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Murdo MacLeod: Dembele, defensive dynamos & Celtic’s ‘pivotal’ win

| 29.03.2017

We were all waiting with bated breath to see how Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic tenure would go, but even the most optimistic Hoops fan would have struggled to predict just how well this season would go.

Moussa Dembele has rightly taken many of the plaudits, and having grown as an all-round player this season, it’s incredible to think what he could achieve at Parkhead going forward.

Here are my thoughts on all that, and much more – starting with the Rodgers revolution…

I didn’t know they’d be quite this good

Obviously Brendan Rodgers has a great track record, but with him being new to Scottish football, I don’t think any of us knew exactly how he’d get on at Celtic. So it’s been something of a surprise to see just how dominant they’ve been this season, and the incredible brand of football they’re producing.

He’s not only massively strengthened the squad he inherited by bringing in the likes of Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele, but he’s also getting the best out of the guys who were already there.

Stuart Armstrong is just one example – he’s made a much bigger impact this season, and it’s led to him getting his Scotland debut last week against Slovenia.

The whole squad are so well-organised right now. They’re extremely fit and they work so hard for one another – and that shows week-in, week-out. Every single player is performing at a very high level right now.

I still see Motherwell win as the pivotal moment

Even if Celtic had lost a game at some point this season, it was realistically never going to derail their title bid. But in terms of building this mentality as an exciting team and one which always produces results, I still think the 4-3 win over Motherwell in December was the Hoops most crucial win of this campaign.

After the 2-2 draw with Inverness, they’d won a few games narrowly, and when they were 2-0 down at Fir Park at half-time, I think a lot of people felt their unbeaten run was about to come to an end.

But the way they fought back and scored four second-half goals, including a last-minute winner, got people really taking note and saying ‘this team is something special’.

I’m sure they took huge confidence from that, because they went on to win the following 14 games in the league. They’ve produced a lot of brilliant displays during this campaign, but for me that was the most important one of all.

Front men have been on fire…but the defence deserve credit too

First off, a word on Kieran Tierney: he’s been outstanding. I have no doubt he’ll go on to be one of the top Scottish players of his generation. It’s easy to forget he’s just 19-years-old, because he just looks so consummate on the ball.

Then you’ve got Mikael Lustig at right-back, who has been very strong. And guys like Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic who can offer a lot of height and power in the middle of defence.

Dedryck Boyata has been another success story. Obviously, he had injury problems earlier in the season, and then wasn’t in the squad for a while, but he’s played probably his best ever football for Celtic since the start of 2017, starting every game in the process.

He’s also very useful at the other end, which you saw with those winning goals against Aberdeen and St Johnstone.

There’s also Craig Gordon, of course. No doubt he’s the #1 goalkeeper in the country. He’s been outstanding over the past two or three years, and has had such a high level of consistency this season.

Dembele’s big-game mentality perfect for Parkhead

If you’re going to be a success at Celtic, you have to perform in big games – especially with the club looking to make a Champions League group stage spot a yearly occurrence.

This season, he’s done the business on the biggest stages. A hat-trick against Rangers at Parkhead, a winner against them in the League Cup Semi-Final at Hampden Park, and goals against Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach.

I think his work-rate and all-round game have also improved as the season’s progressed, so he’s becoming better week on week. That’s a frightening thought for opposition defenders!

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.