Despite frustration at a home loss and a poor performance, the macro objective was met. Celtic will be playing European football in the New Year, the only “champions route” Champions League side to achieve this.
The Glossary is better than Alexa.
I normally do not take to social media straight after a match, irrespective of the score. Emotion is still raw, and analysis of the game usually brings fresh and more measured perspective. I broke my rule on Tuesday night, joining a frustrated throng on Twitter. The general feeling was that Celtic had been desperately poor, and that progress on last season performance wise was difficult to evidence. Were these players good enough for Champions League football? Even Rodgers, post-match, had posed this question. A full detailed analysis of the campaign is for another day.
So, in the cold light of day, what gives?
Pragmatism to Progress
Whilst both Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht and Celtic were left bruised by encounters with the Pot 1 and 2 opponents, both of whom have a chance of winning the trophy, as expected Europa League continuation depended on the outcome of the head to head between them. Anderlecht had made a poor start to the current season and had sacked their manager when the sides first met in Brussels. Celtic won 3-0 but the data shows a much closer affair, laid out in The Margins of Error.
At home, Celtic seemed unsure whether to press or play counter attacking football against opponents who needed at least 3 goals to progress. They did neither, instead allowing Anderlecht’s quick passing to dominate early. However, once Rodgers changed the team shape in the first half to match up the away sides 4-4-2 diamond, the bleeding stopped. The introduction of Ntcham and Rogic at half time turned the tide. Yet a freak own goal from a rare Belgian incursion settled the tie. The game completed with both sides seemingly satisfied with the outcome. This was frustrating for the home fans, desperate not to see a fifth straight Champions League groups stage loss, but expedient to the strategic goal.
The Expected Goal by Minute chart shows the pattern of the game well. Celtic bereft in the first half, whilst Anderlecht were content to take the win, only their 3rd in 39 Champions League away fixtures.
At the end the teams had identical xG of 0.395.
Similarly, the profile of Team Impect over the game shows well the patterns of play. Impect score is achieved by taking out opponents through either successful passing and receiving, or dribbling. The more opponents you take out, the higher the Impect score. The more defenders you take out the higher the Impect score. It is an indicator of the extent a team is taking chances, trying to get behind their opponents, and committing players to attack.
At half time Anderlecht led on Total Impect by 181 to 100. By the end, Celtic had surpassed the visitors’ total. Anderlecht were finding it difficult to break Celtic down after half time, and pretty much stopped trying after scoring. Celtic did not over commit in seeking an equaliser.
Closer to Reality
Anderlecht’s poor performance in the first game may have blinded many to their pedigree. The reality is that if you look at the two matches, these are two very closely matched sides. A look at some key data points aggregated over the two ties shows this clearly. For Celtic, there is no disgrace in this. This is a team with considerable European history, a regular Champions League side. Anderlecht reached the Europa League quarter final last season.
You can make a case for Celtic just about edging it, and they did! This was not some weak opponent. Celtic out performed their group seeding. But there is no doubt performance will need to improve.
Celtic had stemmed Anderlecht’s threat by matching up shape-wise in the first half. Many aspects of play were contributing to Celtic’s problems:
- A high press restricted Gordon in building the play from the back – 10 times passes or forced clearances lost possession in the first half
- Onyekuru was providing threat to Lustig such that Forrest was forced back almost as an auxiliary right back, as Lustig tucked into the right centre. This meant Celtic struggled to progress down their right.
- Dembele was struggling to hold the ball up and the attacking midfielders were not quick enough to get near him. He lost 7 challenges and even in winning 2 headers, possession went to the Belgians. He gave away 6 passes, only completing 4.
- McGregor is best suited to being one of a midfield 3 where others can do the defensive work and he can find the time and space to operate. Used to match up to Anderlecht’s diamond, he was virtually sacrificed, contributing 11 passes in the first half.
- Armstrong and Sinclair seemed bereft of confidence, touch and timing. Armstrong is the key Pack Passer, the one most likely to by pass the opposition. Sinclair is the top scorer and primary support to the striker.
Rodgers introduced Ntcham and Rogic for Armstrong and Sinclair at half time, and Celtic, almost immediately from kick off, started to achieve at least parity of possession and threat.
Ntcham, possessing sound touch and a vast range of passing allied to a solid physique, seems well suited to European football. It was a surprise he did not start. An on-form Armstrong is a huge asset for Celtic opening the opposition as well as adding goals from midfield. Rodgers has another project to rekindle that form.
Sinclair seemed hesitant and unsure. Yet as can be seen above, although Rogic got more involved, completing more passes, it was Sinclair who provided the greater attacking impetus when on the pitch.
Despite losing a freak goal against the momentum of the game, Celtic’s performance in the second half was much improved. The objective of Europe League football was met and if Celtic progress to the last 16 or better, this match will be long forgotten.
Bhoy of the Match
As always, some notable contributions to acknowledge.
Gordon saved all the shots he could be expected to, and his distribution improved after half time.
Brown completed 100% of 53 passes, and won possession back 5 times.
As we have seen above Ntcham changed the direction of the game, driving Celtic forward, finishing with the highest Expected Scoring Contribution of 0.330. He also had the joint highest CAT Score of 4.
Kudos to Forrest in a largely defensive role. He was successful with 5 interceptions and challenges, losing only 1. He completed 46 passes at 87% and had 1 shot at goal.
But the Bhoy of the Match is: