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Brendan Rodgers’ arrival at Celtic breathed a new lease of life into the club. Ronny Deila’s reign at Celtic Park was an underwhelming one and there was a sense that many had started to stagnate under the Norwegian.
However, the former Liverpool manager’s appointment acted as almost like an adrenaline shot for the green half of Glasgow. He arrived with new ideas, the team had fresh impetus and the feel-good factor returned with great haste. It didn’t take him long to acclimatise to the league up north. Aided by new signings Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembélé, his Celtic charges wasted no time asserting their authority.
The Scottish Premier League is often described as a one-horse race. Celtic are expected to win but there’s a difference between winning and winning with style. Some managers look at the Celtic job as a way to fill their trophy cabinet whereas others, like Rodgers, see it as an opportunity to create something special.
He’s aiming to win with a style the fans will appreciate. His side are runaway leaders – 25 points clear of second places Aberdeen – and are playing some of the best football in Britain. Lead by Dembélé, Celtic are scoring on average 2.62 goals per game and conceding just the 0.62. Both are improvements on the totals of last season which saw the side score 2.44 goals per game and concede 0.81.
The Bhoys have scored three or more in 18 matches this season and this includes a 5-1 win in the Old Firm derby and a 3-3 draw with an in-form and undefeated-at-the-time Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Their only black mark so far this season was the 7-0 loss to Barcelona, but it can happen to the best of teams, just ask Paris Saint-Germain.
It’s been a near perfect debut campaign for the Carnlough native but, like many of the best managers in the modern game, he won’t be satisfied with anything less than perfection. Rodgers and the recruitment team will no doubt be active in the summer window and Celtic’s transfer targets will have already been identified.
One area that the team could upgrade is the right side of the attack. James Forrest is the man being deployed in that position, fending off competition from on-loan attacker Patrick Roberts.
While Dembélé and Sinclair have flourished in the forward line, notching a combined 50 goals between them, Forrest has struggled to step up and has just the seven goals so far this season. The 25-year-old has got 13 assists to his name but even so, he's never quite fulfilled his early career potential.
James Forrest at Celtic:
2015/16 – 33 games, 2 goals, 2 assists.
2016/17 – 38 games, 7 goals, 13 assists.
— OptaCeltic (@OptaCeltic) March 19, 2017
Roberts has shown glimpses of genuine ability but it’s far too sporadic to be able to rely on him and he’s failed to oust Forrest from that role in the first-team.
Imagine how devastating The Hoops would be if they had a player just a tier below the long-term Chelsea target and the former Swansea City star in terms of quality.
Any incoming attacker will have to fit the profile and compliment the rest of the attack. There are a couple of traits which are bound to be a necessity; pace, ability to beat a man on either side and be a genuine goal threat. There's also the question of price.
The purse strings won't be loosened unless the club cashes in on Dembélé so players around the €8million mark is perhaps the top end of their budget.
Here at Football Whispers, we've taken a look at three possible wingers who could tick all of the boxes for Celtic.
Name: Sam Larsson
Sam Larsson's flip-flap tekkers are just filthy??
RT if this had you like ? https://t.co/YwD2Z3YJB3
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) March 6, 2017
There's a rumour that Swedes do well in Scotland..
The 23-year-old has been impressing for the mid-table Eredivisie side yet again this season. He's followed up last season's total of six goals and eight assists by surpassing it with seven goals and nine assists. There's still seven games to play.
The winger has played the majority of the season on the left, he's not replacing Sinclair anytime soon in that position, but he is able to play on the right. He's completing, on average, three dribbles per 90 minutes. It's a number that puts him in the top 15 throughout Europe for dribbles completed per match – a list Neymar leads with 5.4.
Larsson joined the Dutch side in 2014 when he signed for a reported £1million from IFK Goteborg. His current deal expires in June 2018 meaning this summer is the last opportunity for Heerenveen to get close to his true valuation.
Celtic could capitalise on the contract situation.
Name: Arber Zeneli
Sticking with Heerenveen, Zeneli is another talented winger that the Dutch club have on their books. If it ain't broke don't fix it, and the Eredivisie has been kind to the Scottish club in the past.
The 22-year-old has six goals and three assists so far this season and is versatile like his teammate Larsson.
The Kosovan tends to operate on the right hand side of the team but has started a number of games on the left. He shares similarities with Larsson in the sense he's quick, direct, tricky and has an end product.
He completes 2.6 dribbles per 90 minutes which is just 0.4 fewer than the Swede. He cost the club £1.16million when he signed from IF Elfsborg in January 2016 and his contract expires in June 2019.
Name: Nicklas Bärkroth
Team: IFK Norrköping
"Krävs att alla är på tårna"
Jens Gustafsson och Nicklas Bärkroth om lördagens cupmatch.#ifknkpg
— IFK Norrköping (@ifknorrkoping) February 24, 2017
Bärkroth is the wildcard of the three wingers. He currently plays in the Swedish league for IFK Norrköping. The 25-year-old is perhaps slightly older than what Celtic ideally want but can you really pass over a bargain because of age?
So far this season he has four goals and seven assists to go along with his 2.7 completed dribbles per 90 minutes. He's versatile and can lead the line as well as turning out on either flank. His contract expires at the end of the season. Is he worth a gamble, even as a squad player?
Are any of the aforementioned three good enough to take the Celtic attack to the next level or does Forrest deserve another season in that role? One thing's for sure, Rodgers won't settle if he knows there's a better, attainable player out there.