Celtic have 16 SPFL Premiership matches left to decide which club gets access to a potential £60 million expanded Champions League bounty in the 2024-25 season.

16 cup ties, effectively.  If Celtic wins all 16 matches, they will be champions again. I believe there are four key areas of improvement needed to optimise the chances of this happening...


Realistically, Celtic are not going to sign a new number one in January. It would be very disruptive and may introduce more risk than persisting with a physically declining Joe Hart.

Hart was ranked 32nd out of 32 Champions League Group Stage custodians in the key metric goals saved above average (GSAA). He conceded 0.79 more goals per 90 minutes than expected given the shots on target faced. Over six group stage ties, that is a remarkable 4.74 additional goals.

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In Scotland this rate is 'only' -0.08, meaning if these trends continue, he will concede 1.28 more goals than expected over the remaining 16 matches. This is the equal second-lowest GSAA in the competition. Only Liam Kelly of Motherwell is worse.

Jack Butland of Rangers is on 0.07 GSAA per 90 minutes. Worth 1.26 goals to the challengers if the trends continue. Will 2.54 goals be enough to swing the league? This is the gamble Celtic will take by persisting with Hart over the risks introduced by settling in a new shot-stopper. Celtic supporters must hope the opposition shots mainly fall within Hart’s shrinking physical orbit.


Over the years, a rotation of personnel at centre-back is a familiar theme. This usually happens when vital Champions League qualifiers come around early in the season.

This season it has been a persistent issue following a long run of Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers providing a stable platform. Starfelt had many faults, but the efficacy of having a consistent partnership was evident in the degree to which the Swede's performance metrics improved the longer he played with the American in an unchanging backline.

This season, there has been a different starting partnership in 15 of the 29 matches across all competitions.

Carter-Vickers and Liam Scales have started 14 matches, but no other partnership has started more than six.

To make matters worse, in quite a few matches, one of the centre-backs has had to be substituted. Normally this does not happen, and it is the attacking players who are replaced in the game. Celtic are giving up a higher quality of shot as measured by expected goals per effort – 0.11 compared to 0.1 last season. The challengers are only giving up 0.09 xG per shot.

If Celtic can complete the remaining 16 matches with the same centre-backs in play, I believe it will solidify the defence and perhaps reduce the average opposition shot quality.

The second eight

Only in the last four matches before the winter break did the midfield three appear well-balanced.

Paolo Bernardo started to settle and added goals and creative threats to his industry and pressing ability. With Reo Hatate now fit, if Celtic’s midfield can function as well with a settled three from those four (including Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley) then this will aid the defence further but also provide a steadier supply for Kyogo Furuhashi in particular.

Last season O’Riley provided Furuhashi with 17 scoring chances and Hatate with 11. Bernardo adds pressing capabilities and greater all-around midfield athleticism. Hatate provides moments of magic that can unlock a stubborn defence.

Getting game time from those four will provide a more robust and creative central platform with and without the ball.

Righting the right wing

Five players have been trying to get a steady productive stream of goal threat and chance creation from the right wing.

Daizen Maeda is the incumbent but has never looked comfortable on that side. He has contributed three goals and four assists to the campaign. However, the other candidates on that side have contributed only four goals and two assists between them.

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Only six chances and one assist (from oft-injured Liel Abada) have come from that side for key striker Kyogo Furuhashi. In contrast, central midfielder O’Riley has created 11 chances and six assists for the striker.

Abada is now fit, and it looks as if Celtic are about to sign a new right-wing candidate in Nicolas Kuhn. If Celtic can get the kind of service Luis Palma has been offering from the left (59 chances including nine assists) then the champions will have a better-balanced attack and be harder to defend against.


Football is a game of fine margins given the low-scoring nature of it. As we have seen with Celtic this season, the balance and cohesion of the team is very delicate. A few personnel changes can prove highly disruptive.

The key areas of a central defensive partnership, a balanced midfield three, and improved penetration from the right are the major areas where small but significant changes will likely bring rewards.