Time for the good, the bad, & the ugly from Saturday’s Celtic vs Hibs game. Wyscout had the npxG at 1.23 vs 1.11 on 20 vs 10 non-penalty shots. 14 of the 20 shots for Celtic had pre-shot xG of below 0.10, while 8 were outside the box. Unsurprisingly, Christie lead the way with 7 shots for a total of just 0.19 xG- shot selection and decision making remain an issue. In comparison, Hibs had 9 of 10 shots from inside our box.
I think the npxG differential only tells part of the story, as Laxalt’s goal did not come from open play, and there easily could have been a penalty awarded to Hibs for an Ajer “hand ball.” All things considered; I think Celtic were fortunate to get a point.
Only one good, and by default, my MOTM goes to Ajer. He won 8 of 12 duels overall, 3 of 4 defensive duels, had 15 interceptions and made 7 clearances. His ball progression was also good again, with 2 out of 2 successful dribbles, 4 progressive runs and 14 progressive passes.
Bad goes to Groundhog’s Day nature of the performance. Celtic won just 44% of duels overall, and just 31% of aerial duels, specifically. This continued to trend of the past couple of months where Celtic have lost more duels than we have won. Saturday’s lineup was unsurprisingly weak in aerial duels, which added a new twist to that weakness. The lack of athleticism in midfield remains a glaring problem.
I highlighted during the international break why I thought it was past time for Elhamed to replace Frimpong as first choice RB, and Saturday was another example. Frimpong is an exciting young talent, but his defensive limitations are now as glaring as our problems in midfield. In addition, our “attacking” fullbacks combined for 0 xA, 0 key passes, and were accurate on 2 of 7 crosses. Laxalt deserves credit for being at the right place/right time and finishing his chance but did not offer much else going forward.
Ugly goes to the state of our support, many have understandably become more upset and lost any hope for the league this season. I understand that despair, as I experienced it back in August and September when I became convinced that a futile course was being embarked upon. Now, I am going to offer a vision as to how all hope need not be lost.
You may not agree with what I am about to lay out, but then most have disagreed with the majority of my analysis and opinions all season. The league is not over. Few have been as concerned as I over the challenge presented by Rangers, but they are not invincible, and the rest of the league remains dreadful. It is NOT too late for us.
But the club faces a perilous inflection point, which is where my assessment is sure to be rejected my many, and perhaps most. The notion that the club can replace Lennon now with a suitable candidate that meets both the near-term challenge and make sense for the needed long-term restructuring, is highly unlikely.
Managers of the skill necessary to meet the challenge of this season are likely to seek unipolar powers that conflict with modernizing the structure of the club. Bringing in an “outsider” at this stage also introduces other risks related to transition. Throwing a lot of money at a name who is likely to delay needed modernization would be a big long-term mistake, IMO.
My preference relies upon some assumptions that are unknowable as an outsider. Some are “reading tea leaves,” while others address issued upon which I have direct knowledge. But assuming that he is liked and respected by the players, I believe Kennedy is, and remains, the best option. Obviously, those are big “if’s,” but I would think that question is something our CEO could figure out. If it is not, then Kennedy would be a non-starter, in my opinion.
This next part is reading tea leaves, but I first started commenting on starting around this time last season. I think Lennon/Kennedy was likely an arranged “marriage,” with them not being on the same page in many ways. All reports I have read/heard is that Kennedy is analytics-literate and a relatively progressive thinker.
The talent in our team does not require a massive reconstruction- it just needs to remove the decision making and cultural “tumor.” We do not need the greatest tactical mind, and we are unlikely to attract such a person anyway without sacrificing long term, as already mentioned. We need courage and competency.
Courage to drop Brown- period. Other than spot appearances in games where we are well ahead, he should not be playing. If he does not like that? Tough- either try to preserve his legacy or join Lennon and possibly the CEO in adding lighter fluid to their legacies having already been lit on fire.
Competency- we have a lot of really good players and could be playing all sorts of different shapes if selection were simply competent. Play athletic midfielders to help rebuild confidence in our defending. Despite being wide open attacking to try and claw back from being 2-0 down, after Brown was taken off, we surrendered just one chance of any quality vs Hibs, which was Mackie’s flail off McGinn’s blocked shot. Despite lacking in creativity and attack, I will remind you again that the midfield without Brown vs St Johnstone yielded exactly zero chances, and in the 3-3 draw at Pittodrie in which Brown did not start, Aberdeen’s had just two quality chances before Brown came on as a sub – neither of which were a result of poor midfield play.
A back four of Elhamed/Jullien/Ajer/Laxalt, with some blend of Christie/McGregor/Rogic/Ntcham ahead of them, requires basic competence- not genius. Want to go 4-4-2, or 3-4-1-2, or 4-3-3? All good brother- just put our best players in logical positions.
The damage already done likely means that even if everything goes well, Celtic still may lose 10iar. Rangers are very good, and they could get better still. But damn it, let us make it a real f*cking fight and get carried out on our collective shield, having done everything we can.
Let’s make ourselves hard to beat, play to the immense talents and strengths of our players, and adopt a take-no-prisoners attitude. No mercy to our competition, but that has to start “at home.” No mercy for complacency, dinosaur ideas, or mediocrity. As they say, it is darkest before the dawn.
If Brown is the leader most seem to think he is, he should be willing to place the interests of the club first, and embrace a club captain role. I can still envision him hoisting the 10iar trophy, and rightly ascending to true legendary status. We just need courage and competency to give Rangers all they can handle, but it has to start this week and come from our primary shareholder, board, captain, and CEO.