‘Ange-ball’ has Celtic fans in thrall . . . but will it work against Rangers at Ibrox?

THERE is much that Ange Postecoglou must achieve in the months ahead if he is to vindicate his somewhat leftfield appointment as Celtic manager this summer.

The man who occupies the Parkhead dugout is expected to win every domestic competition that his team is involved in – not least the cinch Premiership – and do well in Europe each season.

Missing out on a place in the Europa League group stages on Thursday night will be a bitter disappointment, not to mention a costly failure financially, and will not go down well.

It is to be hoped that Celtic, who are leading AZ Alkmaar 2-0 from the first leg, prevail over in the Netherlands and progress for the good of Scottish game.

Yet, Postecoglou has, just a couple of months or so into his tenure, already enjoyed some significant successes.

Lifting the mood around the East End of Glasgow – which was at rock bottom after their calamitous attempt to complete 10-In-A-Row and trophyless 2020/21 campaign – in a matter of weeks has been some going.

Those supporters who staged angry protests outside the stadium, called for the manager and board to be sacked, got involved in ugly skirmishes with police, hurled missiles at players and attacked the team bus last term have showered the Greek-Australian and his charges with adulation and praise.  

The football Celtic have served up during their six game winning run has been a delight to watch at times; they have scored 24 goals and could quite easily have netted more.

New signings Liel Abada, Kyogo Furuhashi and Joe Hart have all contributed greatly to the resurgence. Meanwhile, Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic, who had lost their way, have been revitalised. And Anthony Ralston has grasped the chance he was only handed due to the lack of alternatives in the right back position and then some.

Postecoglou has shown he has an eye for a player in the transfer market, wants his side to attack and entertain and can inspire and improve those who work under him. 

It is little wonder that Celtic fans are currently counting the hours until the first Old Firm match of the season kicks off at Ibrox at noon on Sunday even though none of them will, due to a standoff between the hierarchies at the city rivals over ticket allocations, be in attendance.   

Rangers have been as unconvincing as their age-old adversaries have been convincing in recent weeks. Individuals who were immense last season as Steven Gerrard’s men romped to their first top flight title in 10 years by a 25 point margin have disappointed. Leon Balogun, Borna Barisic, Connor Goldson, Ryan Kent and James Tavernier have all been far from their best. New arrival John Lundstram has been poor.

Ross County were beaten 4-2 up in Dingwall yesterday. But their showings in the home and away defeats to Malmo in Champions League qualifying, Premiership loss to Dundee United at Tannadice and even the narrow Europa League play-off win over Alashkert have concerned their followers and manager.

Are the champions heading for a humiliating home defeat in the opening Glasgow derby of the season? Is the balance of power in Scottish football going to shift quickly from Govan to Parkhead? A sense of perspective is required here.

Celtic have played just once away during their current hot streak of form. They beat Jablonec, who finished third in the Czech First League last term, 4-2 earlier this month. Will “Ange-ball”, as their high-risk, expansive, swashbuckling style has been dubbed, work against quality opposition and top-class strikers on the road? We will find out this week when they play AZ and Rangers.

Callum McGregor and his team mates have kept clean sheets against Dundee, Jablonec, Hearts, AZ and St Mirren in recent weeks. But the defence has looked shaky at times. Carl Starfelt has still to show why it took a £4.3m fee to secure his services. Hart has been required to come to their rescue on several occasions.

Jablonec had three gilt-edged scoring opportunities, AZ even more and Hearts netted twice in the second-half. In that latter outing, Postecoglou felt his men had tired due to the high tempo they had, as instructed, played at. 

The new recruits will help Celtic maintain their intensity for the full 90 minutes. However, what sort of shape will Abada, Furuhashi and Rogic be in at Sunday lunchtime after what promises to be a mentally and physically draining foreign excursion on Thursday night?

Postecoglou has been unconcerned by their issues at the back. He appreciates the new-look rearguard is a work in progress. He also accepts that his tactics will leave his men exposed on occasion. He is the kind of coach who is quite happy for his side to concede a goal just as long as they score two.

But how will they fare in front of a hostile 45,000-strong crowd if Gerrard, as he did in the 4-1 win at Ibrox back in May, fields Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe up front in a 4-3-1-2 formation?

Celtic could quite easily triumph comfortably against hosts who have toiled of late and have an energy-sapping continental fixture in Armenia to negotiate on Thursday themselves. But it will interesting seeing how effective “Ange-ball” is in what will be their biggest test to date.


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