There was a joyous and vibrant atmosphere at Celtic Park on Sunday as fans returned for the first competitive match of the 2022/23 campaign against Aberdeen.
Before the flag was raised into the air to signal the start of the Scottish Premiership season, the supporters combined not only for a spine-tingling rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, but for one of the most memorable tifo displays in recent memory.
Expectations were high as the opening whistle sounded, and the fans didn’t have to wait too long to burst out of their seats again as Celtic took the lead with just three minutes on the clock.
From a Matt O’Riler corner-kick, Stephen Welsh rose above everyone inside the box to glance a lovely header across goal into the bottom left corner.
It was the perfect start to the game and the perfect start to the season.
From then, the Hoops dominated possession and created a hatful of chances. In the end, only one more goal would be added to the tally for the day as Jota sent a thunderbolt into the top left corner from 25 yards.
Many fans were expecting and hoping for a result a bit more comprehensive, but there aren’t too many complaints to be made about a winning start on the opening day of the season and a clean sheet.
Some talking points did arise from proceedings, though…
Should Daizen Maeda be an automatic starter in the league?
Since being brought to Celtic in the 2022 January transfer window, Daizen Maeda has started 15 out of a possible 17 matches in the Scottish Premiership. In that time he has a return of six goals scored and five assists recorded.
That is certainly not to be sniffed at, but it could be argued that Maeda may be better suited for certain matches.
His most impressive attributes are clear – he is an absolute workhorse, is extremely fit, does exactly as the manager asks, and is a team player.
Those are all admirable traits for a player and ones that are vital in a side that presses with such intensity.
But, there have been too many occasions in a Celtic shirt when Maeda’s actual quality on the ball has let him down.
In every single home game in the Premiership this season, Celtic will face at least 10 men behind the ball for the majority of proceedings, which dilutes the need for high pressing at the top end of the pitch.
Yes, the pressing is required to win the ball back in dangerous areas and Maeda is fantastic at that. However, using Aberdeen as an example, Maeda can’t press if the ball is constantly going over his head and that is what happened on Saturday as the Dons were more than happy to continually surrender possession with aimless thumps up the park.
The onus went on the likes of Maeda and Jota to create within tight areas and provide quality into the box for Kyogo whether it be via low crosses or a pass in between the lines.
Maeda gets into great positions, but his ability to capitalise on them isn’t always up to scratch.
Also, he again found himself with a great headed opportunity at the far post – just like against Rangers last season – only to bizarrely send the ball back out of the box with a square header rather than hitting the target.
Celtic now have options in the wide areas and Liel Abada is certainly more of a direct threat on goal than Maeda, as his contributions last season proved. Also, would any fan really say no to another creative winger coming in?
Maeda will undoubtedly be a vital man for Celtic and Postecoglou this season, but will his talents be better suited to the Champions League when the team will need his fitness and defensive responsibility rather than domestically when plenty of creativity will be required?
The Need for a Midfield Anchorman
Celtic’s win on Saturday was probably as comprehensive a 2-0 victory as you will see, even if the supporters were naturally hungry for more goals.
Celtic had 69% possession, completed 684 passes to Aberdeen’s 319, had nine corners and sent 21 shots on goal with nine hitting the target.
But, there were a couple of moments of concern that Postecoglou will have mentally taken note of.
Aberdeen’s best chance of the match came in the first half when Jonny Hayes found himself completely free near the edge of the box. With the goal at his mercy, he sent a strike wide of the mark as the fans breathed a sigh of relief.
That chance, and a number of other potentially dangerous counters from Aberdeen, all came via a break of the ball in midfield.
These kinds of breaks will be devastating to the team in Europe, and on Saturday we survived a few due to the pace of Cameron Carter-Vickers at the back.
The incidents highlighted Celtic’s need for a midfield anchorman – someone to be there to mop up those stray balls. Callum McGregor remains the club’s best player and talisman, but he can’t do everything himself in midfield and so if he dares to venture forward or not be 100% completely disciplined in there, the team are caught cold.
The likes of O’Riley and Hatate, after all, aren’t going to sprint back at full pace if we lose the ball in midfield. They just aren’t as their talents lie elsewhere.
A midfield enforcer would allow McGregor to create without the added pressure of marshalling space.