Brown and out: Captain faces months on sidelines
INJURY CRISIS Midfield setback ahead of Ajax means Celtic will be forced to strengthen squad in January
RONNY DEILA will attempt to strengthen his Celtic squad with experienced players during the January transfer window after Scott Brown was ruled out for up to three months with ligament damage.
Deila revealed that Brown, his influential captain and central midfielder, would be sidelined for between eight and 12 weeks yesterday as he looked ahead to the Europa League meeting with Ajax.
The Scotland internationalist limped off towards the end of the Parkhead club’s Ladbrokes Premiership match against Kilmarnock on Saturday.
A scan has since revealed the injury he suffered, which Celtic medical staff are hoping will not require surgery, was worse than first feared.
The loss of the player is a huge blow to Deila ahead of a Group A meeting with Ajax this evening which his side must win to keep alive their hopes of reaching the last 32 of the Europa League.
He will also be without Kris Commons, who will be unavailable due to illness and injury, as well as Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen, who are both suspended, for the game against the Eredivisie leaders.
The extended absence of Brown could also impact on their bid to win a fifth consecutive Scottish title and land the League Cup and Scottish Cup during the 2015/16 campaign.
The Celtic transfer policy has been to target promising young players at affordable prices who can be developed and sold on for a profit. However, Deila admitted that he will now look to bring in senior players to bolster his squad and compensate for the loss of key individuals at the start of next year.
“I think it is very important now in January that we look for players who have experience,” he said. “We have a lot of talent, but you need leaders, or parents to the players, to get them to grow. I would rather have one or two players that can stretch the level and have experience than have five youngsters who are talented players because you can’t get through all the ties.
“Ryan Christie is coming, Scott Allan, [Callum] McGregor, [Aiden] Nesbitt; you need leaders around these young boys to get the best of out of them.
“We know what kind of budget we have. It is possible. We have to look at players who are important in their teams and are not in the biggest leagues.
“You don’t get a guy from the Premier League who is playing week in, week out. We get players who are, in their way, not good enough for that level, but who are straight under and want to have a different challenge.”
Deila expressed sympathy for Brown, but insisted that Celtic could overcome Ajax and progress to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the second season running. “It is just very unlucky,” he said. “He wanted to play. He was back and was in good shape. But also for ourselves it is a blow.
“But it is nothing to be sad about. You just have to keep on working. There are a lot of players who have worked hard all season who will get a new chance now.
“We have Scott Allan, Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor, who can play centrally in the pitch. We are going to fill the gaps. It is going to be a young team. But it is a young team Ajax have as well. Scott [Brown] has a lot of experience and is important for the team. But this gives people the possibility to step up and become that leader we are talking about.”
Anthony Stokes, the Republic of Ireland internationalist who has not featured in the Celtic first team since a win over Dundee United back in August, could be brought back. “He is available,” said Deila. “He is in our thoughts and he is in the squad.”
Deila will be forced to rejig his starting line-up, field inexperienced players lacking in recent game time and may have to change formation
WHAT was a must-win game for Ronny Deila and Celtic has suddenly become something akin to a theycan’t-possibly-win game. Overcoming an Ajax team which is currently leading the Eredivisie this evening and keeping alive their slim hopes of reaching the Europa League knockout stages was always going to be a challenge.
The Scottish champions have failed to produce a wholly convincing 90 minute performance in their four Group A fixtures to date. They performed woefully in successive defeats to mid-table Norwegian rivals Molde in their last two outings and slumped to a 5-2 aggregate defeat.
Throw in the suspension of Nir Bitton, arguably their most impressive performer this season, and Stefan Johansen, a first team regular, on top of that unconvincing form and Celtic always had their work cut out.
Now, though, that Scott Brown and Kris Commons, the heartbeat of the team and the main creative spark up front, have been ruled out their objective seems a forlorn hope.
Deila will be forced to rejig his starting line-up, field inexperienced players lacking in recent game time and may also have to deviate from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation against formidable opponents as a result of the loss of Brown and Commons.
The likes of Scott Allan, Efe Ambrose, Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven, Tom Rogic and even the lesser spotted Anthony Stokes could all be called upon to play important roles against Frank de Boer’s side tonight.
It is unlikely that Charlie Mulgrew, who has returned to full training at Lennoxtown this week after recovering from a thigh injury and who would have slotted into one of the vacant sitting midfielder’s berths comfortably, will feature from the start.
The Celtic manager, though, is hopeful that one or more of his charges can grasp their opportunity and compensate for the loss of their more established team mates – and remains optimistic victory can be secured.
“You need people to take responsibility out there,” he said. “If we are going to do something in Europe now and in the future, we need players who can adapt to that level and be leaders on the pitch. These players need to step up and be men.
“It’s in our hands. We need to win. Maybe a draw would do, but I don’t think that. We have to go for three points and have 90 minutes to do that. We will look to do a lot of the things we did against Fenerbahce, while avoiding the easy mistakes. We have good players, so I have a belief we can do it.
“There is nothing to fear. The worst thing that can happen is that you can lose. You don’t lose your life, things will go on.
“The worst thing that you can do is go onto the pitch and not give 100 per cent, either keeping something back or being afraid to do what you want. That’s what I mean about being fearless; go on and show what you are capable of and you’ll get what you deserve.”
Ajax scored four goals from set pieces in their 5-1 win over Cambuur in the Amsterdam ArenA on Saturday. Given the problems which Celtic have experienced in this area in Europe this season that is, despite the availability of centre half Jozo Simunovic again, ominous for the hosts.
However, Deila has worked hard to address his side’s failings at corners and free-kicks and is adamant they can nullify the threat the visitors, who they drew 2-2 with away from home back in September, pose in those situations.
“We are prepared for Ajax and we are prepared for that,” he said. “It was the same in Amsterdam, but we also scored the same way there.
“They have weaknesses we are also aware of and it is down to us to play with a lot of the same things we did in Amsterdam. We know Ajax are offensive and we’ll get our chances if we defend in the right way and take them when they are unbalanced.”
Much will, as ever, be expected of Leigh Griffiths up front if he is, as expected, given the nod to start. The in-form striker believes Ajax have weaknesses which he can exploit after seeing footage of their latest outing in the Netherlands at the weekend.
“We know we can nullify them in certain areas,” he said. “They are dangerous on the counter attack, but they are vulnerable as well as they leave big spaces in behind.
“That suits me. I like to get in behind defences and stretch the game as much as I can. The wingers we have – whether it’s James [Forrest], Stuart [Armstrong] or Gary [Mackay-Steven] – like to get in to those spaces as well.”
Deila has come under increasing pressure as a consequence of Celtic’s disappointing showings in Europe during the 2015/16 campaign. This outing was seen as pivotal to the 40-year-old’s future.
The loss of so many key players will be damaging to his team’s hopes of winning their last two Europa League group games and going through to the last 32 of the competition. But, by a strange quirk of fate, it could prolong his career in Scotland.
How can the manager be blamed for a loss when almost half of the outfield players he would ordinarily have fielded are unavailable?
RULED OUT: Celtic captain Scott Brown could face 12 weeks out after limping off against Kilmarnock.
BRAVE: Celtic manager Ronny Deila wants his young players to show no fear and embrace the chance to play against quality European opponents