Will Brendan strengthen the defence? Do Celtic have enough quality beyond CCV and Starfelt?

After taking a look at the goalkeeping options available to Brendan Rodgers in the first part of our squad assessment, we now move forward one place on the pitch and review the centre-back position.

The centre-back situation at Celtic is a strange one due to the gulf in quality between the options we have at our disposal.  In Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt, Celtic has, without question, the best centre-back pairing in the country.  When CCV and Starfelt start, Celtic rarely lose.

However, when either player is missing there is a noticeable drop in quality along the backline.  Stephen Welsh, Yuki Kobayashi, and Tomoki Iwata were all given minutes by Ange Postecoglou at various points last season, as was the now departed Moritz Jenz.

The question Brendan Rodgers will need to ask is whether he sees enough in the backups to have faith in them for next season.  If not, the chequebook will need to come out to fund a new addition.

Cameron Carter-Vickers

The American international is the main man at the heart of the Celtic defence and has been since his arrival two summers ago.  After a nomadic start to his career, the 25-year-old has found a home a Celtic Park and has established himself as the clubs leading defender.

Dominant in the air and more than competent with the ball at his feet, Carter-Vickers has become a behemoth in the Celtic backline.  It goes without saying that Celtic should not entertain offers for the big man as his importance to the team cannot be understated.  The final few games of last season highlighted how much he is missed when not available for selection.

While Carter-Vickers has the ability to handle any attacker in Scottish Football on any given day, there is still scope for development in his game on the European front. Next season he will have the stage of the Champions League to show how much he has improved.

Carl Starfelt

Alongside Carter-Vickers, the Swedish defender has helped form the most formidable defensive partnership in Scotland over the past two seasons.  On a personal level, Starfelt also appeared in the team of the year for the first time this season.

After a difficult start to his Celtic career, Starfelt has become a mainstay in the side, normally playing in a slightly uncomfortable role as the left-sided centre-back next to CCV on the right. The right-footed Starfelt often looked uneasy when asked to perform the role of ball-playing centre-back on his more unnatural side.

However, when asked to perform purely defensive duties, the Swede’s positioning and ability to read the game shone through, despite the fact he has never fully rid himself of the tag of having an error in him.

It is this lingering doubt over Starfelt that leads ACSOM’s James McKenzie to think that, while not a priority signing, some of Rodgers’ transfer funds could be spent on an upgrade to partner Carter-Vickers.

Stephen Welsh

At 23 years of age, the Scottish defender finds himself at a crossroads in his career as he was seemingly cast aside towards the end of Ange’s reign.  After scoring Celtic’s opening goal of the 2022/23 season, Welsh would go on to make just 4 league appearances all campaign, the last of which came back in August 2022.

The former Scotland U-21 captain will have aspirations for his own career and making the Scottish National team will be something he has in his sights. Unfortunately for Welsh, unless Brendan Rodgers sees him as his first-choice backup defender and can guarantee him more game time, it may be that Welsh will need to look elsewhere to further his career.

With 2 years left on his contract, Celtic could ask for a reasonable fee for a player previously linked with moves to Udinese and Toulouse should we look to sell.

Yuki Kobayashi

Kobayashi impressed in his first start for the club after arriving in the winter window from Japanese side Vissel Kobe. His wide range of passing had fans wanting to see more, but he found minutes hard to come by as Carter-Vickers and Starfelt proved impossible to displace.

It was only after CCV’s injury that his game time increased, but only for a short while before Ange took him out of the firing line.  A string of weak performances against Hearts, Rangers, and Hibs saw Kobayashi withdrawn from the team and replaced by midfielder-cum-defender Tomoki Iwata.

If Kobayashi is to bounce back next season he will need to improve on the physical side of his game and his ability to challenge at set-plays.  There is a good ball-playing defender in there, and Rodgers may be the coach to get the best out of him.  But if he cannot improve on the basics needed to succeed in Scottish football, then Kobayashi could be in for another difficult season.

Tomoki Iwata

Signed after winning the J-League Player of the Season award playing in midfield for Yokohama F. Marinos, Iwata became a make-shift centre back in the closing games of the season for Celtic, including the Scottish Cup final.

Iwata has previously played at right back and as a right centre back in a back three during his time in Japan, so the position is not new to him.  However, with Ange gone, it remains to be seen if Rodgers will see the same defensive capabilities in him as his predecessor.

Most likely, Iwata will return to his midfield role and take up a role beside Callum McGregor in midfield should Rodgers return Celtic to a 4-2-3-1 formation.  Iwata excelled alongside McGregor in midfield last season and this would seem his most natural role in the team.

With Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt the undisputed Kings of the Celtic defence, the club should be in no rush to replace either player.  However, with doubts over the quality of their understudies, I would expect to see Celtic move for another centre back over the summer.

Perhaps a loan option like Moritz Jenz could be utilised again as Celtic looks to strengthen ahead of another attempt at progressing on the European front.

James McKenzie / Kevin McCluskie





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