4G Tactics | Celtic Go Left

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    The Constant Leftie

Because he performs on such a high level with such consistency, it could be easy to take Kieran Tierney’s contribution for granted. For example, in the league he has created more open play chances (per every 90 mins played) than any of his teammates, narrowky ahead of Tom Rogic.

There might have been a sense that, compared to previous seasons, less of Celtic’s attacking play has been going through him this campaign. One measure of this is how many passes Tierney have attempted in the opposition’s half (while more passes do not necessarily equal better, it does give clues about playing patterns).

Tierney’s total of 98 passes against both Dundee and Hearts were his highest of the season, with his 13 crosses against Hearts also a season high. Against Craig Levein’s men 72% of his passes were in their half and 39% were in the quarter of the pitch closest to Hearts’ goal – the second highest totals since his first domestic start of the season against Hamilton Accies.

The difference in his pass & cross location map against Hearts compared to the Kilmarnock game (perhaps the nadir of Celtic’s domestic season so far) is stark, both in terms of Tierney’s total passes and his presence high up on the pitch. So what has changed recently on the left side of Celtic’s attack that might have brought Tierney more into the game offensively? Something wonderful perhaps….?

 

2) The Magical Leftie 

The latest game against Hearts was Celtic’s 25th of the season. That it was only the 8th start for a largely injury free Scott Sinclair would have seemed unthinkable this time a year ago, the Englishman’s declining influence on the Celtic team a much discussed topic since then. There have been many false ‘he’s back!’ moments from Sinclair in that time period, but ever since he came on halfway through the first half in the league cup defeat of Hearts, two things have happened; Celtic have been absolutely rampant, scoring 13 goals in the last five halves of football and the team have refocused their attacking play down the left-hand side.

When Celtic was at their best in that imperious invincible season of 2016/17, Kieran Tierney and Scott Sinclair tearing defences apart together down the left-hand side was perhaps the team’s defining characteristic.

The last two games have been their only domestic starts together this season apart from the two defeats against Hearts and Kilmarnock, when the team as a whole was in a completely different state. Sinclair, like Tierney, have recorded season high passing stats in the last two games. In thr first three domestic games of this season where he played more than a full half, he on average only attempted a pass every 7th minutes. Over his last two games that average was down to a pass every 3 ½ minutes.

The difference in Sinclair’s involvement on the ball against Hearts and in that Kilmarnock is stark – just like it was for Tierney. This is replicated in their chance creation stats: In the games against Dundee and Hearts Sinclair was directly involved in setting up a total of five chances through providing the second last pass before a shot. The player with the last pass before the shot on four of those occasions? Kieran Tierney. Could this finally be the return of not only a wonderful Scott Sinclair but of a magical left-sided relationship?

 

3) Occupy the Left, Empty the Right

As illustrated by Tierney and Sinclair’s increased involvement in games, Celtic have definitely been more focused on driving play through the left side of their attack. As seen by the graph above  the home game against Rangers – a commanding performance despite the narrow result – had been the last domestic match where Celtic had utilised the left to such a degree.

The poor games against St. Mirren and Kilmarnock saw Celtic trying to attack more down the right hand side, followed by a patch of games which were a lot more balanced, then a sharp shift to the left ever since Sinclair came on as a substitute in the league cup semi-final.

Again, the comparison between Hearts at home and Kilmarnock away (see below) illustrates the point perfectly.

In addition to Tierney and Sinclair, two other players have influenced the shift leftwards. Ryan Christie, who like Sinclair came on during the semi-final, has been a great attacking injection down the left half-space (more of below).

We analysed James Forrest’s subtle shift from a right sided midfielder to a roaming centre-forward in a previous article, and this has manifested itself even more in the last two games.  With Forrest moving in centrally and Callum McGregor dropping deeper in Scott Brown’s absence – and being replaced by a more pure left-winger in Scott Sinclair – it seems that Brendan Rodgers is deliberately leaving a lot of the right side of attack empty. It could be to create much needed space for Tom Rogic who increasingly occupies a starting position in the attacking build up towards the right, before coming in centrally to support Forrest and Edouard.

Whatever the intention, it’s working.

 

4) Eddy, Christie & Forrest: Now Touring 

Celtic have attempted 41 shots in their two most recent games. 26 of those have been taken by one of Ryan Christie, James Forrest and Odsonne Edouard. The split might be surprising: Forrest lead with 11 shots, followed by Christie’s 9 and the man the 90 Minute Cynics christened French Eddy has 6.

Against Hearts, 15 of Celtic’s 21 shots saw a direct involvement (taking the shot or having one of the last two passes before the shot) from one of these three.

Interestingly, it’s James Forrest who has also created the most chances  in the last two games, with six direct involvements compared to Edouard’s three and Christie’s two.

On the latest Cynic Live video it was discussed whether Ryan Christie could be Stuart Armstrong’s replacement; a creative number 8 whith the ability to burst beyond the defence and contribute to Celtic’s scoring tally. Christie has certainly been getting into some good locations: he has 4 shots from inside the penalty spot over the last two games, even one more than the penalty box king Edouard.

James Forrest conversion from a right winger to more of a roaming centre-forward is also manifesting itself in his shot locations, as he pops up all across and around the penalty box to take shots.

The question now is: can this new Celtic attacking trio replicate their attacking form on the European stage?


Christian came to Scotland in 2001 and nobody have still managed to get rid of him. A native of Oslo, Norway, he was a huge fan of Ronny Deila before it was cool and still is now that nobody likes him anymore. Christian joined the Cynics in 2014 and is now website editor and infrequent podcaster. He has previously written for The Herald, Scotsman and has also contributed to STV (face) and BBC (voice)


'4G Tactics | Celtic Go Left' have 1 comment

  1. November 7, 2018 @ 10:52 pm Duncan

    This data comfirms to me something that has been relevant at Celtic since the departure of Samaras and a genuine left sided winger we are an incredibly unbalanced an ultimately ineffective side.
    Much of what we have achieved since Neil Lennons departure has been achieved through playing the ball out wide as Lenny opted more to put things through the middle and feed most of the attack through Commons.
    When he moved Samaras into the wide left area of the Park we became a different animal with options right across the attack.
    As you know Deila opted to go all out in this regard dispensing with the traditional 2 up setup and going with a solitary striker Supported by two wide men .
    He of course had issues out on the left on and off and in my opinion this was only really resolved by the arrival of Rodgers and the immediate acquisition of Sinclair.
    A genuine ,quality left winger to match a genuine quality right winger on the other side of the Park.
    Now we had balance and a genuine outball right across the attack.
    Brendan did try alter things and go with a pairing up top unsuccessfully with Griffiths and Dembele and more or less canned this idea fairly swiftly going back to the setup Deila had in place for 2 Seasons for the remainder of the Invincible Season ( a fact dismissed by many of the Deila out Brigade)
    It comes as no shock to me that when Sinclair is hitting form again and Forrest likewise on the other flank that we are again tearing teams apart in Scotland?
    An added bonus also being we now have McGregor in the holding role getting good ball out wide a lot quicker than Brown generally does.
    If we can keep Sinclair fit and on form there really is no requirement for a 3 rd Striker at Celtic on the Domestic front as we are now witnessing again we have goals all over the Park when we are at it.
    I expect to see us kick on now and hand out some serious doings along the way once again with our successful 3 pronged attack.
    Hopefully Ibrox will bear witness another ;-)

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