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A result like Celtic's League Cup exit to Kilmarnock was always coming.

After a poor start to the season performance-wise, despite winning their two opening league fixtures, the Scottish champions were inevitably going to come unstuck. The Hoops had looked shaky defensively since pre-season and during the victories over Ross County and Aberdeen, these problems were heightened. Add into the mix that star defender Cameron Carter-Vickers was unavailable for the trip to Rugby Park; then it was a recipe for disaster.

It is not just at the back as there have been issues tactically all over the pitch, recently. At times players look like they are trying to problem-solve off the cuff. Whether this is due to the team still being set in their ways after playing the same style for two seasons under Ange Postecoglou or if Brendan Rodgers' methods are not sinking in properly, it remains to be seen.

An uninspiring transfer window so far was another thing exposed during the 1-0 defeat in Ayrshire. The bench looked thin and in an attempt to salvage something, the manager brought on David Turnbull, who was a bit part player last season, Yang Hyun-jun, who has looked promising but is very much still finding his feet as a young player in a new country and Sead Haksabanovic, who had not featured in the previous two matches. It all just seemed a little haphazard and one can't help but feel that if the recruitment had been stronger, then things might have been different.

Despite all this though, Celtic should have had more than enough to take care of Kilmarnock. Rodgers inherited a team of winners, eight of the starting eleven in Ayrshire lifted a treble last season, and there is no excuse for the slow start to the season. This makes comments by the captain and the manager even stranger at full-time. Callum McGregor highlighted the issues that the club are currently experiencing.

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He said: "Celtic teams need to play with a certain level of personality and quality, and we didn’t do that. I think it's a reminder for everyone that you don’t have the God-given right to turn up and win trebles. It's not easy, you come here, and you have to fight and find a way to win the game, find the quality moment to win the game and we didn’t do that.

"I remember back to two years ago at this point, or slightly later, into September, when we lost at Livingston and it was much the same. Now we are at a crossroads in this group as well. We have lost a lot of key players, a lot of big players for us, so we have to find a new team. We have to find a settled team and then go back to the principles that make us a good team. It just shows you that if you don’t stick to that the game because random and that’s what happens. It is a big learning curve for sure."

One does not want to misinterpret what McGregor is saying, but it seems an odd choice to highlight the team as being at a "crossroads" three games into the season. That was very much the case when Postecoglou joined the club in 2021 and Celtic were coming off the back of a disastrous 2020-21 campaign. This and the influx of new players meant things would always take time. 

However, two years later and Rodgers has inherited a winning machine. While players can have off days and a team cannot win every game, the consistently below-average performances are a real concern. And McGregor's post-match comments do not help matters.

"We didn’t have enough quality. So that’s disappointing for sure, but we have to learn from it now," he continued. "We’re at a crossroads in the season, similar to where we were two years ago when the new manager came in the first time. It's important that everyone sticks together, and we find the solutions and the answers to the problems that lie on the pitch. "As I said, the only way we’re going to get better is if everyone sticks together, and it serves as a reminder that every time you cross the pitch you have to give everything."

It can be easy to read too much into players and managers giving instant analysis after a game. Things are raw, particularly after being knocked out of a cup competition, and their comments do not always indicate how they are feeling. But one cannot help but be concerned by statements that are very close to sounding like a team at the early stages of a rebuild. This is not where Celtic should be with less than 10 days left of the transfer window.

Yes, players like Jota and Carl Starfelt have left, Aaron Mooy retired and the manager joined Tottenham Hotspur but the bulk of the winning squad remained and a coach was reappointed who won seven out of seven trophies in his first spell. The club should have been in a strong position to develop and build on their progress. However, it feels like at the moment, things have regressed.

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The obvious caveats are that it is still very early in the season and the squad has been unlucky with injuries. Rodgers is more than capable of turning the team back into a free-flowing side. For this to happen though, performances need to pick up drastically and the club must have a strong end to the transfer window by recruiting well in a number of positions. Celtic can bypass the "crossroads" they currently find themselves at, but there is plenty of work to do.