Celtic’s 4-2 win over Hibernian on Saturday saw them take over second place in the SPFL Premiership table. Here’s three match graphics illustrating some of the defining characteristics and key players of the game:
1) Location, location, location
It’s a universal football truth, backed up by cold, hard, statistical facts: the areas from where you shoot and create chances from is directly linked to how likely you are to score.
A chance set up from the middle of the pitch and closer to goal is on average likely to be a bigger opportunity than a cross from out wide. Shots taken from the ‘Danger Zone’ (the middle of the penalty box vertically up to the 18 yard line) come with a much higher probability of a goal being scored.
In both these areas Celtic dominated. 12 of their 22 shots were from the Danger Zone (including 3 of their goals), with Hibs only managing to get 2 of their 16 shots off from this area (one goal)
Part of the reason can be seen in the location of the passes intended for the penalty box. Except from corners, only 1 of Celtic’s passes into the area came from far wide areas of the pitch. Instead they attempted to find teammates in good positions from central areas. In contrast, Hibs’ deliveries into the box often came from much wider and often deeper positions, with less likelihood of creating good chances.
2) Three degrees of McGregor
Callum McGregor’s intended role on the pitch looked to be very similar to where he’s operated for large parts of the season; on the left of the central midfield, linking in with Kieran Tierney outside him and with a license to roam forward in order to find Odsonne Edouard in front of him. This is clearly seen in his passing locations in the first 20 minutes; operating out on the left and and in the middle when higher up the pitch.
With Scott Brown’s injury, Brendan Rodgers chose not to bring in Eboue Kouassi, perhaps a more like-for-like replacement in terms of a defensive midfielder. Instead, McGregor was moved inside to take Brown’s role as the rhythm-maker of Celtic’s attack, with Scott Sinclair coming on to occupy the left side of midfield. The shift is clearly seen in McGregor’s passing locations from the 20th minute onwards, as he often came very deep to take the ball of Gordon and the centre-backs, McGregor now the main starting point of Celtic’s attack.
When Kouassi did make his entrance in the 72th minutes, right in-between Celtic’s third and Hibs’ second goal, McGregor’s role shifted yet again, with him now doing a role more similar to that of the departed Tom Rogic; his passing locations from the 72nd minute visibly a lot more offensive and higher up the pitch.
It was a great illustration of McGregor’s flexibility and football intelligence and shows why he’s such an integral part of Brendan Rodger’s system.
3) Forrest plants himself everywhere
The couple of times during his reign when Brendan Rodgers has lacked recognised striker he has chosen not to try players such as Patrick Roberts and Scott Sinclair up front, the manager instead giving James Forrest the role of leading the line.
Under Rodgers, Forrest have built up his capability of coming in centrally with the ball and developed into a very two-dimensional wide player, equally capable of advancing on the outside or inside of the opposing full-back. Against Hibernian, we yet again saw glimpses of a potential third dimension to Forrest’s game, hinted at in those previous cameos up front.
Compare the locations in which he received or gained possession of the ball against Hibernian with the previous home game vs. Aberdeen. Against Hibernian, 21 out of his 45 possessions where on the left side of the pitch (divided in half). Against Aberdeen it was 5 out of 44. While versus the Dons he picked the ball up 15 times on the right wing, on Saturday he only did it 4 times.
With Rodgers often fond of leaving the left wing open for Kieran Tierney to run into, with Callum McGregor operating slightly more centrally, is he now trying something similar with on the right, moving Forrest inwards and higher to support Edouard, with the added advantage of opening up spaces down the right wing?