Celtic’s midfield is an area with plenty of scrutiny surrounding it at present.

When all of their first picks are fit, then it is an unmatched area domestically – at least, domestically - with the trinity of captain Callum McGregor, Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley no doubt striking fear into any Scottish opposition tasked with coming up against them. Of course, only O’Riley has been consistently fit this season, leaving both the number six and eight positions in Celtic’s engine room vacated for others to step into.

It has been a bit of a roulette concerning these areas, as many players have been part of the ever-changing midfield this season. David Turnbull featured here in place of Hatate early on in the season, though he has moved on to pastures new down south at Cardiff City. Odin Thiago Holm - a summer signing from Valerenga in Norway – has shown glimpses, though his concerning injury record has got in the way of any real run in Brendan Rodgers’ team. Recently, youngster Daniel Kelly and fringe player Tomoki Iwata have had extended minutes in the team, though time will tell if they can consolidate this game-time when the big hitters return.

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This brings us nicely to Paulo Bernardo, Celtic’s summer deadline day signing from Benfica last September. He joined the club as a highly-rated prospect, in the eyes of both his parent club and the U21 set-up of his native Portugal, of which he has 21 caps. Signing on an initial season-long loan deal, Benfica inserted an option to buy, reportedly amounting to around £6 million if Celtic wish to sign the player permanently. Akin to fees paid for players in the recent past such as Cameron Carter-Vickers and Jota – Bernardo’s former teammate at Benfica – it gives Celtic a ‘try before you buy’ policy that has worked so well in the past, most notably with Odsonne Edouard back in 2018.

The question is: will Celtic look to do the same with Bernardo? In truth, that is all very much up in the air at the moment, given his mixed fortunes this season. There have been some rumblings from Portugal that the club are looking to retain the 22-year-old for next season, coupled with reports that they will try and renegotiate the fee attached to his option to buy.

A couple of months ago, this would have prompted a near-unanimous positive response from many. After all, his performances before the winter break had impressed many, with Bernardo coming into the side to try and stop a two-match skid which had occurred against Kilmarnock and Hearts. Even before then, his defensive performances in the Champions League – particularly against Atletico Madrid – had caught the eye, with his dig and drive earning him new fans in Scotland and beyond in Europe’s premier competition.

This support would hit a loud crescendo in the festive period, as he managed to break his goalscoring duck against Dundee at Dens Park on Boxing Day. Not a bad Christmas present to receive, but a better one was on the way just four days later at Celtic Park. Scoring a phenomenal half-volley from just outside of the box in the Glasgow Derby against Rangers, he would play his part in a memorable 2-1 victory over his side’s biggest rivals, in turn making himself a household name to many. Following this up three days later with two assists in Paisley versus St Mirren, the cries of ‘sign him up’ were loud and proud, as Bernardo had truly arrived as a bona fide Celtic player.

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The winter break came and went, and another injury to Hatate meant Bernardo continued his run in the team. Opening the scoring against Buckie Thistle with an audacious chipped shot, it looked as if Bernardo would keep up the good form shown before the league’s temporary shutdown, though this would not last. Coupled with Celtic’s sketchy form in February and March – starting in all three of Celtic’s points-dropped games against Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Hearts – Bernardo’s good form evaporated sharply and suddenly.

Even still, this is to be expected with a young player taking part in his first football outside of his homeland. Admittedly, these form issues almost mirror those of O’Riley, who had similar woes last season when competing with Aaron Mooy in Ange Postecoglou’s midfield. Not the only similarity that these two midfielders share, as both look incredibly like each other, leading to regular confusion when one is on the ball.

Despite these struggles in the new year, the fact that Celtic are reportedly keen on the midfielder indicates that Rodgers and his staff are seeing enough from the player in training to sign him on a permanent basis, though perhaps not at the price that was agreed back in September. This could be an inspired way of operating, as the midfielder would not need to acclimatise thanks to his previous loan spell at the club. A popular member of the dressing room – a quick Instagram search proves this theory – he would have a clear run at next season, especially if the deal is confirmed before pre-season training commences this coming summer.

The harsh reality of this season coming to an end is that there will be a changing of the guard in the midfield areas, particularly concerning one/both of Hatate and O’Riley. For the latter especially, a good end to the season and EUROs could prompt the transfer vultures to swirl, opening up a space for Bernardo to step into. Though less likely than his teammate, Hatate at 26 may see his future and his prime years at another club, either down south or further afield in Europe. A summer of change is inevitably on its way, and Celtic need to be prepared for when that scenario does arise.

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For Bernardo, he must continue to plug along and grasp his opportunities when they come his way in the final embers of this season, though they may dry up due to the return of Celtic’s elite engine room operators.

The future will take care of itself, thus, the here and now should be the main focus for the talented midfielder at this very moment.