On the surface, last week may have appeared fairly routine for Celtic. They lost in Champions League action to one of Europe’s finest before comfortably beating domestic opposition. However, there was much more to both of those results.
The 2-1 defeat to Bayern Munich was, in the eyes of many, an unfortunate one. The Scottish champions more than held their own, creating several good scoring chances that, on another night, might have earned them a historic win. They then won 4-0 against St. Johnstone to break their own record for consecutive games unbeaten that had been in place for a century.
By competing with one of the strongest teams on the continent and then making history domestically, Celtic showed their true quality. Under Brendan Rodgers, they have gone up another level. Where previously they dominated almost by default, they now look like a side capable of handling all of the challenges they face with ease.
Over the years there have been calls for the Old Firm to join the English Premier League. This could allow other Scottish Premiership teams to grow while giving both Glasgow giants quality competition. But how would Celtic fare? Here we at Football Whispers answer that question.
SURVIVING IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE
The fact that Crystal Palace, currently 20th in the table, defeated reigning champions Chelsea to secure their only win of the season so far gives credence to the cliché that anyone can beat anyone in the Premier League. However, those at the bottom of the league are lacking in many areas.
West Ham United have plenty of individual talent but have seemed without any real structure over the last year or so; Swansea City have a sound defensive shape but a painful absence of creativity; and Palace are still figuring out their preferred system and personnel 11 games into the season. Others, such as Bournemouth, West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Stoke City, have also looked far from convincing.
Considering their level of performance against Bayern Munich and 3-0 away win over Belgian champions Anderlecht, there is enough evidence to suggest that Celtic would be too strong for many of the Premier League’s relegation candidates.
Rodgers’ side are currently averaging almost 2.5 goals per game while conceding at a rate of 0.5 per game. None of their domestic competitors can match that, meaning they are clearly above the rest of the Scottish Premiership in terms of both attacking productivity and defensive solidity. It’s likely that this combination would help them comfortably survive in the English Premier League.
RISING ABOVE MID-TABLE
The next challenge for Celtic having secured survival in the English top flight would be to rise above mid-table. Taking a closer look at the teams in and around this level gives an indication as to the traits that are necessary to compete.
Almost all of the Premier League’s mid-table sides have one thing in common that many of those below them do not: A clear, effective style of play. Burnley may not be easy on the eye, but their organisation has enabled them to reach an exceptional seventh-place position. Beneath them, Leicester City’s counter-attacking strategy, Brighton and Hove Albion’s deep defence and Huddersfield Town’s intensity are key to their success.
Under Rodgers, Celtic have developed a similar tactical clarity. They build possession patiently from the back and use the fluidity and movement of their attacking players to progress the ball into the final third. They maintain this style regardless of the system chosen or the quality of the opposition.
While this has led to the occasional heavy defeat in Europe – 5-0 at home to Paris Saint-Germain and 3-0 away to Bayern Munich – it generally works for them. They have a good understanding of their own tactics, but are not afraid to make strategic modifications – such as switching to a back three instead of a back four – to combat certain opponents.
CHALLENGING THE TOP SIX
Celtic undoubtedly have the quality and tactical identity to compete within the upper echelons of the Premier League’s mid-table, but challenging for a top six spot and reaching European football would be a much harder proposition.
It takes more than the above to disrupt English football’s established hierarchy. Clubs such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are so consistently competitive at the top because of their history and support base while others such as Chelsea and Manchester City were aided by the significant investment of their owners.
Celtic could, however, find inspiration from Tottenham Hotspur, especially considering the two clubs are run in similar ways. Both eschew heavy spending unless it is absolutely necessary; both have good youth academies; and both have an unshakeable long-term focus. Throw in the fact that Rodgers, like Mauricio Pochettino, has clear footballing ideals and a willingness to adjust shape and the two teams’ frameworks are almost precisely alike.
It’s also worth noting that the Scottish champions can match the strategy of Spurs with tradition and followings that rival those of the top English clubs, something that, along with the Premier League’s worldwide reach and television revenue, could give them serious financial clout.
Celtic would find it hard to break into the top six initially, but they wouldn’t be far off. And, given the access to vast sums of wealth the Premier League offers, it is likely that they’d establish themselves as genuine top-six material in the longer term.