How Ange Postecoglou fixed a Celtic problem and turned it into a strength

By Euan Davidson

October 29, 2021

Remember how Celtic defended last season, before Ange Postecoglou came in?

Yes, of course you do. Oftentimes, it was utterly shambolic. If the ball was in the air, the Bhoys’ defence just didn’t know what to do. Whether it was set-pieces, crosses or nothing passes near our area, there was panic.

Whisper it, but it might be the case that Postecoglou has found an answer to this issue, and a lot of it has to do with personnel. That includes players who have been derided for much of the early 21-22 campaign.

So far, Celtic lead the league in aerial duels won [WhoScored?]. When the ball’s in the air, and being contested, the Bhoys defence win it 57.4% of the time. The next best is Motherwell, on 54.4%.

Stats! Yes, they’re not for everyone. But these aren’t just raw numbers that don’t mean anything. There’s a tangible difference between last season and this one, in terms of our biggest problem area.

A lot of it has to do with Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers. The latter, an American international, is winning 4.9 of his aerial duels per 90. Carl Starfelt is winning 4.3. Combined, they’re a force to be reckoned with in the air.

Postecoglou sends out the perfect message once again | Jackie McNamara on 67 Hail Hail

Postecoglou sends out the perfect message once again | Jackie McNamara on 67 Hail Hail
67 Hail Hail (Youtube)

Now, the problem hasn’t gone away entirely. We’ve still conceded 4 goals from set pieces this season [WhoScored?]. Over recent games, though, we’ve seen a marked improvement on what came before.

Ange Postecoglou is helping Celtic sort one of last season’s biggest woes

In 20-21, there was a lot of talk about this being John Kennedy’s fault. Mischaracterised as our “defensive coach”, the aerial problems Celtic had were being attributed to him. Whether that was based in reality or not, you’d need to ask someone who worked alongside him.

Now it’s a problem that’s become a strength, will big JK earn plaudits? It seems unlikely. Whatever the case though, there’s been a huge change to Celtic defensively since Ange Postecoglou entered the scene.

Yes, he’s an attacking coach, but he’s not daft. There’s absolutely zero doubt that, watching the Bhoys games from last season, he’ll have identified our inability to aerially defend as something that had to be tackled immediately.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

It took a while, with soft goals conceded to Hearts and Rangers, as well as a free header Ian Harkes finished for Dundee United against us at Parkhead.

In recent games, though, the anxiety at corners has settled somewhat. We don’t look as vulnerable. Players with big-game experience are putting their name on floated crosses and meeting them.

Up front, too, we’re seeing more impactful aerial chances. Whether it’s Kyogo on the volley or Anthony Ralston’s forehead, Celtic are creating opportunities through crosses. That’s testament to a general improvement in our response to the ball being airborne.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like much. But to go from having a glaring weakness to a league-topping strength is just enormous improvement.

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