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Celtic: What has gone wrong for Brendan Rodgers' side in the Scottish Premiership title race?

Celtic are now two points behind Rangers in the Scottish Premiership; the next Old Firm clash is live on Sky Sports on April 7 at Ibrox; Brendan Rodgers' side return to action on Sunday at Motherwell, live on Sky Sports, from 11am, kick-off 12pm

Celtic's Anthony Ralston and Callum McGregor look dejected at full time against Kilmarnock
Image: Celtic have fallen behind Rangers in the Scottish Premiership for the first time this season

In Brendan Rodgers' first spell as manager, Celtic pretty much had it all their own way.

He impressively led them to an invincible treble as they went through an entire season unbeaten domestically, a second treble followed and he then secured a third Scottish League Cup title before leaving for Leicester in January 2019.

The manner of Rodgers' departure left many fans less than enamoured with his return this season and their immediate exit from the League Cup at Kilmarnock in August did not help the feeling of unease in the stands.

With unrest and a managerial sacking at Rangers in the early part of this campaign, the Hoops did take control in the title race and secured victory over their rivals in the first two Old Firm games.

However, despite assuming a 10-point lead over Rangers at one stage, Celtic are now two points behind, and that is uncharted territory for the 51-year-old... So, what has gone wrong?

Mentality and ambition issues?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 17: Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers looks dejected during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and Kilmarnock at Celtic Park, on February 17, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Image: Brendan Rodgers has voiced his frustrations after dropping points this season

When Celtic trailed St Johnstone at half-time in December, Rodgers said it was "the angriest" he had been as a manager at the break. His dressing room comments sparked a reaction as the Hoops won 3-1 but that did not stop him questioning some of his squad.

"It's ambition. Some players just want to be too comfortable and just do enough, it's not enough at this club," he said.

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"You have to have that mentality and intensity from that first whistle. The first half, the intent, we were too comfortable and nowhere near it. But the reaction was really good.

"We just can't drop at this club. The standards are very high and have been set over many years."

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Rodgers' message was clear - he wanted more. What he would not have wanted was back-to-back league defeats for the first time in a decade, but that is exactly what happened in the weeks that followed.

Those losses to Kilmarnock then Hearts led to more frustration from the manager: "I want to apologise to the support base - I don't think I have ever had to do that with regard to performance, but today they deserve it.

"The lack of desire and passion was just really, really poor."

Rodgers questioned the mentality of his squad again on Saturday when David Watson's stoppage-time goal earned Kilmarnock a 1-1 draw admitting that kind of performance had "happened too many times".

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Rodgers once again criticised his Celtic side after Saturday's home draw with Kilmarnock

That was the result that handed the advantage to Rangers as they then won at St Johnstone to move two points clear at the summit.

It is clear Rodgers feels performances have fallen below the levels required in the seven games they have dropped points this season.

However, fans should take comfort from his success in the past. Rodgers will believe he can help lead the team on another winning run that could see them reclaim the lead from Rangers in the title race.

Fan frustration and transfer disappointment

Celtic fans has a message for the board after a quite transfer window
Image: Celtic fans had a message for the board after a quiet transfer window

Rodgers has maintained the need for unity this season both on and off the field.

A handful of poor results has seen tension and frustration grow in the stands - something that was added to after the January transfer window.

Rodgers made it clear he wanted to add "quality" to his squad and it was a window that saw winger Nicolas Kuhn and Norwich loanee Adam Idah join, while the likes of David Turnbull and Mikey Johnston departed.

Nicolas-Gerrit Kuhn equalises for Celtic at Pittodrie
Image: New arrival Nicolas Kuhn scored Celtic's equaliser in the draw against Aberdeen

Was that enough? Rodgers said he was happy with their business but the fans had their doubts and unfurled a banner reading "Celtic board, on your heads be it". Rodgers did add "I would go with supporters thinking we could maybe be a little bit braver in terms of bringing in another level of player, but that's up to me to try and fix over the course of my time here".

The fans hope Rodgers has been backed enough and the club do not pay the price with the title race set to take more twists and turns before the end of the season. Rodgers will hope results improve and that fan frustration disappears, allowing the support to once again roar his side to another top-flight title.

Are players going backwards under Rodgers?

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Chris Sutton delivered a damning verdict on Celtic's form, describing their performances under Rodgers as 'bang average'

While questions have been asked of the players and the board - what about the manager?

The stats suggest Celtic are struggling to replicate the attractive fast-paced football fans became used to under Ange Postecoglou.

They have not been as entertaining to watch, and Sky Sports' Chris Sutton insists the squad is currently struggling under Rodgers.

"I can't think of one player this season at Celtic who he has improved and that's on the manager," said the former Celtic striker.

"You look at the points that Celtic have dropped domestically, forget the Champions League campaign, which was a disaster. If you just look at Celtic domestically in isolation they have been poor.

"I can't remember the last time a Celtic team were outplayed in halves of football by so many teams as they have been this season, and that is on Brendan.

"You think about fast and furious under Ange Postecoglou. The brand of football is slow and predictable.

"Celtic have been bang average all season. The wins have papered over the crack. Performances haven't been there. Celtic aren't kidding anyone - they aren't a good team this season.

"Everyone talks about stuff about the board and signings and this moment is a long time in the making, but Brendan Rodgers has to take responsibility."

Hope for Kyogo after tough start?

Kyogo Furuhashi has failed to match his form of last season
Image: Kyogo Furuhashi has failed to match his form of last season

One player who has had a less prolific season this time out than last is talisman Kyogo Furuhashi. He ended last season as the Scottish Premiership's top goalscorer, but the striker is struggling to reach the same heights again.

His fluctuating form has not gone unnoticed, with just nine league goals so far this season compared to 18 at this point a year ago.

He can still be relied upon to turn up on the big occasion, scoring in both wins against Rangers this season as well as getting off the mark in the Champions League.

The 29-year-old is also paying the price for others struggling for form with fewer balls coming from the wide areas. But is there hope for games to come?

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Kyogo scored Celtic's second in their Old Firm win against Rangers in December

Since joining on loan from Norwich, Idah has started Celtic's last three games and that has seen Kyogo at times play in a deeper role.

That change saw the Japan international score in Paisley and he netted the opener against Kilmarnock on Saturday, with Idah on target in a crucial win over Hibs. Perhaps it could be the start of a partnership that will see Celtic rediscover their ruthless streak in front of goal.

Could injury boost help?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 25: Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers comforts Reo Hatate after he is being forced off injured during a UEFA Champions League match between Celtic and Atletico de Madrid at Celtic Park, on October 25, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Image: Reo Hatate has been troubled by hamstring and calf injuries

As well as the form of key players, Celtic have been hampered by injuries.

Midfielder Reo Hatate made 32 league appearances last campaign, but a hamstring injury in October and then a calf problem suffered at the Asian Cup has seen him make just eight outings this season.

His ability to unlock defences and score goals has been missing and a potential return in the coming weeks would be a huge boost.

Cameron Carter-Vickers has agreed a new long-term deal at Celtic
Image: Cameron Carter-Vickers is closing in on a return for Celtic

The same could be said for arguably the club's best defender, Cameron Carter-Vickers. He too has missed large spells of the season but is closing in on a return with right-back Alistair Johnston's condition improving too.

Celtic have had some challenges this season and while some fans may be nervous at the prospect of a title race, this squad have proven in recent years they have what it takes to get over the line.

Leading them is a manager who knows nothing but success in Scotland and he will be confident of turning around results to be victorious once again in May.

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