Celtic data analysis investment could be key to sorting set-piece problems

By Euan Davidson

January 13, 2022

Yesterday, it was reported that Celtic had turned to Antoine Ortega, formerly an analyst at Benfica.

Ortega’s main remits will be in scouting opposition and player recruitment. All fine, all progressive, and the kind of move you hope to see from Celtic. But there’s an issue, even under Ange Postecoglou, that a numbers man like Ortega could surely identify right away.

The Hoops just aren’t using set-pieces to full effect. Out of all of this season’s goals, just 6 have come from set-pieces [WhoScored?]. Given our tendency to dominate games, win fouls in decent areas and secure a lion’s share of corners, is that good enough?

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Against St Mirren, for example, Celtic had 16 corners [Fotmob]. The game finished goalless. Surely, surely there was an opportunity there.

Now, it’s not to say we should become Stoke City under Pulis, or Ange Postecoglou should emulate Sam Allardyce. But statisticians and analysts have been banging this drum for years.

In 2017, Ted Knutson, formerly an analyst for FC Midtjylland and Brentford, broke it down really simply [Statsbomb].

Knutson said it’s down to four key areas: Identifying the opposition’s defensive scheme at corners. Then, figuring out ways to break that scheme. You train your players to do that. Then, you execute.

He knows first-hand. FC Midtjylland’s title-winning seasons were partially built on set-piece delivery and execution [Analytics FC]. The Danes scored against us at Celtic Park from – you guessed it – a corner.

Surely, there’s a lesson here. We have more corners than we know what to do with. Celtic have invested in data analysis via the Ortega signing; this has to be a point of emphasis.

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Increased Celtic investment in data analyst is exciting and it can pay immediate dividends

If all this sounds pie in the sky, or it’s making the game needlessly geeky with numbers, there’s a practicality to it.

Turning a weakness into a strength isn’t just about practicing crossing. It’s about the nitty-gritty; noticing patterns in our opposition’s defending, identifying ways to break marking, and practice, practice, practice.

Now, if you’ve read Antoine Ortega’s work, you’ll see it’s utterly exhaustive. His piece on Arsenal in 20-21 uses all kinds of data, as well as using comparative models from the NBA, like offensive and defensive ratings. It’s really interesting stuff, if you’re into the analytical side of the game.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

But it’s encouraging here, because Ortega seems adept at locating problem areas and weaknesses of football teams. Now, with his remit sorting issues for Celtic, there’s scope for him to really get into the weeds, and give Ange Postecoglou the tools to make more of set-pieces.

It could fall into the recruitment side, too. Part of the issue against St Mirren, for example, is that we didn’t have any really talented deliverers of corners or free kicks until Juranovic came on. Without David Turnbull, or the Croatian international, we’re not exactly spoilt for dead ball specialists.

That could be an area where Ortega makes a few recommendations. Or, he could find nascent traits in our current players and make it something to work on in training.

Either way, this is a key area, and it’s surely got to be high on the agenda for Celtic and new analyst Antoine Ortega. The Hoops are making life more difficult than it has to be.

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