The attacking outlet Celtic now have and why it'll be crucial for title run

By Euan Davidson

February 4, 2022

There were plenty of criticisms lobbed at Ange Postecoglou and Celtic, from both a defensive and attacking perspective, before we even got to talking about a title run this season.

Although there’s been improvement almost every week from Celtic under the Greek-Aussie boss, there were some frustrations early on. The defence rapidly got better, another early lob aimed at the Celtic boss, but against sides operating a low block, the Hoops were often frustrated.

There are plenty of examples, sadly. Think of Dundee United at home, in the 1-1 draw. Livingston at home. Livingston away, and so on.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The issue was – for me at least – that when Celtic weren’t getting joy out of the Turnbull and Rogic pairing, there wasn’t really an alternative. For a while, you could’ve argued Ewan Henderson was a shout. Especially when he came on against Real Betis and helped the Bhoys win 3-2.

We were sorely lacking in options, though. With Ryan Christie and Olivier Ntcham both gone, Ange Postecoglou was reliant on his attacking midfield pairing. Both have been excellent for much of the season, but if teams were congesting and the midfield and forcing us out wide, they could then deal with our crosses.

Now, though? Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley were both absolute bullseye acquisitions. Between them, there’s the technical ability and ingenuity to find space where there isn’t any. Both have proven that, and Hatate’s unwavering courage in shooting gives Celtic an asset that wasn’t there before. The Japanese midfielder is averaging 2.3 shots a game already [WhoScored?].

They could both be utterly crucial.

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Two well-timed and well-scouted Celtic signings give us an attacking outlet that could be key

If you’re counting, that’s 4 creative, attacking midfielders in the team when everyone’s fit. Turnbull and Rogic’s ability speaks for itself, especially the latter. He’s bossed it for both Celtic and Australia, looking fit and revitalised under a manager with unshakeable confidence in him.

It’s sensible to assume that even with O’Riley and Hatate available, last year’s POTY and the Wizard of Oz would still make our strongest XI.

But talk of a strongest XI is an utter luxury. We’ve seen that this season. Currently, we’re missing David Turnbull through injury. Rogic was been called up for Australia, and has had his own injury concerns. And while either has been out of the team, we’d sometimes missed a spark in midfield to get past stodgy, conservative defences.

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Because teams often come to Celtic Park with a game-plan: contest the middle of the pitch, and let nothing through. Or, they do it at home, as Livingston proved. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, either, it stands to reason.

The difference now, though, is that if Celtic are struggling to find holes in defences, or look static in central positions, then there are high-quality players waiting to make an impact. It sounds obvious, but that’s such an integral difference.

There’s no doubt Ange Postecoglou has done a remarkable job thus far, taking us to the top of the table against considerable odds. But through smart, laser-focused recruitment, he has given his own chances of major honours a significant boost. The movement of these players, the vision they have and how they’ll help our front 3?

It’s worth far, far more than what was paid.

As we face Motherwell at the weekend, a team who undoubtedly will look to frustate us, it’ll be another test of Celtic’s strategy and ability to pick a lock.

Except now, after no time, you’d back either Hatate or O’Riley to do just that.

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