Celtic’s fine run of domestic form continued on Saturday when they beat Hearts 5-0 at Parkhead to move to within one point of the Ladbrokes Premiership leaders with a game in hand.

The Scottish champions will now turn their attentions to the Europa League– they play German opponents RB Leipzig in a crucial Group B match in Glasgow on Thursday evening.

Brendan Rodgers’s side, beaten 2-0 by Ralf Rangnick’s team in the Red Bull Arena last month, need to win to keep alive their chances of reaching the last 32.


In great shape. The win over Hearts at the weekend was their seventh in succession in domestic competition. During that run they have scored 25 goals, kept six clean sheets and conceded just twice. Their patchy early-season form, which saw them lose to Hearts and Kilmarnock and draw with St Mirren, has been put firmly behind them. They are defending well, creating chances and, more often than not, taking them.

As has been the case since the moment Rodgers arrived two-and-a-half years ago, the goals are coming from all over the park. Striker Odsonne Edouard bagged a first-half double to take his personal haul for the 2018/19 campaign to 11 in all competitions. But centre half Filip Benkovic also netted a header to open his account for the club he joined on loan in the summer, winger James Forrest got his name on the scoresheet and midfielder Ryan Christie converted a penalty.

Celtic are also looking increasingly solid at the back. This was their third clean sheet in a row. The back four of Benkovic, Dedryck Boyata, Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney now appears to be their strongest. The former feels they have quickly developed a good understanding which will be beneficial in their next outing.

“We have a few games behind us and we talk to each other in every training every day,” he said. “This is very important because it makes it much easier going into the game. This (Europa League) is a big level. We must speak more and concentrate more. In that way we can do something positive.”

Leipzig, who beat Hertha Berlin 3-0 away from home in the Bundesliga on Saturday to remain in third place in the table, will certainly be far more redoubtable opponents. Celtic will have to adopt different and far more defensive tactics against the Germans. But confidence is high.

They have claimed a few famous scalps on memorable European nights at Parkhead over the years. It will be hard. But with a large and vocal home support firmly behind them anything is possible.


Callum McGregor once again stood in for his injured captain in the holding midfielder position against Hearts and once again acquitted himself superbly. “He controlled the tempo of the game,” said Rodgers. “He is clever in his movement and has a dream of a touch that allows him to go forward. He can break a line with a pass. He has been exceptional there. But I say that everywhere he plays.”

Can McGregor, though, perform more defensively against Leipzig? Can he break up opposition attacks? Can he win back possession for his team mates? Can he effectively operate as a fifth defender? The Scotland internationalist is at his most effective surging forward. But he has, as his manager pointed out, a quite remarkable knack of excelling wherever he is asked to slot in. Do not bet against him rising to the occasion.


Injuries to Christophe Berra, Uche Ikpeazu, Steven Naismith and John Souttar. Craig Levein’s side is a pale imitation of the one that swept aside all before it, including Rodgers’s team, at the beginning of the season due to the players they are missing.

The absences of Ikpeazu and Naismith in particular are being keenly felt up front. There is nobody to hold the ball up and bring those around them in to play in the final third. Ben Garuccio came on and hit the post with a shot late on. That aside, Craig Gordon had practically nothing to do during the course of 90 one-sided minutes.


He certainly felt he did and described himself as an idiot and an ass afterwards. But would the visitors have fared any better if they have adopted a less defensive approach from kick-off? It is doubtful given the key individuals they were without. The best they could realistically have hoped for was to avoid such a heavy defeat with the players they fielded. After all, they last drew at Parkhead back in 2015 and last won there in 2012.


On the evidence of the weekend, it looks unlikely. Celtic have a game in hand and should edge in front of their weekend opponents when they play it. Having said that, Hearts have just come through a treacherous run of games. The other clubs they have faced have included Rangers, Aberdeen and Hibernian. They have dropped eight points in their last five league outings. But they are still, just, in front. Don’t, then, write them off quite yet. Their forthcoming fixtures should be slightly easier to negotiate.

Levein is also hopeful of getting Berra, who has been sidelined since the win over Celtic at Tynecastle in August, back next month. Having the vastly-experienced former Scotland internationalist in the side will help their cause immensely. Can they maintain their challenge for the Scottish title? There was never really any chance of that happening. But they shouldn’t be ruled out of the race for the runners-up spot.