Celtic: what's in store for raft of attacking midfielders next season?
Brendan Rodgers is faced with a plethora of options in the attacking midfield positions, Joel Sked looks what's in store for each.
Celtic fans taking an interest in the club’s pre-season training camp in Austria would have been piqued by the rare sight of Scott Allan and Ryan Christie in Celtic training gear.
In the 1-0 friendly win over Austrian side SK Vorwarts Steyr, Christie started while Jonny Hayes returned from his season ending injury to play.
On top of Lewis Morgan, who has returned from his loan spell at St Mirren after signing for the club in January, and last season’s key attacking midfielders it has left Brendan Rodgers with plethora of options, even after the departures of Stuart Armstrong and Patrick Roberts
As last season progressed the McGregor’s importance increased further. His intelligence playing a hybrid left-sided and centre role was a joy to watch, especially as this was a Scottish talent.
In the four seasons at Parkhead since returning from a loan spell with Notts County his time on the pitch has increased in each campaign.
His 12 goals and numerous assists seem like just the start. With Armstrong having left ,McGregor may see a more influential role in the centre as his future. It’s hard to picture Celtic becoming his team, but it is easy to picture him becoming player of the year next season.
Celtic fans could have been forgiven for worrying that last season would be Tom Rogic’s last in the green and white hoops. Then, to much delight, he penned a new long-term contract.
It suggests that the Australian will be a key member of the Celtic spine going forward under Rodgers.
The hope for Celtic is that the player stays injury free and takes his game to the next level where he can dominate matches for longer and on a more consistent basis, notably in Europe. And there will likely be the spectacular moments against the usual suspects Aberdeen and Rangers.
The 2017/2018 season was the coming of age campaign for James Forrest. Anyone who had witnessed potential in the player from a young age will have taken great delight in what the player achieved.
For too long the player was much-maligned in some circles, both at Celtic and with the Scotland national team. The raw attributes have always been there but not channelled in the right manner.
It seems that the player has, like a guitar, been re-strung by Brendan Rodgers and he now plays with a calmness. When he gets into the final third you now expect him to deliver rather than just hope he can. He did more than enough to be given key player status this season, but he needs to make sure last season wasn’t a one-off.
Big seasons required
While Lewis Morgan was one of the winners from Scotland’s much-criticised jaunt to the Americas, Ryan Christie was in the opposite camp as he carried his poor domestic form into the friendlies.
The 23-year-old disappointed in the latter part of his loan spell at Aberdeen last campaign. At the start of the season he offered a snapshot of what he could offer Celtic. In the away leg against Siroki Brijeg in Europa League qualifying he drove infield from right, creating both goals in a 2-0 win.
Potentially, Christie can offer something different to James Forrest on the right. With Patrick Roberts away it has left Celtic light in that area. The issue is that he has so far shown little evidence that he has the sufficient consistency to better Celtic. On his day he is one of the most talented players in the league, but the same can be said about Gary Mackay-Steven. A different mentality is required at Cetic Park.
In 105 games Scott Sinclair has netted 43 times for Celtic. The Glasgow giants were the player’s 13th club in an interesting, albeit nomadic, career. There was a sense that the player had found a home.
Yet, as the season reached it denouement, the Englishman increasingly found himself left out of the key games. Something wasn’t right. He still hit 18 goals, finishing the club’s top scorer in the league but the terrorising of full-backs and defences was largely missing.
It seemed that as Forrest found his composure in the final third, Sinclair’s was lacking as his decision making thwarted him time and again. If Lewis Morgan impresses in training and his given a chance Sinclair, remarkably, could slip further down the pecking order.
Intriguing: Loan or minutes
The future of Lewis Morgan is one of the intriguing matter at Celtic this season. While fans are always on the lookout for a new signing to sate their quench for transfers, the club may already have an answer at the club already.
It was understandable if there were expectations that Morgan would find himself out on loan in the Ladbrokes Premiership for this season. However, in his fleeting appearances for Scotland last month, plus starring in a video where he expertly set up Leigh Griffiths for a magnificent overhead kick, there are signs that he is ready to handle the next step.
The issue is that his favoured left-sided position in attack is well catered for at Celtic Park with Scott Sinclair, Jonny Hayes and Callum McGregor. Sitting on the bench only getting a few minutes here or there would be detrimental to his trajectory.
He has that dribbling ability which will endear him to fans, plus the confidence of shooting from either foot. Celtic fans should be wanting to see more of him.
Another impressive left-sided attacker at Celtic Park, Michael Johnston was excellent for Scotland during the Toulon Tournament in France last month. He netted a wonderful solo goal against England and was included in the competition’s best XI, while he finished third for player of the tournament.
His performances were that of a player who was telling Brendan Rodgers that he was there, ready and waiting for his chance.
Johnston is ready for first-team football having already made his first-team debut. Featuring regularly for Celtic may be a step too far, he should be seen somewhere this season in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Willing to listen to offers
A key aspect missing from Scott Allan’s career is continuity. Aged 26, Allan has made just over 150 first-team career appearances. For a player of such ability it is far too low a number.
Despite having featured for 10 clubs, the 23 appearances in half a season at Dundee is his third most for a club. But it is the environs of Easter Road which have brought out his best.
The player needs to be realistic with himself and try and negotiate an exit from the club early this summer so he can join up with a club during pre-season to hit the ground running next season. It is strange to come to such a conclusion considering no Celtic player was more creative than Allan in terms of assists, assists per 90 minutes, through passes and key passes per 90 minutes. It’s his work without the ball which will be a deterrent to Rodgers.
After an excellent 2016/2017 season Jonny Hayes’ career was on the up. It took him time to adapt at Celtic Park but just as he was beginning to look at home in the hooped shirt, he suffered a season ending injury.
Ruthless it may be but such an injury should have pushed him further down the pecking order.
His future should be determined by that of the aforementioned Morgan and Johnston. If Rodgers is keen on keeping the youthful duo around, Hayes should not kept around where he could block a path to the first team.