FORMER Celtic goal hero Chris Sutton is puzzled over the fact his old club do not have a ready-made replacement for injured left-back Greg Taylor.
However, the ex-England international striker insists no-one should be pressing the panic button as he gives his verdict on Brendan Rodgers’ first-team squad.
Sutton admits it would have been “crazy” for the Hoops hierarchy to accept any sort of offer from Atletico Madrid for on-fire playmaker Matt O’Riley at a crucial stage of the crusade with a league and Cup double up for grabs.
But the one-time £6million purchase by Martin O’Neill in the summer of 2000 has yet to be convinced over the Liel Abada situation, despite reassurances from Brendan Rodgers the Israeli will be remaining at the champions.
A ROUND OF APPLAUSE…Chris Sutton is delighted Cameron Carter-Vickers has signed a new deal.
Taking an overall view, Sutton said: “Securing Cameron Carter-Vickers on a new deal is great news. He’s been the best defender in Scotland for a while, but you can’t get away from the fact there are areas of concern within the team.
“Everyone thinks Celtic will just roll over Ross County today. They should, but that’s not the point. The point is this is they have left themselves light. Alexandro Bernabei hasn’t been trusted for a while and this was the one position that urgently needed to be sorted out.
“The fact it’s not yet been done by now beggars belief.
“Are you telling me there isn’t a single left-back better than Bernabei out there and available within the confines of the Celtic model? Come off it.
“Taylor doesn’t cut it defensively in the Champions League and you should always be trying to upgrade every position for that, but there’s no excuse for being short domestically.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “Liam Scales can go to left-back, but he’s not going to be able to give Celtic the attacking poise Taylor does. He makes passes and runs, gets assists and scores the odd one. Compare the right hand side.
ON THE RUN…Alistair Johnston races down the right wing.
“I’m not out to get after Alistair Johnston, but I read recently he hasn’t had a single goal and barely an assist this season.
“For a Celtic right-back, given the need for the full-backs to get up and produce quality, that’s a poor return.
“Taylor offsets it to an extent, but if he’s not available, that’s another option gone and the fact someone isn’t signed and ready to step right in isn’t really acceptable.
“Striker was the other key position, but that’s not an easy sell because you are either asking a quality individual to come and sit on the bench behind Kyogo Furuhashi or splashing enough cash to get someone better.
“I’d suggest finding a left-back to offer competition to Taylor isn’t a challenge of that scale.
“That’s why I get the fans’ frustrations, although looking through the rest of the unit, I’m not sure why some punters are panicking.
“Joe Hart’s fine. You could get a better back-up, but there’s no need for panic and the defence has Carter-Vickers, Scales, Maik Nawrocki and Stephen Welsh. Not all Champions League level, but for the rest of this domestic campaign, it’s solid enough.
BY THE LEFT…Greg Taylor slams in the final goal in Celtic’s 3-0 win over St Mirren in Paisley on January 2.
“Celtic are stacked in midfield with Callum McGregor, Matt O’Riley, Paulo Bernardo finding his feet and Reo Hatate regaining fitness. As for O’Riley, Celtic couldn’t afford to accept any bid from Atletico Madrid and let him go. That would have been crazy.
“So he stays and, again, unless you are spending stupid money, who is knocking McGregor, O’Riley and Hatate out of the team? And Bernardo is proving he’ll be an able back up.
“The wings are interesting. In theory, Luis Palma, Daizen Maeda, Liel Abada and Nicolas Kuhn are four strong candidates for two spots. But that’s just the theory. Palma and Maeda, yes, but I’ll wait until the window shuts before I’m totally convinced over Abada.
“I don’t need to go into the challenges which the lad has been facing in the past few months. Celtic are adamant he’s staying and if so fine because a flying Abada is a proven performer.
“But will he be right at it? That’s hard to say. Rodgers says Kuhn is quality, but he’s going to have to prove it. If he’s not, Celtic have an issue.”
Sutton, now a top media pundit, added: “In attack, I don’t mind Oh Hyeon-gyu. I think he’s got something as a back-up, but he’s not ready to take over full-time from Kyogo. Anthony Ralston can cover Johnston on the domestic scene, but left-back is glaring and it’s poor that it’s not been sorted with less than a week left.
THAT’LL DO FOR STARTERS…Liel Abada in action against St Mirren in his first start since September.
“I’d suggest much of any punter panic is down to the fact Rangers don’t look as though they will go away. Hibs aren’t great, but Philippe Clement’s team dismantled them in a fashion which Celtic could not in Leith earlier this season.
“Rodgers’ team are back there on Wednesday week four days after going to Aberdeen. This is a difficult period and Celtic have to get through it.
“In the main, I’d say they have the quality currently in place to do it, but they are sailing close to the wind. Really, this window didn’t need to be so complicated. So why is it?”
Hopefully, the answers will be answered by Thursday’s 11.30pm transfer deadline.
In the meantime, Rodgers, who has stressed work is being done in the background to add to his options, will be preparing for the visit of the Dingwall club today before tricky away games at Pittodrie and Easter Road.
Those encounters will be followed by a third consecutive away game when the holders travel to Paisley to take on St Mirren in the Scottish Cup Fifth Round on Sunday February 11.
It is imperative Rodgers has a fully functioning squad to steer the champions past some tricky obstacles in the weeks and months to come.
* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v Ross County this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.