Time for the good, the bad, & the ugly from Thursday’s Celtic vs Sparta Praha game. Non-penalty xG was 3.55 to 1.05 per Wyscout, with Sparta generating the highest npxG vs Celtic in Europe since Wyscout data begins in 2015. For perspective, it was a touch higher than the 3.52 Celtic had vs Reykjavik in August, but that was on 25 shots vs just 12 for Sparta. For additional perspective, PSG generated 3.67 npxG combined vs Rodgers’ Celtic side in the two 2017-2018 Champions League group stage games in which the aggregate score line was 12-1.
My “good” category is always on a relative basis- meaning I pick someone even if pretty much everyone was either bad or blah. Today I am going to juxtapose Ntcham’s performance with Laxalt. I am giving Ntcham MTOM because he actually did SOME productive things in the game. First the obvious clip a lot of people are criticizing Ntcham over, and obviously he did not track the runner. But the bias here is what I am trying to point out. Ntcham hesitated at the point when Elhamed went for the tackle at midfield, which allowed Julis to blow past him. Did Ntcham sprint as hard as he could? It didn’t look like it. Would Jesse Owens have caught him once Julis had the lead after the error in midfield? So definitely an error. But what is Laxalt doing?
Now back to the good part of Ntcham’s performance. After barely playing over the past month, he won 16 of 23 duels, and 4 out of 4 defensive duels- neither of which are usually his strong suit. He was successful in all 4 dribbles, made 3 progress runs and setup Edouard’s big chance, which gave him 0.38 xA. He also completed 8 of 9 long passes, with 7 coming in just the 29 minutes he played next to McGregor after Brown was subbed off.
In contrast, Laxalt won 12 of 26 duels overall and just 4 of 9 defensive duels. He gave away 4 fouls, lost the ball 11 times, and was accurate on only 5 of 10 forward passes. He did finally have an accurate cross and was 1 of 4 for the game, which takes his crossing in 4 Europa League games to 1 out of 17. The disparity in perception between these two performances is a “case study” in human cognition, in my opinion. I am not arguing that Ntcham had a great game, and he was poor on the 3rd goal. But the “headless chicken” phenomenon has taken hold of the Laxalt narrative.
Bad goes to the continued incoherence and incompetence in team selection. It is not even worth getting into details on Brown’s performance. His selection for every European game this season has been grossly incompetent. The seeming elevation of Bain as #1 keeper? Also a bad decision, in my opinion.
Ugly goes to a CEO and board who are not protecting a club legend and allowing him to continue embarrassing himself and the club. The performances on the pitch are bad enough, but the fact that supporters now expect an embarrassingly incoherent post-match interview is damaging. I referenced the need for Courage and Competence after the Hibs game. We were not going anywhere in Europa League anyway, so it still is not too late. A change will not guarantee anything other than stopping the manager’s spiral, and at least offer the potential for reason-based hope.