It is safe to say that this season’s career resurgence of Liam Scales has caught the manager, supporters and pundits by surprise.
The Irishman was expected to make a return to Aberdeen this summer following a loan spell at Pittodrie last season but a spate of injuries hampering the club’s options at centre-back opened the door for the 25-year-old to cement his place as a first-team player at Celtic. In doing so, he is keeping an EPL player and £7.5m worth of new recruits out of Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI.
Given that the club had signed those three centre-backs in the summer, the unprecedented rise of Scales has thrown the career trajectories of a few other central defenders up in the air.
Signed in the summer for £4.3million from Legia Warsaw, the Pole was making a positive start to life in Glasgow as he was expected to be the replacement for the outgoing Carl Starfelt.
Demonstrating impressive tackling abilities as well as good recovery pace, Nawrocki looked set to nail down that starting spot before an injury at Rugby Park sideline him for a few months, leading to him missing out on the Champions League squad.
Upon his return from injury, the 22-year-old reappeared in the matchday squad for a few games but is yet to make an appearance for Celtic since making a full recovery.
There is no doubt that the partnership of Liam Scales and Cameron Carter-Vickers has prevented Rodgers from rotating his centre-back pairing since the return of the American international.
The Swede was a regular fixture in the Celtic squad whilst the majority of the centre-backs at the club were out injured, thriving domestically as he turned in some top performances alongside Scales in the heart of the defence.
A sending-off in Rotterdam, as well as the return of Cameron Carter-Vickers to the fold, seems to have put Lagerbielke straight out of the picture at Celtic.
With Carter-Vickers, Scales and Nawrocki all ahead of him in the pecking order, it will be tough for the Allsvenskan Defender of the Year to find gametime for Celtic over the next few weeks. It seems harsh as, other than that European blip, the 23-year-old hasn’t done much wrong since moving to Glasgow.
Welsh looked set for big things this season after an impressive pre-season campaign saw him rewarded with a new contract at the club by Brendan Rodgers.
Disaster struck, though, as theyouth product was immediately injured upon penning his new deal. The timing could not have been worse for the player, who was prevented from picking up some precious minutes in the absence of the majority of the club’s centre-backs.
Could Welsh have thrived with a run of games under Brendan Rodgers in a similar vein to Scales?
The 23-year-old is good in the air and possesses a decent passing range, much like the aforementioned Scales, but it looks like Nawrocki, Scales, Carter-Vickers and Lagerbielke may all be ahead of him in the pecking order.
It has been mentioned time and time again in relation to Welsh that he needs gametime to fulfil the potential that he undoubtedly has, and a loan move in January may be a possibility.
Initially signed in an emergency loan deal from Liverpool, Nat Phillips arrived at Celtic at a point when Cameron Carter-Vickers, Maik Nawrocki, Yuki Kobayashi and Stephen Welsh were all injured. This left Brendan Rodgers with just new boy, Gustaf Lagerbielke, and the then virtual cast-off Liam Scales as the only two centre-back options, so it is perhaps surprising that Nat has managed just 270 minutes of football since he signed on 31st August 2023.
This lack of minutes is in keeping with the centre-back’s typical contribution, though, with just 5 appearances (232 minutes) for Liverpool last season, and 4 (226 minutes) the season before. Phillips did manage 18 full 90-minute appearances for Bournemouth whilst on loan at the then Championship club in 2021/22, but he generally does not play many games. In fact, at 26, he has managed just 76 games of competitive football, totalling 5,702 minutes. This equates to just over 63 full 90-minute games, or 133 minutes more than Callum McGregor played at the age of 26 during season 2018/19 alone.
The Lazarus-like rise of Liam Scales has pretty much made the gaffer’s mind up when it comes to reviewing whether or not we keep Phillips on beyond January. The fact that it will be the EPL player who is shown the door is testament to the contribution of a peripheral figure who had been all but written-off a few short months ago.
JAMES MCKENZIE // Follow James HERE