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Since his arrival in January, Alistair Johnston has been an ever-present member of the Celtic defence.

The Canada international made the move to Scotland following an impressive showing for his nation in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. His debut - a Glasgow Derby against Rangers – gave everybody a glimpse of what the right-back was all about, both in his defensive plays and attacking forays when motoring up the park.

Signed from CF Montreal for £3 million, Johnston’s performances so far are that of a player worth well more than the price tag the MLS side placed on him. Following in the footsteps of Josip Juranovic was always going to be a challenging proposition, despite the Croatian’s mixed start to the season form-wise.

Indeed, Anthony Ralston had been favoured over the right-back on more than one occasion last season, with the latter perhaps more focused on the then-upcoming World Cup for his national team. Like many of Celtic’s recent acquisitions, Johnston was brought in before Juranovic had left the club, allowing a smooth transition between incoming players and those looking to move away.

It also meant that the club were not in a position where they were short on numbers in that area of the park. This system has also been successful with regard to Oh Hyeon-gyu, who was signed before the departure of Giorgos Giakoumakis to Atlanta United. Unfortunately for Celtic, reports have circulated that Johnston will miss the whole of pre-season and the start of the campaign with an injury picked up whilst on international duty, his injury keeping him out for eight more weeks as a result.

A massive blow for the player, who will have to play catch-up with regard to getting back into the swing of things in terms of the new season. Alas, he will have to be patient and wait on an opportunity to impress new manager Brendan Rodgers.

With the aforementioned Ralston, Celtic have a back-up that is capable of stepping in when required. However, he cannot be the starting right-back ahead of next season. Not to downplay the achievements of the Scotland international, as he has done amazingly well to kick-start his career after seemingly reaching the end of the road in 2021.

It was Ange Postecoglou who resurrected Ralston's career, offering the player a one-year contract extension when it looked likely that he would be leaving the club. Being the only senior player able to play that position at the club, his signing was a necessary one, and he was first choice until the arrival of Juranovic from Legia Warsaw.

READ MORE: Are Celtic set for a change in wage structure? - Ryan McGinlay

Two years have passed and Ralston has been a tremendous servant for the club in the seasons during this time. However, the manager that gave him his original opportunity in the first team has returned, meaning improvements will be required across the board, including in the full-back area, in order to implement his style of play.

If Celtic are to progress in the Champions League, then the club have got to improve in every area of the park. Despite Ralston’s relative reliability in the right-back position, his performances following his return from injury were slightly concerning, especially in the 2-2 draw with St Mirren at home and the 3-0 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox.

A recruit may come in the form of a player in the same mould as Alexandro Bernabei, although the manager will want a right-sided defender to hit the ground running faster than the Argentine has thus far.  This may well be where head of recruitment Mark Lawwell again uses his expertise and knowledge to scout and identify up-and-coming talents to make the move to Glasgow for this particular position.

Yan Couto could be one of these players who could fill the void. He was a target back in 2021 for the Hoops and is set to be looking for a move away from Manchester City – either on loan or permanently. Couto was a guest at Parkhead for the home match against Jablonec at the start of Postecoglou’s reign as the club looked to secure his signature.

However, the Brazilian instead chose Portuguese club Braga before spending last season at City Group affiliate side Girona. It would not be surprising if this is a route that the club chooses to revisit once again if they are in the market for a right-back.

READ MORE: What does Champions League progression look like for Celtic in 2023?

For the sake of the squad, you would hope that they are. After all, Rodgers will have been given assurances that the club is run far more efficiently than in 2019 when he left. This must trickle down to recruitment and the constant desire and aim to improve where possible.

As harsh as it sounds – and with no disrespect to Ralston or the effort he has put in – Celtic cannot afford to allow him to be the starting right-back for the start of the next campaign. Of course, will have a part to play over the duration of the season, but if the club is serious about their ambitions moving forward, then he is not the answer.

For the first time in a few years, the right-back position has the potential to become a problem area for Celtic once again. It is up to the management and the scouting team to make sure that this is addressed swiftly.

This piece is an extract from the latest Celtic Digest newsletter, which is emailed out every weekday evening with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from The Celtic Way team.

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