Celtic have faced each one of their Champions League group opponents once, so it seems like a good time to check on the numbers behind Celtic’s latest foray onto Europe’s biggest stage. Celtic currently sit 3rd in Champions League Group B, ahead of Anderlecht who have no points, and behind Bayern Munich with 6 points and Paris Saint-Germain with 9 points.
While it is never fun to see Celtic on the wrong end of 5-0 and 3-0 score lines, many Celtic supporters were likely dreaming of a way to sneak into the top two spots in the group but understood that the Bhoys would most likely be fighting it out for third and a spot in the Europa League. In that sense, it is job done for Celtic thus far. Sure, dreams of the last 16 danced in every Tim’s head as they saw Bayern sputter under Carlo Ancelotti.
Those dreams were quickly crushed when Celtic took the pitch in Munich against a Jupp Heynckes-led Bayern. However, there are still 3 more matches to go in the group, can those dreams of the last 16 be revisited? So let’s look at the stats for Celtic thus far in the Champions League, in a campaign that has been good, bad, and ugly so far.
Let’s get the Bad and the Ugly out of the way first. Surely no one is surprised that the matches against PSG and Bayern Munich would be designated as “bad and ugly”. These two clubs are, sadly, just in another stratosphere financially, and it showed in the stats for these two matches. The Expected Goals (xG) for the PSG match was 2.94-0.76. The Parisians outshot 12-7 and 6-4 on target, which is not an overwhelming advantage, but the gigantic gulf in xG suggests every one of those PSG shots were nearly surgically placed in higher-probability locations.
Celtic fans could be forgiven for thinking in the weeks leading up to their match-up with Bayern Munich that the German giants were vulnerable. Bayern certainly showed some bruises from the first few months of this campaign, but unfortunately for the Bhoys, Bayern Munich righted the ship about a week too early for Celtic’s interests. Celtic’s trip to Germany was just as painful stat-wise as PSG’s trip to Glasgow. Bayern outshot Celtic 25 to 7 and 11 to 3 for shots on target and had a much higher xG than Celtic at 2.92 to 0.60. Not great.
Now that we have pulled off the Band-Aid and talked about the defeats, it is time to enjoy the Good; as in the stats versus Anderlecht and the numerous things Celtic did right in that match. It was certainly a great performance from Celtic, but it might be surprising to learn Anderlecht outshot Celtic 11 to 8. However, looking at the xG for Celtic’s trip to Belgium, the Hoops had a 0.98-0.74 advantage over Anderlecht. This may seem like only a slight advantage for Celtic, but let me warn you to exercise caution when looking at xG sums in single matches. It can be a bit misleading in such a small sample.
Instead of focusing on the xG sum, let us take a more granular look at the xG of the three goals. All three goals by Leigh Griffiths, Patrick Roberts, and Scott Sinclair had an xG of at least 0.1. The first goal by Griffiths had an xG of 0.3, the second by Roberts had an xG of 0.11, and Sinclair’s third goal had an xG of 0.2. These are all pretty good chances, xG-wise. These values signify the control Celtic had throughout the match.
The shots Anderlecht got are another good representation of the control Celtic had in the match. While they did outshoot Celtic over the course of 90 minutes, only two of those eleven shots were over 0.1 xG and the highest-xG shot they had the whole match was 0.11. This shows Celtic were able to frustrate the Belgians and force them to take long shots outside of the box.
Prior to the Anderlecht match, I looked at some of the stats behind Anderlecht’s league campaign thus far and some of the players Celtic fans should look out for when playing the reigning Belgian champions. Some of the players that led the Purple and White in advanced stats were Henry Onyekuru and Lukasz Teodorczyk, who had the highest xG for Anderlecht at the time. Teodorczyk only had two shots in the match and Onyekuru did not have a single shot over the 90 minutes. Celtic being able to limit these players was key to their success that night.
The other player I highlighted before the match was attacking midfielder Sofiane Hanni. The Algerian was second in the league in xSA and among the leaders in xA as well. Yet, during the Champions League match-up with Celtic, Hanni did not have a key pass (pass leading to a shot) or a secondary pass (pass before the pass leading to a shot) the entire game. Hanni had been the one who pulled the strings for the Anderlecht attack up to that point, but Celtic shutting him down all match was another great example of Celtic’s controlled performance.
The numbers suggested that while Anderlecht had gotten off to a slow start amassing points in the league, they had the best xG difference at that time in Belgium. This has not changed since the Celtic match-up, as they currently have an xG of 15.93 for, 10.97 against for a xG difference of 4.96, which is still best in the league. Their results have improved since then as well, winning four, drawing once, and losing once in their last six matches and moving up to third place from seventh.
Celtic’s performance in Belgium has them in the driver’s seat for European football after the New Year. Celtic’s next fixture is home to Bayern Munich and hope of a last 16 appearance could still be alive with a win over the Germans in Glasgow. While the Bavarians seemed to be in trouble at the beginning of the year, they have seemed to right the ship.
While all hope should not be abandoned of Champions League knockout rounds, it might come down to the return fixture with the Belgian champions that determines if Celtic are still in Europe in 2018. Celtic was able to limit the Anderlecht danger men while creating and converting good chances of their own, but Anderlecht still are a dangerous team, capable of good performances. Celtic must repeat this type of performance when the Belgians make their way to Glasgow if they have hopes of continued European football.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.