by Daryn MacRae
CELTIC’s 5-0 mauling of Hearts on Sunday clinched a 48th title for the Park Head club with eight matches to spare. Rodgers’ side have cantered over the finish line, winning 28 out of 30 league games. The monopoly they have enjoyed may have raised questions regarding the quality of Scotland’s top flight, with Celtic 25 points clear of second placed Aberdeen and a further 10 ahead of bitter rivals Rangers.
Their stranglehold of the title race since the first ball was kicked in anger back in May is nothing to be ashamed of though, and is more a reflection of the team’s quality rather than the weakness of the chasing pack.
Celtic’s improved fortunes have fallen in line with the reboot of Brendan Rodgers’ career, who after an acrimonious departure from Anfield has arrived north of the border with a point to prove. Rodgers’ intensity has been distilled within his players, who could easily have moved into autopilot come the turn of the year with the title all but secured but instead found another gear to produce win after win in swaggering style.
If Rodgers and his players continue in such unrelenting fashion the Northern Irishman will surely become the third manager in the club’s history to secure the treble.
Forgotten men take centre stage
Former manager Ronny Delia’s demise owed a large part to a number of his players’ performance levels flat lining. Rodgers however has managed to take many of them to the next level, with James Forrest, Stuart Armstrong, Dedryck Boyata, Craig Gordon and Tom Rogic improving notably.
25-year-old Armstrong in particular has shone since becoming a regular starter, with his energy and driving runs from midfield become an integral feature of Celtic’s play and enough to earn the former Dundee United his first Scotland cap.
Goalkeeper Craig Gordon, always an imposing presence and superb shot stopper, has improved his distribution tenfold as he adapted to Rodgers’ possession based style of play.
Star signings flourish
Rodgers’ removed the deadwood during the summer, and made two hugely significant signings in the form of Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele.
French hitman Dembele has proven a revelation since his move from Fulham, scoring 32 goals in all competitions to become one of Europe’s hottest properties.
28-year-old wide man Sinclair has been rejuvenated since swapping the claret and blue of Aston Villa for the green and white hoops of Celtic, with his hat-trick on Saturday taking him to the top of the SPFL scoring charts.
Three key games on the journey to six-in-a-row
Celtic 5-1 Rangers
The first top flight meeting since Rangers promotion was billed as an acid test of both side’s title credentials, with Rangers, emboldened by high-profile summer singings Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar optimistic of mounting a real challenge. What transpired however was a thrashing. Moussa Dembele’s perfect hat-trick put Warburton’s side to the sword and offered the first glimpse of the chasm that existed between the two sides.
Aberdeen 0-1 Celtic
With Rangers floundering, Aberdeen stepped up as Celtic’s closest challengers to make October’s Pittodrie clash a crucial tie. A determined Dons side pressured Rodgers’ outfit throughout. In a game that could of gone either way a bit of magic was required, and it was Aussie playmaker Tom Rogic who stepped up to the plate to curl a delightful strike past a helpless Joe Lewis to steal the points.
Motherwell 3-4 Celtic
2-0 down and beleaguered at the break, Motherwell looked set to hand Rodgers’ his first league defeat. However, Celtic regrouped and the Steelmen failed to stem the tide as the Hoops mounted a comeback. Stuart Armstrong made it 3-3 before Tom Rogic stepped up once more in the dying seconds to secure the win.