There have been plenty of positives to take over the last two games against Lille and Kilmarnock respectively, but Kris Ajer’s performances as a right-back could be the most underrated one.
Ajer has operated as a centre-back for the vast majority of his Celtic career, with only a couple of full-back appearances thrown in during crisis periods.
However, Ajer was a standout against Lille in particular as his jinking run down the right led to David Turnbull’s winner against the Ligue 1 league-leaders.
Against Killie, meanwhile, Ajer was another of the starring performers. Again operating down the right whilst Shane Duffy and Chris Jullien teamed up at centre-back, the Norwegian was faultless.
Stat-trackers WhoScored gave him a superb 7.56/10 – the fourth-highest out of everyone who started the game. Once again, he made a vital contribution to the result with his tidiness at right-back and constant willingness to get up the flank.
And why is it so important that Ajer is pushing himself as a plausible right-back? Well, Celtic are reportedly on the lookout for one in order to allow the unsettled Hatem Elhamed to leave the club in January (Scottish Sun).
Ajer’s form could grant Elhamed his departure
The Sun reported last week that Elhamed’s departure would be dependent on the club’s Head of Football Operations Nick Hammond finding a replacement for him. It may be early stages in Ajer’s most recent run as a right-back, but the Hoops look like they already have the perfect short-term replacement in the Norwegian for now.
This opens up some ideal avenues for Celtic if they go with Ajer. The reason I say short-term is because the defender’s deal is up in 2022, meaning it looks almost certain that he’ll be off next summer in what will be the last opportunity for Celtic to rake in a fee for him.
That allows Celtic to explore their potential long-term options in what will be a simpler period to do business in – the summer. That or they potentially allow Elhamed to spend the second half of the season on loan back home in Israel to try and get it out of his system before returning to Parkhead at the end of the campaign.
It’s not as if we need the centre-back cover either. The Hoops still have Nir Bitton and Stephen Welsh available to come in, whilst Ajer can always drop back in when there’s an emergency. This would also give Jeremie Frimpong the chance to play higher up more regularly – something we’ve been calling for in the past.
Ajer’s mistakes, of which he tends to make on occasion, also wouldn’t be punished so regularly if he was at right-back. When the Norwegian makes a positional error at centre-back, the opposition are clear and in on goal. If he does similar at right-back, he can find protection from the central defenders.
So this is worth considering for the time being. There’s no need for Celtic to make Ajer’s right-back spell a short-term thing. We could solve a couple of problems by sticking with it until the end of the season.