The damning statistic that shows where Celtic need improvement

By Euan Davidson

October 12, 2021

So, maybe you’re not a statistic or data person when it comes to watching Celtic.

Who could blame you? Supporting your team is about the big moments; phases of keeping the play, goals, assists, drama. Nobody is shouting about pass success percentage from the stands. It’s extremely unlikely a chant about xG is going to become popular any time soon.

And that’s all good; football isn’t played on a spreadsheet, and thank God for that. However, there are still things we can take away; parts of the game we can see that are backed by a statistic or two, and in the case of Celtic, one stands out highest.

Which is ironic, really. So, what’s the crucial thing here? Well, Celtic have the lowest number of successful aerial duels in the Scottish Premiership [WhoScored?].

Cue dramatic music.

Now, there are some things to bear in mind here. We’re simultaneously tops for possession and for passing completion. That means that, on the ball, we’re perfectly adept at keeping it on the deck and dominating a game.

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But in either box, that’s an issue. We saw that in losses to Rangers, Hearts and in the draw against Dundee United, with defenders losing out in the air. At the other end, Jota and Abada have put more crosses in the box than at a General Election. Yet, here we are, dead last.

So, what do we do about that?

Celtic are slowly improving from a defensive point of view, but aerial duel statistic still reads uncomfortably

Without the introduction of Cameron Carter-Vickers, it could be worse. In 5 games, the American has won a colossal 5 aerial duels per 90 [WhoScored?]. Starfelt is a relatively close second, with none of our attackers even close (but we’ll get to that).

When Celtic play, teams will set up to attack us aerially. It’s not that the height isn’t there, and there have certainly been improvements, but it’s still somewhere we can be gotten at.

Because it’s not just about the first ball, either. If we miss the initial cross, then the opposition have chances to score, that’s obvious. But Celtic haven’t been particularly great at winning the second ball, and clearing the danger.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

More than that, there’s an application of this that could cause concern. Opposition goal kicks regularly come at us with height, but Celtic aren’t winning enough of those in the middle of the park.

This means that teams have a fairly simple way of causing us problems; go vertical, flood numbers wide, and create with lofted balls into dangerous areas.

A problem in attack, too

For interest’s sake, let’s look at attackers here.

Albian Ajeti, in his appearances for Celtic this season, has won just 1 aerial duel per 90. Kyogo Furuhashi doesn’t tend to win them in domestic football, although he’s good for a volley or two in Europe, and will surely bolster his numbers [WhoScored?].

But unless Giorgos Giakoumakis starts beating everyone to everything when there’s height on the ball, there’s a bit of an issue there. Not to suggest we should be playing agricultural, long-ball stuff, far from it. But when you hit as many crosses as Celtic do, that’s a bit worrying.

In terms of accuracy in short passing, again; Celtic are phenomenal. They can zip it about and cause problems, especially on the counter-attack.

There are outliers of course; Ajeti v Ross County, Abada v Dundee United. It can be done, we know that.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

But few are scoring with the sheer glut of chances in the air. That means a lot of work is going wasted, especially considering the impressive end-product of Jota and Abada. When Forrest comes back, his proclivity to whip a ball in will also test the numbers.

Overall, though, at both ends there remains a long-standing issue. With the opportunities created against Celtic, teams know they have a chance when the ball’s off the ground.

In possession, Celtic aren’t doing enough to finish their own chances when the ball’s played at height. It’s something that Ange Postecoglou has to get sorted, because the Bhoys really ought to have more points on the board by now.

Not winning it in the air, as proved by a damning statistic, is causing the Hoops some harm.

Read more: 3 classy midfield operators to partner Callum McGregor at Celtic