The shocking Celtic trend that Postecoglou will have to reverse

By Euan Davidson

June 3, 2021

Celtic fans, or even neutrals, will point at the Bhoys’ leaky defence last season.

Year on year, the comparison is a bit bleak. In 20-21, a longer season than 19-20, Celtic conceded 10 extra goals. Defending set-pieces was a living nightmare. Conceding a foul anywhere in our own half, home or away, was cause for genuine anxiety.

It’s an issue, but some context needs reminding: between injuries and swift tactical changes, it was hard to get a regular back 3 or 4 out. To me, that’s a fixable problem, one that depends on a lot of planning and a bit of luck. What concerns me even more is that in 8 fewer games, Celtic scored more goals in 19-20 than they did last season.

That’s shocking. And we saw it happen in real time. Celtic were creating plenty, boasting 17.8 shots per 90 in the Premiership [WhoScored?]. But in the main, the Bhoys weren’t creating clear-cut chances. Odsonne Edouard did valiantly to manage 18 total league goals in 20-21 [Transfermarkt]. But he managed that due in large part to individual ingenuity, as opposed to great service or urgency from the players around him.

Given the speed and quality of our attacking players, it’s damning that only 3 goals were scored from counter attacking scenarios last season [WhoScored?]. 3. That shows the difficulty Celtic had making opportunities from quick transitions of play. It was almost as if the Bhoys were playing with an arm tied behind their back; the stuff that comes naturally to well-drilled teams was absent, much of the attacking play meandering, and the team lacked its killer instinct from seasons prior.

That’s why an attacking manager like Ange Postecoglou is key.

Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Sharpening blunt Celtic attack is first tactical responsibility for Ange Postecoglou

It’s easy to see why Rangers had such an advantage over us in the league last season. Yes, the individual meetings were their own issue, but Celtic drew 11 matches in the Scottish Premiership last season. Of course, you’ve got to expect the odd draw, but these stalemates mate the difference.

You’re talking about 11 points rather than 33, in this case. And that’s, yes, down to suspect defending, but last year’s Celtic team didn’t look capable of finishing opposition off a lot of the time. Running down blind alleys in central areas, the obvious lack of width made us easier to defend for the more organised sides.

Nobody can take a magic wand to this team and fix that. But a manager who prides themselves on taking risks, devoting plenty of numbers to attacks and taking advantage of our superior fitness is vital. As an earlier article with Bhoys analytics illustrates, Ange Postecoglou at Yokohama has shown the way: “Ange has changed a team on an xG differential of -0.25 to 0.74.”

It might sound obvious – goals win matches, but while the defenders were taking their fair share of criticism, it was arguably even more frustrating to see Celtic not exploring space with more bravery, and being limited to pot-shots outside the box on so many occasions.

42% of Celtic’s shots last season were from the central areas outside the box [WhoScored?]. That’s poor, and it’s a function of lack of invention. Those shots are the easiest to defend, yet Celtic were limited to taking hundreds of them.

Whereas Postecoglou’s side are creating much easier chances, and scoring plenty of goals. Just a cursory glance at the shot creation data from the aforementioned article indicates that. That’s exactly what Celtic need, and while it might take time to implement that, it’s worth doing.

Someone who can immediately take this Celtic team and give them the freedom to express themselves is going to work wonders. Ange Postecoglou, then makes sense entirely. Someone like José Mourinho’s former assistant Rui Faria, less so.

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