3 surprising Celtic stats from 20-21 uncovered, and what they mean

By Euan Davidson

February 19, 2021

Unilaterally, Celtic supporters can agree this wasn’t the season we wanted.

Watching on as our rivals lie 15 points ahead in the Scottish Premiership has been no fun. Neither was the Europa League, which served us up some shocking collapses. We’ve not strengthened as required, and fans have protested. It’s been a season which has featured tedium, outrage and disillusionment all at once.

So, what can be learned from 20-21 so far? Beyond the obvious, there are elements to Celtic’s game which can be described as unexpected positives, or clear indications of our deficiencies.

Via WhoScored?, we’ve picked out 3 key stats which will give any Celtic supporter something to think about. Hopefully, our manager, too.

Some folk hate stats, and that’s fair enough. Football isn’t, nor will it ever be, an exact science. A match can’t be won by boffins in lab coats, we get that. It isn’t chess, or eSports.

That said, there is factual evidence which points to problems and areas of strength alike. So, let’s take a look at where it’s going wrong, or right, for Celtic and Neil Lennon.

Diego Laxalt, mid-tackle / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic rank 10th in the league for tackles per 90

Celtic tend to dominate possession, so on the surface, this might seem fair enough. The more of the ball you have, the fewer tackles you make.

The Bhoys, however, have shown both aggressive pressing off the ball, and a weird reluctance to hound players. There’s been little consistency there. Against Motherwell, for example, Celtic harried and chased while off the ball, to decent effect. Whereas, in the latter stages against Aberdeen the other night, we gave time and space to our opponents who were looking for a late equaliser.

League leaders Rangers rank 5th for tackles, with 14 per 90. Their defensive strategy has been more coherent, rushing opposition players into ceding possession. At 12.9 per 90, Celtic are lagging some distance behind. If we were mid-table for this stat, it would show a better balance between off-ball aggression and dominating possession.

So, there’s definitely something in this.

Odsonne Edouard in action for Celtic / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Celtic dribble the ball more than anyone else, and it’s not even that close

A criticism of Celtic under Neil Lennon, and even Brendan Rodgers, is that our players weren’t taking their man on. That’s maybe why James Forrest has been missed, and fans loved Frimpong. No matter how much football changes, it’s still exciting to see someone try to beat their marker with a trick, or a burst of pace.

Actually, though, we lead the league for dribbles per 90, and it’s not even particularly close. Celtic players attempt 10.3 dribbles per match, well ahead of Rangers’ 9.5.

What does that actually mean? Does it suggest our eyes are betraying us slightly?

Well, it certainly shows the effect of our full-backs. Before he departed, Frimpong was averaging 1.3 a game, while Taylor currently makes 0.7 dribbles per 90. It also disproves the idea that Edouard is in any way lazy, as he leads the team with 1.7 a game.

So, when the pubs do re-open, feel free to use those stats and remember us. Have an argument with someone. It’ll be cathartic.

Ryan Christie celebrates a Celtic goal / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Celtic stats prove it: We don’t do tap-ins

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Celtic rank lowest in the league for shots within 6 yards. We also rank second-lowest in the 18-yard box.

Conversely, a ridiculous 45% of our shots are from outside the box. Ryan Christie has much to answer for.

It’s no wonder Celtic haven’t scored more goals. The probability of scoring becomes lower with each yard a player is from goal. This is nothing revolutionary. NASA aren’t going to base any of their research on what we’re noticing here.

Additionally, Celtic take the highest number of shots, and have the most on target. That doesn’t necessarily mean we should be winning every game 7-0, but it does suggest two things:

  1. We should be scoring more
  2. It’s our defending that’s been the problem

Without the fox-in-the-box instincts of Leigh Griffiths throughout much of the season, and an under-par Albian Ajeti, Celtic haven’t created a great deal from 18-yards and closer. Teams have figured us out to some degree, and are baiting the Bhoys into taking shots from outside the box. That’s not how you win a significant number of football matches.

This is perhaps the most surprising of the Celtic stats, and it represents the two real problems: we ride our luck up front, and we should normally be outscoring our opposition.

READ MORE: a former Celtic man got quite a reaction out of supporters last night.