St. Mirren vs Celtic | Match Preview

St. Mirren v. Celtic (SPFL Premiership)

Friday 14th September 2018

Simple Digital Arena, Paisley

 

It Always Could be Worse, and it Definitely Has Been in Paisley Thus Far.

Large portions of the Celtic support were in a state of consternation upon the end of the transfer window, feeling the club had not strengthened the squad in weak areas. However, a 1-0 victory over Rangers heading into the international break helped to reassure Celtic fans a bit. Friday’s opponents St. Mirren were also feeling unsure of the direction of the squad when they left the New Love Street for the international break, but did not have any reassurance heading into the break after losing 3 of their first 4 matches and seeing new manager Alan Stubbs sacked.

Stats & Facts Corner:

  • Celtic have not lost to St. Mirren in any competition since 27 January 2013 (League Cup). The last league loss to the Buddies was on 24 March 2010, Tony Mowbray’s farewell as Celtic manager.
  • St. Mirren won the SPFL Championship last year, earning 74 points. The 12-point gap down to Livingston was the largest between first and second in the Championship since Hearts won in 2014/15.
  • Newly appointed manager Orlan Kearney helped lead his former club Coleraine to their first silverware in 15 years when they won the Irish Cup.
  • Celtic are joint second in goal difference thus far in the SPFL Premiership at 3, while St. Mirren are last at -6.

Last 5 meetings:

 

Line up:

Against Hamilton and Livingston, Celtic have played three at the back and two up front while preferring a 4-2-3-1 against Hearts and Rangers. You do not need advanced stats or to be a writer at Spielverlagerung that confuses Yer Da to figure out the differences between those groups of teams. Travelling to St. Mirren, we can presume Brendan Rodgers will again go with 3 in the back. Time is starting to heal all the Dedryk Boyata wounds – as we are now all outraged at Moussa Dembele’s exit – so we would expect to see him, Ajer and Lustig at the back. Kieran Tierney could be rested after a week of Scotland duty, but if he plays you would expect him to be given permission to go forward. With Moussa Dembele back in France, will Celtic continue to play two up top when playing 3 at the back as they had previously? I am guessing not, as French Eddy if fully fit will start alone up top and Leigh Griffiths will make way to the bench in order to make room for a midfield of Brown, Ntcham, McGregor, Rogic, and Forrest.

With new St. Mirren manager Orlan Kearney taking charge for the first time, the Buddies set up is a bit more of a mystery. Alan Stubbs added numerous players to the squad, with most additions seeming, to put it nicely, to be curious decisions. Stubbs played these new players in various different formations, much to the frustration of veterans like Captain Stephen McGinn. Will Kearney rely on the remaining squad members from that Championship winning side or try to polish the turds Stubbs brought in into diamonds? There will probably a mixture of both, though more emphasis on St. Mirren’s key pieces like McGinn, Gavin Reilly, Danny Mullen, and Kyle Magennis could be seen after their struggles in their first four matches under Alan Stubbs.

Key battles:

Celtic vs. Complacency:

  • One of the most consistent criticisms of Brendan Rodgers Celtic sides has been playing to the level of their competition. After a good win over Rangers, Celtic were feeling a lot better about themselves while St. Mirren were trying to stop the bleeding. Could the international break halt any momentum Celtic were gaining? Could the Buddies be re-energized playing for anyone who isn’t the reportedly unpopular in the dressing room Alan Stubbs? It is up to Brendan Rodgers and company to prevent that.

Scott Brown vs Stephen McGinn:

  • Stephen McGinn had been one of the loudest critics of the Buddies transfers since Alan Stubbs was named manager and there were even rumours the veteran midfielder was told he was free to leave the club. With Stubbs now gone, McGinn will be looking to show that the right man stayed in Paisley. He has also experienced matching up against Celtic captain Scott Brown before.
  • Scott Brown seemed to be back at his best against Rangers at Celtic Park a few weeks ago after a slow start to the season. Brown will need to continue this good form against a seasoned opponent in McGinn. If Brown cannot replicate this form, the Buddies may be able to steal a point or three Friday.

St. Mirren strikers vs. Celtic back-line:

  • They say misery loves company and the strikers in black and white stripes and the defenders in green and white hoops have both had better Augusts. Under Alan Stubbs, St. Mirren had scored 3 goals, the second lowest in the league thus far, and according to ModernFitba.com (see more stats below) they had the worst Expected Goals for at 2.31. They have taken the fewest attempts in the SPFL Premiership at 24, the fewest shots on target at 11, and the highest percentage of their shots occurring outside the box (which is a bad thing) at 50%.
  • Meanwhile, Celtic’s central defenders have been the recipients of criticism all summer. The Bhoys underlying defensive metrics are pretty good, second in the SPFL in shots conceded at 29 and Expected Goals conceded at 3.18. Despite the decent metrics, I do not think I need to remind anyone reading this of the high profile mistakes the centre of the Celtic defence has made thus far. Against an anaemic attack like the Buddies have had thus far, it could be a good opportunity for some Celtic defenders to build some confidence.

 

Advanced Stats (from ModernFitba.com):

Expected Goals (xG) Table

  • Sometimes a team’s results don’t always match up with the chances they’ve created and conceded, especially in a smaller sample of games. Not so with St. Mirren at the start of this season: their underlying stats match their results insofar that their performances have been just as bad as their scorelines.
  • Celtic and Hearts have been a class apart in the league so far, with Celtic narrowly ahead on Expected Goal Difference.

Goals and Chance Quality

  • St. Mirren’s issues are clearly laid out in their goal and chance quality stats. They’re bottom or second bottom in almost all the metrics. They don’t create nearly enough chances and concede far too many. Not only that; the chances they have created are on average of the lowest quality in the whole league.

Chance Map:

  • The location of St. Mirren’s attempts is another big clue to their problem; only 4 of their 24 attempts this season have come from inside the Danger Zone (including their two goals) – it’s no wonder they have the lowest average chance quality in the league.
  • Mirren doesn’t start or end halves well; almost half the chances they have conceded have come within a 30 minute spell; the first 10 minutes of the game or the last 10 minutes of each half.

Finishing

  • Mirren’s finishing isn’t the main problem; they are quite close to their expected rate in terms of the % of goals scored on all shots and on shots on target. They simply need to get to more chances and get more shots off.
  • Celtic is underperforming in all three finishing metrics. That can happen over such a small sample of games and is actually more of a positive; if they just keep taking the same amount of shots they’ll see an increase in their scoring rate soon enough.

Prediction: St. Mirren 0 Celtic 3


Matt is a Celtic supporter born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and is a graduate of the University of Dayton (Go Flyers!). A few years ago, Matt learned about the burgeoning field of analytics in football. Excited with this new knowledge, he could not wait to apply this newfound wisdom to his beloved Celtic and the rest of Scottish football. However, he soon found that there was very little available when it came to these advanced stats for Scottish football. Taking matter into his own hands, Matt decided to track these various stats for Celtic. However, he soon realised he wanted to know how Celtic and it's players compared to their title rivals in Scotland. Then he wanted to compare every club in the SPFL Premiership. This slippery slope led to Matt tracking the stats for every club and player in the SPFL Premiership and Championship, as well as in depth blogs on specific topics in Scottish Football on his blog, The Backpass Rule (https://thebackpassrule.wordpress.com/). He can also be found on twitter under @thebackpassrule


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