Celtic slipped to second in the league with yesterday’s 2-0 defeat at Livingston and, while it’s far too early to panic (we’re three points better off at this stage than we were last year) there is one major area of concern.
Odsonne Edouard is once again carrying the Celtic attack, a demanding role for someone who, while exceptional, is still learning his trade.
Chris Sutton, in his column in the Record on Saturday, highlighted the importance of the French U21 star to Celtic’s ambitions.
He said: “With Leigh Griffiths out of the picture and the jury still out on Vakoun Bayo, you’d fear if the Frenchman got an injury.
“But so long as he stays sound, the rest of the team is looking very strong and very assured.”
That’s the main concern for Celtic right now rather than yesterday’s albeit poor performance, on the pitch and in the dugout. Teams can often drop points off the back of a European game. With Celtic having a poor record in Livingston, an early Sunday kick-off on their abomination of a surface was never going to be easy.
It’s perhaps behind Neil Lennon’s thinking in making only one change from the high-octane match on Thursday when, with the benefit of hindsight, resting two or three to freshen things up might have been a better option.
Some players have gone to the well too many times for Celtic in the past couple of seasons, something Kieran Tierney alluded to at the weekend when referencing his own injury woes.
Lennon said he’s aware of the clamour for Callum McGregor to have a rest. The midfielder is ‘pivotal’ to the way we play, Lennon insists. Yet, while McGregor played excellently on Thursday and in Rennes, there have been more games where he’s failed to hit the heights we’re accustomed to.
If McGregor reach a situation where he’s been overplayed, at least there are options in the middle of the pitch. That’s not the case with Edouard.
We saw last season how we ended up going to Ibrox with no strikers. This year, we have Griffiths and Bayo.
Griffiths has battled back to be part of the squad, but is currently unavailable. A fully fit and firing Griffiths is undoubtedly capable of filling in for Edouard and has a nose for goal like few others in the league. But at the moment, Bayo seems the more likely option.
The Ivorian is something of a bull in a china shop. In some ways, Livingston away would have been the king of game that you’d expect him to start. His contribution when he did come on though was as poor as his teammates around him.
Aware that Dembele and Edouard had to overcome plenty of doubters within the Celtic support, it wouldn’t be fair to write him off.
However, on the evidence of at least a couple of absolutely wild attempts against Hibs and Livingston, coupled with a red card in France (the second yellow being highly contentious), it would be a long road to January if Edouard was to suffer an injury.
As it stands, Celtic have had the tougher fixtures in the league, with five away games and only three at home. The run through to December looks reasonable kind, however, with the main stumbling block being a trip to Pittodrie after an away match against Lazio. That old SPL computer again!
December throws up nine fixtures to negotiate. Celtic will need to be using the squad to greater effect at this time, but a solid run to the end of the year will set us up nicely for what could be an historic season.
Whether we negotiate that safely or not, Celtic will hopefully already be looking for another forward to add to the ranks. Jonathan Afolabi may get a chance to come to the fore, but at this stage it looks like too much may be resting on the shoulders of Edouard.
Fifteen months ago, Celtic had Dembele, Griffiths and Edouard on the books. Dembele wasn’t guaranteed to start every game.
Now, not only has Edouard has made the position his own, the lack of a genuine challenge to him suggests a significant reduction in our attacking threat if he’s unavailable.
Celtic have a good squad at the moment with decent options in most positions, with the exception of the forward line.
The financial muscle we have should make us able to withstand any challenge. January will give us a chance to remedy the failure to strengthen up front, but between then and now a lot will depend on Edouard staying fit.