How Ange Postecoglou Has Turned Celtic Around

Ben Wylie

The Story so far

Last season, Glasgow was unquestionably blue, with Rangers' invincible season-ending a run of nine consecutive league titles for Celtic stopping the infamous 10-in-a-row.

The majority of Scottish league fans expected Rangers to kick on and extend last season’s dominance, however, this has far from being the case, with Celtic in the driving seat for the title.

This weekend, the two clash in the fifth and final Old Firm of the season in what’s bound to be a dramatic and certainly decisive affair. In August, Rangers, then managed by Steven Gerrard, ran out 1-0 victors before suffering a 3-0 defeat at Celtic Park in February. There has been a flurry of Old Firms recently, with Celtic recording a momentous 2-1 victory at Ibrox earlier this month, before Rangers exacting revenge in the Scottish Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 win after extra-time a few weeks ago.

With two wins apiece, it’s all square in terms of head-to-head record, however, in the bigger picture, it’s advantage Celtic, as Postecoglou’s men know avoiding defeat on Sunday will all but secure the title.

SPL Tips

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CELTIC VS RANGERS: CELTIC TO WIN & BTTS @ 3/1

What’s changed at Celtic Park?

After a largely dysfunctional 2020/21 season, manager Neil Lennon “resigned” in February with then assistant manager John Kennedy taking charge for the remainder of the campaign. Despite a respectable performance from Kennedy, Postecoglou took the reins in the summer of 2021 and in retrospect, this is when the real shift began at Celtic Park.

Having spent time in Australia and Japan prior to Glasgow, questions were raised initially over Postecoglou’s managerial pedigree, however, with his first season coming to a close, it’s safe to say any critics have been silenced. Since being appointed, the Australian has made notable changes in the club’s style of play and personnel which have both contributed to the likely forthcoming league victory in his debut season.

Comparing this season to last, stylistically, Celtic have drastically changed. Lennon and Kennedy opted for rotations of 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2, 3-1-4-2, 4-1-3-2, and 4-4-2, and while such tactical versatility can be beneficial if executed correctly, if not, it can leave players isolated with no defined, well-understood, and practised system.

The latter appeared to be the case at Celtic Park, with Postecoglou immediately rectifying this by strictly deploying a 4-3-3 or wide 4-2-3-1, essentially retaining the same system for every game. Besides more familiarity from players, the fluidity of Celtic’s overall game benefitted, with a byproduct of this being significant growth in attacking output. Despite having four games remaining, Celtic are the division’s top scorers with 80 goals, already surpassing last season’s tally, as well as two of the three seasons before that.

Combined with Postecoglou’s tactics, another contributing factor in Celtic’s resurgence are the players themselves, with the Australian making several key signings.

In the last two windows, Celtic has welcomed four J-League (Japan’s First Division) players, two of whom are forwards Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda, known to Postecoglou from his time in Japan.

Both have exceptional records in the J-League in recent seasons, and since joining the Glasgow side have fully embodied Postecoglou’s high-intensity hard-working mantra. Their work rate and end-product has seen them quickly become fan favourites, with Kyogo’s 14 league goals seeing him lead the SPFL scoring charts.

For Celtic fans and Postecoglou, the bond extends far beyond the football pitch, as both share similar backgrounds. As a Greek immigrant in Australia, Postecoglou understands and relates to the Celtic’s heritage of being an Irish-based club in Glasgow, and in return, the Parkhead faithful developed an almost instant affinity with the Australian. His passion for football and Celtic is unquestionable, and it’s this very attitude that has seen him shoot to popularity at Parkhead and has helped reinvigorate the side in such a short space of time.

SPL Tips

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KYOGO FURUHASHI TO FINISH AS SCOTTISH PREMIERSHIP TOP SCORER @ 11/2

What’s next for Celtic?

This season has more at stake than ever, as the eventual league winners are guaranteed a Champions League group stage place, meaning Sunday’s derby will have more to play for than just the league title. If this is to be Celtic, a certain degree of irony will befall Parkhead, as ultimately they will be the beneficiaries of Rangers' hard work over recent years.

By progressing to the Europa League quarter-finals last season and currently being in the semi-finals of this season’s competition, Rangers have increased Scotland’s ranking in the UEFA coefficient, with the SPFL now awarded an additional Champions League spot at the qualification round, with league winners automatically entering at the group stages.

For a Scottish club, the financial benefits of Champions League qualification could be massive, and if one of Rangers or Celtic achieve the feat whilst the other doesn’t, they would surely go into the coming seasons with an advantage from the off.

For Celtic and Postecoglou, this will have surely been the long-term goal, as whilst domestic silverware is always a priority, returning to the pinnacle of European football is a must for a club of their stature. Rightly so, Hoops fans are beyond pleased with Australian's first season, as in addition to signing several now fan-favourite players, above all, he has Celtic playing the free-scoring, attacking football synonymous with the club whilst simultaneously delivering results.

At present, Postecoglou and Celtic look like a match made in heaven, sharing the same vision and philosophies evidenced by the club's performances. The Parkhead faithful will be eager to see what lies ahead, however, with a guarantee of a battle on Sunday, will be wary not to fall at what looks to be the final hurdle in this season's title race.


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