the club, Deila identified that defence was one of the club’s strongest areas - choosing only to supplement it with the loan signing on Jason Denayer - before identifying the attacking areas as the priority to strengthen. Now though, he has realised that his prized asset in this area, Virgil van Djik, no longer wants to be at the club; that Efe Ambrose, cuts more and more of a nervous figure with each passing appearance; and that Emilio Izaguirre ran up the wing sometime in the past year and has never returned.
Joking aside, on the rare occasions when the Honduran left-back does return to fulfil his defensive duties, his concentration and positioning cannot be relied upon. Deila identified this after the match: “We were too open, especially on the left-side”, which gave Dundee pair Phil Roberts and Martin Boyle plenty of freedom on that side at different points in the match and came very close to securing all three points for the Dees.
This was even apparent in the opening seconds of the match: Straight from kick-off, Dundee launched the ball into Celtic’s left-back area where Izaguirre was caught napping. Denayer managed to cover this time but conceded a corner from which James McPake gave his side the lead. After only seconds played, Celtic were 1-0 down due to a blunder from the once highly-rated full-back.
Celtic have now gone two games without a win in the Premiership, which extends to four games in all competitions, and there is a growing discontent among their supporters regarding Deila’s ability. The Norwegian was expected to come in and quickly assemble a side - spending very little money in the process - to qualify for the Champions League. At the moment he is struggling to get the champions anywhere near the top of their domestic league.
The pretenders to Celtic’s throne are currently Inverness, though their boss is adamant his club are fighting a relegation battle. “I very much doubt it”, Hughes claimed when questioned about sustaining their current run, which sees them unbeaten after five matches and yet to concede a goal. A run which also includes a home win over relegation-rivals Celtic. “We’re going to try as hard as we can...whatever it takes to stay in the league .”
John Hughes’s vocabulary is often cliché-driven and this is yet another. This is a type of deflection used frequently by managers of overachieving clubs, attempting to play down expectations. Maybe newly-promoted Hamilton – who have only one less points than the Highlanders as it stands – can be forgiven for retaining modest aims despite their start, but are we to believe that the height of this current Inverness side’s ambition is to avoid relegation in the weakest Scottish top-flight in living memory?
Inverness have recorded top-six finishes in the previous two seasons and may have finished higher than 5th last season had they not lost momentum from their manager abandoning them mid-season. Furthermore, Inverness have one of the most settled and balanced squads in the division and possess enough quality all over the field to cause problems in any given match this season.
It sounds to me that this is an obvious attempt at reverse-psychology by Hughes in order to take the pressure off his players, thus pre-empting the media hype. The trouble is that he has over-compensated and instead just sounds like he’s talking nonsense.