FORMER Celtic goal hero Chris Sutton has named the Hoops star who has been “a really pleasant surprise” this season.
The one-time England international striker admitted he had reservations about on-loan Benfica midfielder Paulo Bernardo after his early appearances for the champions.
However, the Portuguese playmaker has sparked to life in recent weeks with the opening goal in the 3-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park which was followed four days later with his spectacular first-time howitzer in the derby crunch at Parkhead to propel Brendan Rodgers’ men to a crucial 2-1 triumph.
And Bernardo was instrumental in the first outing of 2024 in Paisley on Tuesday when he set up strikes for Matt O’Riley and Greg Taylor in the 3-0 victory over St Mirren.
STRIKE ONE…determined Paulo Bernardo forces the opening goal past Dundee keeper Trevor Carson in Celtic’s 3-0 win at Dens Park.
An impressed Sutton said: “Paulo Bernardo has been a really pleasant surprise in the last few weeks.
“I wasn’t sure about him before. It was unfair to judge him when thrown in in Champions League game and he never got back to back games domestically.
“But that’s a massive boost to see his qualities and his goals in recent weeks.
“I think Celtic go into the break satisfied but knowing there’s still more to come. And that could be ominous for other teams in Scotland.”
Sutton, who was Martin O’Neill’s first buy for Celtic when he arrived in a £6million switch from Chelsea in the summer of 2000, insists his old club’s wheeling and dealing in the current transfer window will be crucial.
STRIKE TWO…Paulo Bernardo hits a ferocious first-time drive for the first goal in Celtic’s 2-1 derby triumph.
The Hoops legend, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “Everybody will be watching and scrutinising what happens at Celtic because Brendan Rodgers has spoken about the need for more quality on countless occasions.
“But when he first came in he spoke about having to stick to the model and his understanding of that. Now he wants to bring in a better quality of player.
“Does that mean a ready-made, tried and tested player who would cost a great deal more money? I’m not disputing what he says. But I’m sceptical about who Celtic can sign in any position that is an upgrade and who’s not going to cost a lot of money.
“They have to try and it’s always good to freshen the team up.”
Sutton, who also praised “phenomenal” Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley for their efforts since the campaign’s kick-off, added: “What should Celtic be looking to bring in? Left-back has been an issue albeit Greg Taylor played very well against Rangers.
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP…Luis Palma congratulates Paulo Bernardo after the Portuguese midfielder’s screamer against Ibrox opposition that set the champions on the way to a derby victory.
“Brendan Rodgers clearly doesn’t fancy Alexandro Bernabei. I scratch my head weekly over the centre-half situation. Seven-and-a-half-million quid on Maik Nawrocki and Gustaf Lagerbielke who both appeared surplus to requirements in Brendan’s thought process.
“Although Nawrocki has come in recently and played a few minutes, I still suspect he’ll be looking at a centre-half. I’m mixed over the need for a centre-forward that everybody keeps banging on about. I get that Oh Hyeon-gyu is away to the Asian Cup for the next month or so.
“But Kyogo is still the main man and has proven a point this season – that in the big games where it matters he is the go-to guy. So I would never start disregarding Kyogo. When the game opens up his movement is so good and I won’t dispute his finishing.
“In big moments you need your big players to step up and he did that again superbly against Rangers. It was really important for Celtic to win on their home patch.
“I think the belief is back to an extent, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”