Jumping Through Hoops: Is Celtic’s Reign of Terror About to End?

With so much excitement and intrigue taking place in English football and in Europe, the kerfuffle unfolding north of the border may just have passed you by.

But it’s well worth becoming attuned to the action in the Scottish Premiership so far, because Celtic’s dominance appears to be on the wane.

Brendan Rodgers’ men have won seven consecutive titles, but they are currently experiencing their worst start to a campaign in more than 20 years.

They were beaten 1-2 at Kilmarnock on Saturday, and that means they have now tasted defeat in two of their opening six matches. To make matters worse, they have only found the net on half-a-dozen occasions too; most irregular for a side who tends to clean up at will.

The Challengers

On the other side of Glasgow, meanwhile, there may just be a quiet revolution taking place at Rangers. Steven Gerrard has overseen a huge overhaul at Ibrox, and the 5-1 demolition of St Johnstone at the weekend was further proof that they have come on leaps and bounds under the Liverpool legend.

And that’s before we even mention Hearts, who sit five points clear of Rangers and six ahead of Celtic. The Jambos are unbeaten with a goal difference of +9, and they inflicted the Hoops’ first loss of the campaign.

All of which has done interesting things to the outright Scottish Premiership betting market. Celtic are still, naturally, the favourites at this early juncture, but their odds of 1/3 are roughly three times longer than they were before a ball had been kicked.

Rangers are next up at 3/1, while Hearts – who last won the Scottish top flight in 1959/60 – are in to 25/1.

So is there any value in taking on the Bhoys?

The Case for Celtic

The leaves have barely fallen off the trees and Celtic are already being written off.

A gap of six points takes just 180 minutes of football to overturn, and the Bhoys, as dominant as they have ever been in recent history, will not be sweating at this early juncture.
Top Half of the Scottish Premiership Table September 2018
They have garnered the support of a man who knows a thing or two about winning the Scottish Premiership, Neil Lennon, who said: “I still think Celtic will win the league. I think they have the strength in depth and the quality of player.

“I have seen this before. I’ve seen it over the years under managers I played under.

“Once they hit the ground running, they are going to be a hard team to stop.”

And there may have been more than meets the eye to their two losses so far, with boss Rodgers taking the blame. He said: “I take full responsibility for our two defeats. I made big changes for those games – perhaps I made too many.”

And, of course, as well as winning the title for the past seven years, they retain a umber of class acts amongst their ranks:

The Case Against Celtic

One of the most vocal critics of the Hoops so far has been former Rangers frontman Kris Boyd; no surprise there, you might think.

But he sounds like a man ‘in the know’ if his comments to BBC Scotland are to be believed. “Are they [the players] really that bothered to be playing in a Celtic jersey right now? Not for me.

“I know there was a meeting after the Champions League exit, and, when you look at that, there is a divide in the dressing-room, there is no doubt about it. It was quite clear.”

Another problem for Rodgers to solve is that of goals. Moussa Dembele was sold to Lyon in the summer – a man that contributed 51 goals in just 94 games for the club, and the jury remains out as to whether 20-year-old Odsonne Edouard is a suitable replacement or not. Celtic’s league goalscorers so far this season are shown in the table below.

Player Signed League Goals This Season
Odsonne Edouard 2017 (initial loan) 4
Olivier Ntcham 2017 3
Moussa Dembele (now Lyon) 2016 – 2018 2
James Forrest 2010 2
Leigh Griffiths 2014 2
Callum McGregor 2013 2
Dedryck Boyata 2015 1
Tomas Rogic 2013 1
Scott Sinclair 2016 1

The Frenchman’s absence, as well as that of the departed Stuart Armstrong in midfield, has had a clear knock-on effect, with Boyd himself pointing out that ‘in 38 league games in 2016-17, Celtic averaged 2.8 goals per game. The 22 games of this calendar year, they have averaged 1.5. That’s down almost a goal a game.’