Just when it looked like Celtic had put their injury problems behind them this season, Brendan Rodgers’ squad is again taking hits in international week.
Last week Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong were ruled out of action for Scotland and Celtic due to hamstring and calf injuries and this week defender Jozo Simunovic had to drop out of the Bosnia and Herzegovina squad due to a reported torn hamstring.
That makes the 23-year-old centre back a massive doubt for the Hoops double header against Bayern Munich, along with some vitally important domestic matches on the horizon.
Making matters worse, fellow defender Dedryck Boyata had just actually returned form injury himself and with games together a huge priority if they’re to develop as a cohesive unit, that means Simunovic’s injury has simply come at the worst time possible.
After their supreme performance away to Anderlecht together, Celtic fans had been hoping that the Simunovic-Boyata partnership would get back into full swing again and provide defensive stability in Europe’s premier club competition. However, it seems this partnership being tested at that level will be a fleeting thing indeed and it’s a bitter blow to their ambitions.
Going into the Bayern Munich match, the Hoops simply need their best players available to them and in defence that means the Belgian and the Bosnian international. Getting anything out of those games is a big ask, but it’s made almost impossible if they have to rely upon a makeshift defence with players played out of position.
Domestically too, Celtic need hit the top of their game defensively with huge match-ups against Hibernian in a national semi-final and a top of the table clash against Aberdeen both coming between the two games against the Germans. Rodgers has been experimenting with a back three in Scottish football recently but it’s looked less than convincing than when the Hoops can call upon a settled back four.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Celtic fans is that their problems with injuries in defence this season have been entirely predictable and given the resources available to them, arguably preventable.
Both Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata have had their fair share of injury problems since joining the club. Under Brendan Rodgers, they have played together on less than 20 occasions. For what is their first-choice and best defensive partnership, that’s worrying indeed, especially when you consider how long and arduous a season at the Hoops is. When you also consider that the other first-team central defender, Erik Sviatchenko, hasn’t exactly been reliable when it comes to injuries either, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
The failure to sign a quality centre-back in the summer transfer window looks like a decision that could haunt the Hoops all the way to January. Celtic have had numerous transfer windows to identify a player good enough to compete for places in the position and although their policy is clearly not signing cover for the sake of it, it’s hard to imagine there was no defender in the world that was both good enough and available.
The hope will be from Celtic’s point of view that Simunovic’s injury isn’t as bad as first feared and he can rest enough just in time to feature during their testing upcoming schedule, however they did not have to be in a situation where hope is the best case scenario.
They have another chance to fix things in January and failure to do so again will ask some big questions of the club’s recruitment process.