- nullThe 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?