Celtic – Hibernian | The Analysis

The lovely nerds over at Modern Fitba have given us access to all their data for Celtic’s game against Hibernian. They are currently crowdfunding to raise the money to buy this data permanently from Ortec Sports – if you are able to contribute to it would be a big help towards making sure Celtic and Scottish Football can be covered in an unique way (we might even be able to share more of this data at 90Minute Cynic…)

 

Celtic’s Switch of Sides

The graph above show the average position of each player’s interaction with the ball (passes, challenges etc). From the first half (on the left) to the second there is a noticeable shift of emphasis from the left hand side to the right for Celtic, almost across the whole team. Up front, Scott Sinclair is a lot more central in the second half, the midfield trio has all moved sideways, and even the centre backs moved right after the break.

This pattern is also seen in the passing matrix (below) which illustrate the average location from where each player made a pass in each half. The thickness of each line between players increases with the frequency of passes between the two.

We can drill down further down into the passing numbers with the table below, the orange circles indicating the top 10 passing combinations (counting only completed passes) – the most frequent being from Jeremy Toljan to Timothy Weah on Celtic’s right. Weah to Toljan was the 4th highest combination with 18. Un-surprisingly, Callum McGregor was involved in 6 of the top 9 passing combinations, and he also had the most completed passes in the match with 97.

It’s also interesting to note that it was the rightback Toljan who found Olivier Burke with a pass the most times, tied with Ryan Christie on 9. It meant Toljan found the striker and the winger in front of him 32 times, twice as many times as Emilio Izeguirre did with Scott Sinclair and Burke.

 

Did Hibs’ High Press Work?

In Celtic’s first five games after the winter break they have mostly faced teams sitting deep in a low defensive block, leaving Celtic players almost unchallenged until well into their opponent’s half when they are in settled possession.

Hibs’ tactics were very different, especially in the first half, deploying a very high press in order to try to win the ball a lot closer to Celtic’s goal. Even at Scott Bain’s goalkicks, Hibs players took up positions around the penalty box to stop the home team playing out from the back. Was it successful? Not really.

Hibs regained possession against Celtic 56 times, only 6 more than what St. Johnstone did at home vs Celtic last Sunday. They did capture the ball more times in Celtic’s half: 11, compared to St. Johnstone’s 4. But many of these regains (below) were wide and just above the half-way line, in mostly non-dangerous situations.

Facing Celtic with such a high press is risky and it produced only a meagre return for Hibs, getting to five shots all game, a paltry two from inside the penalty box.

Instead, this high press gamble backfired for Hibs as time and time again Celtic easily broke through it, giving the front four in particularly a lot of space to work in. On occasions, Hibs’ decision on when and how to press was abysmal. One example came less than a minute before Celtic’s first goal.

As Scott Brown wins a loose ball in front of Florian Kamberi about ten yards into Celtic’s half, Hibs’ three players in the centre – Slivka, Mackie and Milligan – have a numerical advantage against Ryan Christie and Timothy Weah.

Even with Jeremy Toljan closer to ball, Mackie decides to rush towards him. Toljan goes inwards, as Milligan also choose to go in for the press. Slivka – at the top of the screen – also decide to move upwards to be able to join the press.

Toljan can quite easily slip the ball through the middle between the onrushing Mackie and Milligan, with Slivka now actually level with his teammates, having gambled on Toljan passing the ball sideways to Callum McGregor

Ryan Christie is left with an enormous amount of space in which to carry the ball forward, Celtic now 4 on 4 with the Hibs defence in a very good location. While this attacking move didn’t succeed, Celtic’s first goal come in the very next attack, Hibs again allowing the home team a lot of space down the right hand side.

In the end Celtic produced 17 attempts at goal with 8 on target. Christie and Scott Sinclair had the most attempts with 4, Weah and Oliver Burke following up with 3 each.

 

Possession Breakdown

That it was a more ‘hectic’ home game than usual is shown in the possession stats. While Celtic had 7 more possessions than in their last home game against Hamilton, they on average spent 3 ½ seconds less on each possession. Against Hamilton they only had 11 possessions that lasted 5 seconds or less, against Hibs it was twice that. Hibs didn’t manage to hang on to the ball much better than Hamilton had. In fact, Accies had 24 possesions against Celtic lasting more than 15 seconds, while Hibs had 22.

 

Celtic’s New Bhoys Get Around

Celtic’s search for a right back was long and fraught, but seem to have been worth the wait with Jeremy Toljan fitting in seamlessly so far. It’s too early to make any sweeping conclusions after only one full game, but as fellow Cynic Iain Dougan had noticed while in the stands on Wednesday (and discussed on our live lunch broadcast yesterday), the German defender seemed to be a lot more involved centrally in the pitch than what Celtic fans are used to seeing from Mikael Lustig.

Iain was right – if you look at the heatmap (above) of Toljan’s actions on, and challenging for, the ball against Hibs compared to Lustig at home versus Hamilton, he had a far bigger presence towards the middle. Toljan also spaced out his involvement more vertically: while Lustig’s involvement is centred mostly on either side of the half-way line, Toljan had more touches closer to each penalty box.

Whether this trend continues over a bigger sample of games will be interesting to follow. The same goes for Toljan’s passing range and decision-making on the ball compared to Lustig. In this single game comparison he went long a lot less frequently than Lustig, and the majority of his completed passes in the opposition’s half were a lot closer to goal than Lustig’s. Again, something to look out for over the next few games.

It was a Timothy Weah’s first appearance on the right side of Celtic’s attack, and he – just like fellow new boy Toljan – was very mobile and involved throughout the pitch, and significantly more so than fellow winger Scott Sinclair.

Playing centre-forward is an unusual position for Olivier Burke, but against Hibernian he was a lot more involved than in previous games and across a wider area.

Burke even had a lot of touches within and close to his own half , maybe too many for a lone centre-forward. But there is no doubting Burke’s willingness to roam the pitch and try to be as involved as possible throughout from his striker role.

 

A New Toy

We end with an interactive tool (which we hope work!) Choose any of Celtic’s goal attempts in the drop-down below to see a ‘location replay’ of the whole attacking move.

Remember: If you want to see more of this kind of coverage of Scottish Football and Celtic, Modern Fitba need your help to buy this data permanently from ORTEC Sports


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)


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