The misconception about Celtic defender Carl Starfelt that doesn't bear scrutiny

By Euan Davidson

February 15, 2022

As Celtic gear up for another European test, there’ll be plenty of scrutiny on Ange’s team selection, and a defensive pairing of Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers, who have been impenetrable domestically.

Our European record, in terms of the defence, hasn’t exactly been amazing. Granted, it incrementally improved, but conceding 8 goals over our first two games in the Europa League, against Bayer Leverkusen and Real Betis, was hardly convincing.

So much has happened since then, though. Celtic boast the best defence in the Scottish Premiership. While yes, there was heartbreak in conceding thrice against Bayer Leverkusen in our second German rodeo this campaign, there was definite improvement.

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

But Starfelt continues to baffle supporters. Oftentimes, he looks rock-solid. Physically intimidating, but with the pace and technique not to get caught out, and play out of danger. Early European impressions of him, though, were less good.

It’s his work on the ball that confounded plenty of supporters. There’s still a misconception that he’s uncomfortable on the ball at times. That he gives opposition and opportunity with mis-controlled touches, or a bad pass. Yet, that’s not the case.

Far from it, in fact. Would it surprise you to know that Starfelt boasts the most passes per 90 in the Scottish Premiership? Not only that, he has an outstanding completion rate of 91.6%, comfortably the best league-wide?

Fine, but what about when he’s carrying the ball? What then? Well, actually, his 0.3 bad controls of the ball is well below average. And he’s only dispossessed 0.2 times per 90 minutes [WhoScored?]. Yet, a narrative persists.

Everything is falling into place for Celtic as Ange’s class shines through again

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Everything is falling into place for Celtic as Ange’s class shines through again
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Evidence suggests Celtic defender Carl Starfelt is elite with his passing and possession, yet uncertainty remains

Much as I and no doubt countless others like Alan Stubbs, he was a vocal critic of Starfelt, who he said “hadn’t progressed” [Football Scotland] since joining Celtic.

And sure, there are times when he can look a little uncertain of himself, but perhaps those moments are amplified by a few factors. One, he’s a new signing, and they tend to have more of the spotlight. Secondly, the rapid improvement in our defence means there’s still recency bias about our frailties, which is entirely fair. Third, he made a few mistakes early on that have seemingly haunted impressions of him overall.

Statistically speaking though, we couldn’t really have asked for a more solid centre-back signing to partner Cameron Carter-Vickers.

Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

While yes, statistics only show so much, it’s still hard not to feel as if Carl Starfelt has been given an unfair reputation. That’s exacerbated by a press that’s eager to pounce on errors, especially with new signings. The enthusiasm to apply a “flop” tag, and the obsession over transfer fees, remains perplexing.

As the Norwegian Champions Bodø/Glimt prepare to take on Celtic and their recently rock-solid defence, it’s another chance for Carl Starfelt to prove himself.

The smart money says he’ll take it.

Read more: Ange can give Celtic summer signing Giakoumakis vote of confidence against Bodo/Glimt