WITH the transfer window having slammed shut a week ago, I am now better able to offer an analytical update for the current season. European football qualification and squads have been set through at least December, so can now provide some estimates within the context of my Expected Trophies model, which I shared in my first Celtic Way column.

With both Celtic and Rangers qualifying for the Europa League group stage, my pro forma estimates for each club’s finances suggest relative parity with regards to first-team wage bills. That is in contrast to last season, in which I estimate Celtic had approximately 10%-15% higher wage bill on the back of retaining all major players plus additions like the very expensive Shane Duffy loan deal.

The script has flipped to a degree for this season, as Rangers retained all of their players and added a few, while Celtic engaged in a massive squad overhaul. The net transfer spend since Jeremie Frimpong was sold in the January window is reported to have been approximately negative £20 million, with those proceeds potentially being used to help cover pandemic-related operating losses for the PLC. In addition, I believe it is more likely than not that the first-team wage bill will be significantly lower, as on balance the players acquired are likely to be on lower wages. 

Celtic Way:

This summary of player trading since January is intended to be conceptual, as Shaw was unlikely to have been acquired as a direct “replacement” for Ryan Christie. I have added the Talent and System Fit column descriptions, which are my qualitative assessments of each inbound player’s relative level versus the outbound players. Again, these are intended to be conceptual rather than literal. For example, with Elyounoussi now playing meaningful minutes in the English Premier League and given his historic transfer value, I believe it is reasonable to characterize his current talent level as being higher than Jota’s.

My characterization for System Fit is based upon analytical profiles for each player which I have created and examined to date. For example, I was not positive about Shane Duffy’s fit at the time of his acquisition within the system Celtic played last season, and have also been sceptical of Starfelt’s fit within Ange Postecoglou’s system this season, so I have described that change in personnel as Neutral. In contrast, I believe Kyogo Furuhashi’s fit with Ange’s system is better than Edouard’s fit in last season’s system, and have that change as an Upgrade.

READ MORE: Celtic can shine without Edouard, Christie and Ajer - Jackie McNamara

My confidence levels on these characterizations are not uniform, as my conviction that Shaw is a clear downgrade on Talent and System Fit compared to Ryan Christie is very high relative to the possibility that Liam Shaw is better than a Neutral for System Fit. Generally speaking, I would argue that the changes in the squad have resulted in a decline in talent, which could reasonably be expected given the negative transfer spend and likely decline in the wage bill.

Next, let us have a look at retained players and characterize where they may be in their age-based development curves along with System Fit.

Celtic Way:

Here, the story is a bit more mixed, as outside of Forrest and Rogic, player ages are either young enough where further development is plausible, or in their prime where performance levels may sustain. However, unless late transfers to markets with later closing windows such as Russia or Turkey occur, Barkas, Ajeti, and Bolingoli may represent significant player wages with the potential for very little or no first-team contributions.

When I consider these factors within the context of my Expected Trophy model, I believe Celtic are materially worse than at this point last season with regards to their wage bill and the quality of players which comprise the first team.

READ MORE: Three goals that built on Ange Postecoglou's footballing principles - Owen Brown

As positive as I remain about Ange Postecoglou as Celtic manager, he likely has a significant challenge to confront with the talent level and how the squad aligns with his playing style. In addition, these challenges are not unfolding within a vacuum, but within the context of Rangers retaining a relatively settled and deep squad.

Along with retaining their core first-team contributors, Rangers strengthened depth further with the additions of Lundstram, Bacuna, and Ofoborh, while effectively swapping Sakala’s arrival with Itten going out on loan. Current bookmaking odds have Rangers at about 65% implied odds and 538’s projection system currently has them at 66% odds to win the league. Unfortunately, as a Celtic supporter, my analytical assessment is that those may be “cheap” and that Rangers are probably a bit stronger of a favourite than those odds suggest.

As I wrote in my August 24th column, Ange Postecoglou’s playing style appears to introduce higher performance volatility, and Rangers may be due for less positive variance compared to last season. I fear Celtic may need some combination of the two to manifest in some "good luck" for Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic to have a good chance to reclaim the league title.