Kris Commons was in a pragmatic mood this week when he was asked about the chances of Celtic splashing the cash in the January transfer window. “But do they need a marquee signing?” was the rhetorical question the former Bhoys talisman seemingly asked himself when considering the Scottish champion’s chances of winning another treble. “I don’t think they do.”
Indeed, the former Scotland international was spot on. Such is the advantage Brendan Rodgers’ team have over the rest of the Scottish Premiership that the Glasgow club could quite easily task the recently-retired Kolo Touré with playing the rest of the season in defence and it would almost certainly change the odds of silverware by very little. But that’s hardly the point.
Celtic’s transfer policy isn’t based on who they need to bring in to win the league or indeed either cups. Peter Lawwell and his manager haven’t sat around the boardroom table identifying players to beat their Scottish-based rivals for some time. No, Celtic buy players almost exclusively for European football and the hopes of selling them for a fortune to the Premier League one day.
In that regard, there are a number of positions that Celtic could certainly upgrade or at least bolster. A Europa League tie against Zenit St Petersburg beckons in just one month’s time and after that the club will reset their entire operations to begin the qualification campaign for next season’s Champions League.
Perhaps the most obvious weak spot in this Celtic team is the position of right-back. There, Mikael Lustig has become a victim of time and where a once-proud Swedish international with the physical and mental attributes to thrive on the right flank once flourished, now stands an ageing defender who struggles to get forward as much as he really ought to and looks worryingly out of his depth not only in Europe but in high-stake Scottish games too.
In the 2015/16 season Lustig picked up five goals and seven assists from the right flank. In the proceeding season he picked up a similarly impressive four goals and six assists. Yet so far in this current campaign the 31-year old has nabbed just three goals (two of which came in a single game) and has yet to set up a single goal for his team mates.
Worryingly, Rodgers’ alternatives at right back are exceptionally limited. The perceived wisdom seems to suggest that Anthony Ralston is being trained up as Lustig’s eventual successor, but the 19-year old has only played ten senior games for the club and often looked far too raw to be relied upon each week.
Aside from the young Scot, Celtic have Cristian Gamboa. Yet the Costa Rican international has proved to be an error-prone, tactically-naïve signing for the Scottish champions and has spent the vast majority of his time in Glasgow taking in matches from the bench or further back in the stand. Celtic need a proven right-back who can replace Lustig right now
Rodgers also needs another central defender. That may seem odd, considering they just signed Marvin Compper, yet the former RB Leipzig defender is cup-tied for the Europa League. Add to that Erik Sviatchenko’s loan move to FC Midtjylland and the constant speculation linking Jozo Šimunović to either England or Italy and it’s clear that Celtic could end the month with three fewer central defenders for their clash with Zenit.
Dundee’s Jack Hendry has been linked to the Scottish champions, yet even if the talented 22-year old does make the move to Glasgow he surely can’t be expected to offer anything in Rodgers’ quest to push on in the Europa League. A competent, experienced central defender that can aid Celtic in Europe between now and May should really be one of the club’s main priorities.
Further up the park, Celtic would do well to find another left winger. In what would undoubtedly be a more nuanced move within this current window, there’s no denying that Scott Sinclair could use a bit of competition to help jump-start his performances for the Scottish champions.
Although tales of the English forward’s demise this season have been vastly exaggerated – he still leads the club’s goals and assists tables this campaign – there’s no denying that he has looked slightly jaded and at times far too relied upon by Rodgers’ system.
On the right wing Celtic have James Forrest, Patrick Roberts and Johnny Hayes, yet there’s no alternative to Sinclair should the senior talisman feel the need for a rest aside from the tried and far from tested move of playing Leigh Griffiths or Moussa Dembélé slightly to the left of attack. A young, exciting prospect that could take over the reigns for the odd game could end up helping Sinclair in the long run and as such Celtic’s own success.
Although by no means a priority at the moment, there is also the potential of losing key individuals in the squad before the end of the month. Should Brighton transfer target Dembélé leave there’s no immediate need for Celtic to find a replacement, however Rodgers may choose to act if he doesn’t believe either Lewis Morgan or Odsonne Edouard are up to the task of challenging Griffiths as first-team strikers.
Stuart Armstrong is another important player that has been linked with moves away, particularly in the summer. And although Olivier Ntcham was potentially signed for that exact reason, there’s no doubt that Celtic could use another central, attacking player if the Scotland international were to move down south either this month or announced his intentions to do so in the summer.
Celtic don’t need any more players to win another treble with Rodgers, but they could certainly do themselves a lot of favours before the end of the month.