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Deila heads to Spain in bid to shore up Celtic defence

| 05.01.2016

It may seem like an odd thing to suggest in a year that saw a Premiership title and a League Cup trophy raised, but such are the pressures involved at Celtic Park that many may see 2015 as something of a disappointing year for boss Ronny Deila.

Once again key defensive frailties were exposed in Europe as they were dumped out of the Champions League by a Malmo side who could only finish fifth in the Swedish league, then swatted aside in the Europa League, finishing bottom in a group won by Norwegians Molde ahead of Fenerbahce and Ajax.

Along with the four they conceded over two legs against Malmo, Celtic shipped another 12 in Europe’s secondary competition, meaning that despite finishing as Group A’s second highest scorers, their European campaign was over and done by November.

December’s home reverse to Motherwell, followed by a 2-2 draw at Hearts, saw the pressure pile on Deila, as Aberdeen’s consistent form raised the unthinkable scenario of Celtic failing to regain a title that is now taken for granted by the Hoops faithful.

And while a hard-fought 1-0 home victory over Partick Thistle on Saturday has seen Celtic open up a three-point gap on second-placed Aberdeen, with a game in hand providing further reprieve for their Norwegian gaffer, those recent domestic setbacks will have ensured Deila remains wary of defensive mistakes exposed in Europe creeping closer to home.

Despite the blip, Celtic are 1/66 to win the Ladbrokes Premiership title, with Aberdeen second favourites at 18/1.

With 16 goals conceded, Celtic still have the best defensive record in the league of course, but nearly half of those have come in the last eight games. And with the number of defenders used in the league this season now stretching to ten, it’s evident that the manager is less than settled on his selection.

It makes defensive reinforcements the likely priority this month, with Villarreal’s Aleksander Pantic thought to be his main target.

Reports today suggest that Deila has jetted out to meet the 23-year-old Serb who is currently on loan at Eibar, impressing as the small Basque outfit surpass all expectations in eighth place in La Liga.

Pantic played in Eibar’s stunning 4-0 away win over Betis at the weekend, his 12th league appearance of the season, after spending the last campaign on a similar loan deal at Cordoba, who were eventually relegated.

Despite not yet breaking into the XI of his parent club, Pantic is a Serbian under-21 international and interestingly – according to the Daily Record – shares the same agent as current Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic. With Deila believed to have flown out to Spain, it seems inconceivable that discussions haven’t begun with the representative given that is already well known to the club hierarchy.

With a Scottish Cup trip to League One Stranraer next on the fixture list, Deila has a bit of time until their next key league match – a trip to Dundee United in ten days time – to get in the reinforcements he requires to keep Celtic on track, and himself in a job.

The Hoops are 23/10 to turn it all around and claim a domestic treble.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Alexis James