A Striking Success

Moussa Dembele joined Celtic in June 2016 after becoming the youngest player to score 15 English Championship goals for 20 years. Despite the best efforts by some to sell Dembele in the January transfer window, he remains at Celtic and took his debut season goal tally to 23 with a hat-trick in 24m of a 31m substitute appearance away against St Johnstone.

At the current rate of scoring, if Dembele plays the same ratio of game time and Celtic get to the Scottish Cup Final he will add another 11 to end with 34 goals for the season.

This compares very favourably with other notable Celtic strikers’ debut seasons courtesy of @Fitba_Facts. @FritzAGrandAuld added, cheekily, that Scott McDonald managed 31! Bear in mind age regarding the players listed:

  • Sutton 27;
  • Hesselink 27;
  • Larsson 26;
  • McDonald 24;
  • Hooper 22; and
  • Dembele 20

Brian McClair scored 31 in his debut season at 20 years old (1983/84), top scoring in all 4 seasons at the club. McClair is probably the most recent reference point for Dembele regarding goal scoring – clearly, they are different styles of footballer. Before that, Charlie Nicholas was 21 when he scored 48 goals in 1982/83.

Leigh Griffiths was 24 when he signed mid-way through the 2013/14 season and scored 7 goals in his initial 14 games. In 2015/16 Griffiths established himself as the 1st pick number 9, and scored 40 goals in all competitions. Larsson achieved that feat 3 times (00/01, 02/03 and 03/04) and before that you are back to Brian McClair 86/87 who managed 41.

At Celtic, like many other clubs, the fans will always demand someone who can rattle in 30 goals a season like Nicholas, McClair, McAvennie, McGhee, Cadete, Van Hooijdonk, Larsson, Hartson, McDonald, Hooper and Griffiths. The role of the “centre forward” is changing in modern football, with a need to start the press from the front, and to contribute to defensive shape. With modern teams welded to variants of 4-2-3-1 as described (again) by the excellent Jonathan Wilson, the possibility of Celtic regularly playing 2 strikers seems remote. Especially as the demands of playing in Europe must be factored into engendering familiarity with team shape.

Celtic under Deila and Rodgers have overwhelmingly played 1 central striker and 2 wide forwards, often with a “number 10” creative attacking midfielder. Although different in style and physical attributes, both Griffiths and Dembele have played the single striker role, Griffiths being 1st pick in 2015/16 and Dembele in 2016/17. With Rodgers challenging Griffiths to improve his fitness and behave like a “Champions League player”, it looks like Dembele has cemented his place as the starting striker. So, you know what is coming…..

I compare Griffiths 2015/16 vs Dembele 2016/17.

Minutes Played 3931 2657
Goals 40 23
Assists 10 8

Attacking Comparison

Leigh Griffiths 2015-16 Attacking

Moussa Dembele 2016/17 Attacking

Griffiths is all about the goals, striking nearly 1 per 90m. He takes more shots and is more accurate with them.

Creatively Dembele just edges it, averaging 0.04 of an assist more per 90m, but creating a chance from 50% of his attempts compared to Griffiths 36%.

Addendum Thanks to @colin_ban88 I should consider non penalty goals. In 15/16 Griffiths scored 4 penalties and Dembele has 6 so far this season. There is a KPI called NPGoal90 = Non penalty goals per 90m. On this basis, Griffiths is producing 0.82 NPGoal90 and Dembele 0.58. Griffiths scoring advantage is therefore put into sharper relief.

In total Griffiths contributed 1.14 goals and assists per 90m and Dembele is hitting 1.05 so far. A goal or an assist every single match is clearly productive.

In general Griffiths is at the top end for the goals KPIs (middle right), but Dembele’s radar is just that bit “fatter” indicating more overall contribution.

Defensive Comparison

Leigh Griffiths 2015-16 Defending

Moussa Dembele 2016/17 Defending

The red spikes are the fact neither contribute many defensive errors, as you might expect! An important part of the modern game, with the high pressing approach favoured by both recent managers, defensive performance counts. Demeble in particular with his strength is an important component of Celtics defensive shape at corners and set pieces.

Dembele out performs Griffiths across virtually all defensive KPIs, and is safer in possession averaging around 5 more completed passes per 90m (the radars do not show this well as the upper scales reflect the numbers achieved by defenders thus both players here score “low” but Dembele’s numbers are generally higher). His overall PEI of 59% is 5% higher than Griffiths meaning over all his possessions, Dembele maintains possession significantly more. Griffiths has the lowest PEI of any Celtic player I have recorded. This is not necessarily “bad” as it can indicate taking risks in possession which a striker should do. But if you can be highly productive in terms of goals and assists whilst maintaining possession for your team, that is “better” than not.

“Big Game” Comparison

We could leave it there but the challenge a Celtic player has is to perform at home to Hamilton Acedemical on a Saturday and then against Barcelona in the Camp Nou on the Tuesday. A feature I will return to in these blogs is to compare player performance overall, but also to compare performance in the “big games”. For the purposes of this analysis a “big game” is defined as any of:

  • All matches against top 4 sides in the SPFL Premier League;
  • Any domestic cup semi-final and final; and
  • All European matches.
Minutes Played 1889 1375
Goals 12 11
Assists 4 3

Leigh Griffiths 2015-16 Attacking in Big Games

Moussa Dembele 2016/17 Attacking in Big Games

Most Celtic players performance indicators regress when you compare domestic vs European performances. Griffiths is in line with that. His goals per 90m is still a healthy 0.57, and he contributes 0.76 goals and assists per 90. His performance indicators are essentially the same shape, just that bit smaller!

Addendum Considering non penalty goals, the NPGoal90 in big games would be Griffiths = 0.48 and Dembele 0.52. The pattern remains whereby Griffiths goal output drops from 0.82 NPGoal90 in big games whilst Dembele’s is 0.58 compared to 0.52 in big games.

With Dembele, there is very little regression of performance in the big games. If you look at the attacking KPIs side by side, we can see that Dembele maintains his attacking performance no matter the opposition and context:

Attacking KPI Dembele All Games 2016/17 Dembele “Big Games” 2016/17
Pass90 18.53 16.43
Pass Completion% 76% 73%
PEI% 59% 55%
Goals90 0.78 0.72
Shots90 4.57 3.67
Shot Accuracy% 44% 48%
Assists90 0.27 0.2
Chance Created90 0.47 0.26
Chance Creation% 50% 44%
Goals & Assists90 1.05 0.92
Dribble Success90 0.78 0.72

Dembele is, a big game player.

A Swedish Detour (No, not that one)

The total output from all other strikers over the last 3 seasons frankly does not amount to much. Between Stokes (as a striker not an attacking left forward), Scepovic, Pukki, Ciftci, Cole and Kazim-Richards (I am cutting young Jack Aitchison some slack here!) is 2876 minutes, 13 goals and 6 assists. But there was one striker in 2014/15 who managed 15 goals, 12 assists in 1986 minutes – John Guidetti. John Guidetti joined Celtic on loan at 22 for a season in 2014-15.

John Guidetti 2016/17 Attacking

I love this radar. Guidetti achieved a better ratio of 1.22 goals and assists per 90m than either Griffiths (2015/16) or Demeble (2016/17). Guidetti had a lower Goal90 of 0.68 but a higher Assist90 of 0.54. He also completed more passes (3 per 90m more than Dembele) and more accurately (10% more accurate than Griffiths). His creative output (bottom left) is far higher than either current Celt. His shooting accuracy was on a par with Griffiths, but he created more than double the chances per 90m than either being successful with 53% of his attempts.

John Guidetti 2016/17 Defending

Guidetti’s defensive contributions were more productive than Griffiths but behind Dembele. Overall he kept possession better than either, with a PEI of 62%.

We compared Griffiths (15/16) and Dembele (16/17) totals vs “big games” but Guidetti (ineligible from that seasons Europa League) played only 355m against the top teams (that season Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnstone made it to the top 4), with 3 goals and 0 assists. I won’t put up a radar for that as the sample size is too small.

As impressive as his performance data is compared to our current strikers, he predominantly played against the lower teams in the league in. It petered out for the effusive Swede, but let not time rewrite the history of his contribution that season.

If / when we do lose Dembele, with careful scouting there are others out there….


Dembele at 20 is clearly a player of high potential and I have taken a snapshot of his data as we reach the sharp end of the current season. He contributes effectively at both ends of the pitch, and is the most rounded striker we have. The evidence also shows that he is indeed a “big game” player as his performance data does not drop off significantly in matches against the better teams or in the highest profile matches.

Griffiths is 26 and had a fantastic season in 2015/16 and excels in a narrow but fundamental set of striking attributes. His performance data does drop in the higher profile matches in comparison to Dembele. Additionally, his overall contribution to the team in terms of possession and defensive actions, lag behind the youthful Frenchman.

There is little evidence that Rodgers will play them both despite some fans’ wishes. Therefore, it looks like Griffiths must settle for cameo appearances unless Dembele succumbs to injury. With Rodgers’ iron words of warning, delivered in a smooth velvet glove, regarding what it will take for him to reach his potential, will Griffiths settle for this role in the team or rise to Rodgers’ challenge and reclaim his place by upping his performance?

I will revisit this in the long matchless summer months.

4 thoughts on “A Striking Success

  1. Very interesting analysis! I guess I am missing how you define Assist90. Is it # of assists per 90 minutes scaled to how long a player is on the park? That would explain why you have less than whole numbers for the max values.
    I am not surprised by your findings on comparing G with D, especially the defensive comparison. One thing that did surprise me was how low the assists were for both players…..in the 0.2-0.3 range. Guidetti’s stats on this are superior but I seem to remember that, latterly, he lost his confidence in scoring and passed the ball off. Hence his superior stat may be misleading in terms of assessing his contribution.

    • Hi David – Assist90 is the number of assists on average over a 90m game. You take the total minutes played and divide by 90 to get the effective full matches played. Then divide the number of assists by that number.

      On Guidetti an interesting theory. I recall he was a player who was often not in the box and linked with the wide players and midfielders from deep, hence why he often created.

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