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Are Celtic up to the challenge this season?

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It’s not just a cliché that there are no certainties in football. After all, who would have predicted that last year’s English Premier League winners would be languishing in fourth place at this stage of the season? This time last year Manchester City were heading the table, a position that they proved reluctant to relinquish to Liverpool. But it seems like this may not be their season and the recent 3-1 losing clash with the Merseyside team may well have been a decisive battle for them both.

One thing is also for certain – in the immortal words of Bill Shankly, this isn’t just a matter of life and death, it’s much more important than that, at least for Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez who chose to put team feelings over and above national loyalty soon after the match.

Of course, there’s a long way to go until the end of the season, but it does look like Klopp will be getting his reward in April, not to mention all the fans who fancied the Premier League odds for Liverpool back in August and beyond. It also looks like Leicester may well be more likely to challenge for a top four finish than City which would be a remarkable state of affairs.

Results and standings have, so far, been far more predictable in the Scottish Premiership if still not certain about who will be carrying off the trophy in 2020. Moving into November it’s been a question of Celtic and Rangers progressing neck and neck with the thinnest of margins of a single goal’s difference between them. With Aberdeen and Motherwell trailing behind them as their nearest rivals it seems like a real two-horse race for the rest of the season, a fact which will be giving both Neil Lennon and Steven Gerrard more than a few restless nights.

A flying start

On the domestic front, Celtic had possibly their strongest start to the season ever. It may seem a long time ago but it was only in August when a home crowd of nearly 59,000 saw them wipe the floor with St Johnstone in the 7-0 rout which included goals for Johnston, Ntcham, Edouard and Griffiths with a hat-trick for Christie.

The following week’s 5-2 away win over Motherwell suggested that this was going to be a high-scoring season with plenty of fireworks in store, not to mention a goal bonanza for Christie, Griffiths and Edouard who all made it onto the scoresheet once again.

After the 12 goals in two weeks it was only logical that this frenetic scoring pace should slow down a little as it duly did. But October saw another of those big scorelines when Ross County were made to suffer a 6-0 defeat with Edouard again adding to his incredible record of an average of over a goal a game to date.

In fact the only blip in the Hoops’ domestic progress so far was the 2-0 defeat by Livingston that came the week before the Ross County match and which may have spurred the team on to reassert their dominance the following Saturday.

European adventures

Turning to Europe, it’s a shame that Champions League football was not to be for this season but the team seems very well placed to go on to Europa League success. Already qualified for the knockout stage, they secured their place in the most dramatic fashion in a great piece of team work between Edouard and Ntcham whose last minute winner was even praised by the Italian press. The fact that this was Celtic’s first ever win in Italy after 13 attempts may be even more significant and suggest that they really are ready to step up to the next level.

If they could improve on last season’s treble and make it a quadruple this year would truly be remarkable, but there are many hurdles to cross first. Even Celtic legend Andy Walker thinks Rangers could be a threat to the Premiership title if they remain injury free.

So make no mistake, the intensity that Celtic have shown to date will not just need to be maintained, it will have to be taken even further if they want to prevail this season.

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