|Scottish Premiership: Celtic v Hamilton Academical|
|Venue: Celtic Park Date: Sunday, 2 August Kick-off: 16:30 BST|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, live text updates on BBC Sport Scotland website & highlights on Sportscene on BBC Scotland from 19:15 BST|
From A for Armstrong to Z for Zaluska, almost 120 Celtic players have contributed in some way or another to the nine-in-a-row years. The vast majority are long gone, with just the privileged few in place to try to finish the job they started in a time before the invention of the self-driving car.
The fact that Celtic have motored to this point is lost on nobody in Scotland. It may have limited (to no) interest among fans of the other clubs, who are probably already sick to death of hearing about this, but there will be no avoiding the narrative in the months ahead.
In truth, there’s been no avoiding it for years now. It’s hard to recall when, exactly, Celtic fans first started singing about the blessed 10-in-a-row but it feels like they’ve been at it since Ledley, Loovens and Lassad were cutting about the place.
Only one more to go now and history will be theirs. Bragging rights doesn’t even come close to covering it. In memory of past glory, Celtic folk illuminate their own stadium in the 67th minute of games to honour the Lisbon Lions.
If the current group of players power on and win another league title, the phones will be out of the pockets in the 10th minute too, from now till eternity, especially when Rangers are the opposition. Football fans don’t tend to miss open goals when it comes to winding up their nearest rival.
Celtic have the European Cup, the invincible season, the treble treble. Maybe they’ll soon have the quadruple treble. If they get the 10-in-a-row to boot there’ll be no hiding place for Rangers fans. For them, the reverie will be hard to take. You won’t hear them protesting about tainted titles or the asterisk years for all the whooping and hollering from their counterparts in green.
‘Lennon has made a strong outfit better’
For Celtic, it all begins on Sunday with a visit from Hamilton. Put down the magnifying glass and wheel in the telescope and it’s still difficult to see how they’re going to fail in their bid for 10, not unless the quality of the team and the strength of the mentality disintegrates.
To prosecute a case against Celtic being the overwhelming favourites to win the league you need evidence – and there isn’t a lot to go on.
A mass exodus of their best players might do it, but it’s unlikely. Complacency? It’s difficult to see how they’re going to lose sight of their surroundings while they have Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, James Forrest and others in the ranks.
Lennon has already sent a brutal message to Leigh Griffiths that slackness will be met with a thunderous response. Not only did he publicly call out his striker, but he also appeared to up his pursuit of another goalscorer, Ivan Toney.
The manager does not have the appearance of a man who’s messing about here. He’s been one of the great figures of the club over the past two decades and the crowning glory is in sight.
Lennon has tweaked what Brendan Rodgers created, but the upshot is the same thing. Celtic score buckets of goals and they win. They’re scoring more now than they did under Rodgers, apart from in his first season in 2016-17.
If anything, they were more entertaining last season than in the two seasons that went before. Lennon has taken a strong outfit and has made them better.
Last season, every time they suffered a bump on the road, they responded. When they lost 2-0 at Livingston in October, they won 11 in a row after it. When they lost 2-1 to Rangers in December, they reeled off eight straight wins in its wake. They dropped two points in their last 10 games.
‘Gerrard needs managerial Miracle in Istanbul’
There’s been much talk about Rangers imploding after the winter break last season – and they did. Might Celtic’s relentless form have had something to do with it? Probably.
After that loss to Rangers, Lennon’s team found their very best stuff. They scored 34 goals in 10 league games. Odsonne Edouard got nine, Griffiths seven, McGregor six. Even centre-back Christopher Jullien got three, which was three more than Alfredo Morelos. Jullien scored the same number of goals as Rangers’ top league scorer – Scott Arfield – in that period.
In the heat of the battle, their players stood up. Even when the season was called with eight games left to play, Celtic had amassed more league points and more league goals than they did in the completed season of 2018-19.
This is a very good Celtic side. The home and away wins over Lazio offered evidence of what they’re capable of on a higher stage. The wasteful loss to Copenhagen showed that they’re a still a work in progress in that regard.
When Celtic finished off last season with a 5-0 thumping of St Mirren, their domestic strength could be seen not just in the 11 players who started that match but in the ones who came off the bench – or who never even found a place on it.
Ryan Christie, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Hatem Abd Elhamed all appeared as second-half substitutes when Celtic were already 3-0 ahead. Those who played no part at all included Olivier Ntcham, Jeremie Frimpong, Mikey Johnston, Boli Bolingoli and Patryk Klimala, their £3.5m Polish striker.
Some of their more promising young players – Karamoko Dembele, Ewan Henderson, Scott Robertson – weren’t required. A few other recruits – Ismaila Soro and Vakoun Issouf Bayo – didn’t kick a ball that day either.
New rules stipulate that all Premiership teams will be allowed to field five substitutes this season. That only plays into the hands of the club with the best squad – Celtic.
Their first title in this run was finished off with a 5-0 win over Hearts in May 2012, Gary Hooper scoring all five goals. When the coming season ends in May 2021, it won’t be Hooper doing the damage, but it’s likely to be somebody wearing the same colours.
Rangers are a threat, no question, but Celtic look to have too much in too many departments. Steven Gerrard might prove us wrong, but if it does he’s going to need the managerial equivalent of Liverpool’s Miracle in Istanbul in 2005 to pull it off.
Lennon has a long road ahead of him, but it would be a major surprise if there’s not something special waiting at the end of it.