3 classy midfield operators to partner Callum McGregor at Celtic

By Euan Davidson

October 12, 2021

From the evidence thus far, it’s fair to say Celtic and their midfield don’t necessarily click without Callum McGregor.

Much was made of the Scotland midfielder’s absence in recent weeks. Losses against Livingston and Real Betis were compounded by an unimaginative, one-dimensional showing against Dundee United.

With him in the team, there’s a clear difference. His energy and impetus, as well as metronomic passing, make McGregor completely undroppable. Whether he was captain or not, he’d still arguably be our best player.

Alongside him, though, Postecoglou has attempted to play two number tens, in Rogic and Turnbull. Or, someone like James McCarthy can play behind, taking a share of McGregor’s defensive responsibilities. The pieces, perhaps, are there, but the chemistry isn’t quite right yet.

But you have to imagine Ange Postecoglou has examined his squad and wants another body in. One with the same kind of stamina and positional versatility across multiple midfield roles. Another box-to-box type, who can play 6, 8 or 10 when required.

We’ve identified three targets that Postecoglou may want to look at pairing with McGregor at Celtic.

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Three class players are about to make their return for Celtic

Three class players are about to make their return for Celtic
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Luca de la Torre – a midfield influencer who could work well alongside McGregor at Celtic

If you’re vaguely familiar with the name Luca de la Torre, you either know your stuff about English or Dutch football. To you; kudos.

To everyone else: Luca de la Torre is an American former Fulham youngster, now at Heracles in the Eredivisie. Despite impressive performances at youth level for the West London side, he could never quite break through in black and white. Barring some cup appearances, de la Torre’s action was limited to Premier League 2, in which he scored 12 and set up 6 more [Transfermarkt].

Capped 3 times by the USA, de la Torre has come on to a game in Holland. Last season, he made 32 appearances, and can play on the right of midfield, as well as centrally, or in a more advanced role.

Photo by Laurens Lindhout/Soccrates/Getty Images

Something of a roving playmaker, de la Torre would fit as a right-sided counterpart to McGregor, who naturally tends to drift left from a central position. He’s capable of scoring and setting up goals, and his attacking play has only improved from last season.

Thus far, in 7 Eredivisie outings, de la Torre has averaged 2 dribbles and 1.1 key passes per 90 [WhoScored?]. He also makes around 2 tackles a game, nearly 3 this season.

Like McGregor, de la Torre is adept at breaking up play and doing something progressive with the ball. A hard worker either in or out of possession, the US 23-year-old is – with no disrespect – surely ready for bigger things than Heracles.

Ilia Gruev – a 2. Bundesliga talent who’s making waves for Werder

Recent history suggests we like a Bulgarian central midfielder, from the admittedly small sample size which constitutes Stiliyan Petrov.

Ilia Gruev, foremost a defensive midfielder, has mobility, decent passing range and a deceptively creative game for his position. Just 21, he’s progressed through Werder Bremen’s youth ranks, and is making a mark in the 2. Bundesliga, where the storied German club find themselves this season.

Still something of a rough diamond, the Bulgarian youth international isn’t the finished product by any means, but he has the raw materials and statistics to prove he might be worth a go.

Photo by Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Thus far, he’s hitting nearly 90% of his passes accurately, with one long ball a game. With those passes, he’s making key contributions, and while he starts deep he tends to make his presence felt across the pitch [WhoScored?].

Capable of drifting to either side, and play any central midfield role, Gruev might be a bit of a shot in the dark. But he has excellent technique, potential, and the willingness to get himself about.

Scott Robertson – a home-grown answer for Celtic alongside Callum McGregor?

Or, Celtic can just look to their own academy.

Scott Robertson has impressed everywhere he’s been. Currently at Crewe Alexandra, he’s been described as “different gravy” by supporters, while earning plaudits from his manager on loan, David Artell.

It’s not exactly hard to see why. A creative force in the centre of midfield, he’s been excellent for the League One outfit. He’s already scored, and has a whopping 1 key pass per 90, creating opportunities with his incisive passing [WhoScored?].

Photo by James Baylis – AMA/Getty Images

A keen dribbler of the ball, Robertson prefers to drift off to the right, a bit like Luca de la Torre [WhoScored?], which would compliment McGregor perfectly. Not only that, there’s real defensive bite to his game, averaging 2 tackles and 1.7 clearances a game [WhoScored?].

Mentioned as someone with a bright future at Celtic for a while now, it would undoubtedly take Robertson a bit of time to fully adapt to life in the Bhoys first team. But where Celtic are concerned, they may not need to spend money to properly accommodate Callum McGregor.

The answer might be under their nose.

Something of a rugged player, albeit one who has flair and vision, Robertson definitely has shades of a young McGregor in how he gets up and down the pitch, loves dictating play and has no problem creating his own shooting opportunities.

Read more: Steven Caulker believes he should’ve signed for Celtic in 2017