Despite recent woes, Celtic have not forgotten about fourth straight treble ...
There is no argument from Neil Lennon that Celtic could have become victims of their own success.
The domestic double header against an in-form Aberdeen is viewed as piling further stress on his team following the back-to-back defeats against AC Milan and Rangers. Yet, the Scottish Cup tie against Derek McInnes’ side that comes a week after the teams are pitted at Pittodrie - these sandwiching a Europa League trip to Lille for Lennon’s men - could move Celtic to within one victory of a remarkable fourth consecutive treble. Never mind that the delay to the conclusion of the cup as the result of the March lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 global pandemic has now weakened the Scottish champions with Odsonne Edouard, Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed remaining unavailable as they recover from positive tests.
“It’s a break from the normal and it’s going to be a tough ask,” said Lennon. “I’d be hopeful by the time the semi-final comes around we’ll be settled and in good fettle. I think it would mean an awful lot to the players to achieve another treble. But we know it’s a really difficult tie.”
Celtic’s toils across the past week has meant the ability to extend a monopoly of domestic honours that is unrivalled in Scottish football history has been overlooked. “Yeah, not by us though,” Lennon said. “The players will be highly motivated to achieve that. When you do it once it’s amazing, when you do it three times it’s incredible, to do it a fourth time … I think people have sort of bypassed that, the chance of a 12th trophy in a row. It’s probably something we’ll never see again, and that’s why these players should be lauded. Their consistency is fantastic. They will come again, there is no question of that. They will have the bit between their teeth with these games coming up.”
The immediate concern for Lennon will be halting a losing run. It is 13 years since Celtic last suffered three straight defeats. He baulks at the suggestion, though, that the Pittodrie contest represents a test of character. “It is just another game,” he said, with Chris Jullien and James Forrest also unavailable through injury. “You talk about character, they have it in abundance. It is a bit of a cliché to say this is another test of character. It is just another challenge for them to look forward to. Lille next week will be a cracking game to look forward to. I just want to see us improve now because we have been decimated. It has been very stop-start. But, slowly but surely, we will get them back. I don’t think the damage, if you can call it that, is irreparable. There is a long way to go.”
The damage to the 3-5-2 formation done by Celtic looking more like themselves with a back four in the second half against MIlan could be lasting. Lack of width has perhaps tied Lenon’s hands about team shape. With Ryan Christie now free of quarantine, that situation would appear now different. A “possibly” in response to whether he would have started with a back four against the Italians had the Celtic medical team passed Christie to start might tell its own story.
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