Season Report - Celtic's number 35 Kristoffer Ajer
Kristoffer Ajer’s campaign has now most certainly cemented himself as perhaps the most underrated talent currently at the club.
Not that we would welcome any interest of course. But Ajer certainly isn’t one to be touted for a big move, and also somehow didn’t make any of the Player of the Year nominations last year. Even more bemusing was the fact he was incredibly snubbed for the Young Player of the Year discussion too.
But whenever Ajer takes a moment to just sit back and reflect on the campaign, he’ll be brimming with pride. Overall, he managed a sensational 50 appearances for club and country, managing four outings for the Norway senior side too.
Ajer had the trust of both Brendan Rodgers and Neil Lennon throughout both tenures. Rodgers featured Ajer in every Champions League and Europa League qualifier he could. He was also a regular in the Premiership too, and racked up a fine seven clean sheets before suffering a hamstring injury.
Between his return and Christmas, it was a tad stop-start for the Norwegian. Rodgers was playing him in Celtic’s big games, but leaving him out for routine-looking home encounters. Still, Ajer went on secure another four clean sheets before the winter break.
What made his first part of the season so impressive, however, was the different partners Ajer was playing with. He played alongside Jack Hendry, Dedryck Boyata, Jozo Simunovic, and Filip Benkovic. Consistency of selection wasn’t quite there. But that was all to change upon the return from the winter break.
Ajer was part of the defence that secured eight clean sheets out of 10 domestic matches after returning. With Benkovic picking up an ankle injury, Ajer had the chance to develop his partnership with Boyata.
Astute both defensively and offensively
He proved a valuable asset for the Hoops not just in defence, but in stepping out from the back. So much of Celtic’s good work in breaking down the opposition came from Ajer going on a run and forcing teams to open up.
In 18 Premiership outings during the second half of the season, Ajer’s back-line only let six goals slip past them. It’s an incredible number considering the number of games Celtic and Ajer were playing over that period.
Boyata’s injury against Rangers even forced Ajer to adapt to Simunovic once again. But despite his many partners, the Norwegian always slotted back in seamlessly.
He proved to be a warrior last season. A defensive stalwart who always threw his body on the line whilst consistently helping his team open up the opposition.
His form is backed up by his stats. In his 50 appearances overall for club and country, clean sheets were gathered in 34 of them. For Celtic alone, it reads 32 shutouts in 45 outings.
Not enough, of course, to secure a place among the end-of-season award nominees. That was a total injustice and slap in the face to the Celtic man.
But he’ll be back this season to do it all again. And no matter what happens at the back this summer, having Ajer in there will certainly ease any defensive crisis.