I showed in League Performance Regression? Yes. Here’s Why that it was whom is injured rather than volume of injuries that are hindering SPFL performance. In The Roberts Effect I focussed on comparing team performance with and without the mercurial winger. But across the whole squad, what are we missing creatively?
The Glossary can open a tin of peaches with its left foot. Other tinned fruits are available.
Packing Passing identifies players who are effective passing forwards. Those whose passes remove opponents from the game. These are the players who help establish attacking moves. You have to bypass opponents to get the ball to the striker and wide attackers.
The top 10 by % of their passes that “pack” (or take out”) opponents are:
The ones in red are missing from selection. At the top are the two most consistent and progressive passers from midfield. They have been neck and neck at the top of the Pack Passing table all season. Having one of Armstrong or Ntcham available could be deemed sufficient. But Armstrong (out injured) tends to play slightly further forwards and therefore his passes tend to locate team mates in more advanced positions.
Next comes Roberts and Rogic. They do not complete as many Pack Passes, as forward players tend to have less of the ball. But those two will be bypassing opponents higher up the pitch in the final third. The impact of their Pack Passes will likely see the ball delivered into dangerous areas, often the opposition penalty area.
Simunovic’s absence means the top Pack Passing central defender is also missing.
Having got the ball towards the dangerous last third, who is creating the chances?
Those missing are in red. The top 3 are all missing. The burden of creating chances falls to McGregor, Forrest and Sinclair. However they create significantly less chances than the attacking midfielders currently injured.
This table also illustrates the point about Armstrong playing further forward. He creates more chances than Ntcham despite the similar Pack Passing rate (as well as having better quality shots).
Celtic are a little better off in terms of having the better crossers available. Only three of the top 10 crossers are unavailable. Whether there is the right striker configuration to profit is another consideration.
This is a new metric I am collecting this season and the first time I have aired it given the lack of historical data. Probably no surprise Tierney is at the top – it is a fine line between a pass and a cross. Tierney tends to have a target in mind as opposed to launching it in the vague direction of the 6-yard box.
The final pass is often the key one. Here are the assist leaders, again per 90 minutes.
Note that Edouard has played only 600 minutes (this analysis does not include data from the Brechin City and Partick Thistle games). I suspect Edouard will not maintain that assist rate. Otherwise, five of the top six assisters are currently unavailable, and six of the top ten.
A more telling measure of performance, removing the vagaries of finishing, is to consider Expected Assists (xA). This measures chance quality whether the recipient of the pass got the shot on target or not.
The top three are all missing. Roberts xA would be a lot higher had he played more minutes, I would expect.
As a side note, it is interesting to observe both Lustig (2 vs Brechin City) and Brown (1 vs Partick Thistle), have registered their first assists of the season. More will be needed from the current players until the injured talent are back.
Injury has hit Celtic’s creative forces hardest. From establishing field position, to creating chances, to the key final pass, the productive talent in the squad remain sadly depleted. This has the additional effect of putting more pressure on those that are playing regularly in the creative positions. Which is why criticism of players like McGregor and Sinclair should be tempered with the knowledge there is little help arriving if they are having an off day. Last season Celtic shared the goals and assists around. Six players got into double figures for goals, and six for assists. It is those players’ injuries that has had a disproportionately impact across the squad.
With three strikers fit now, perhaps a change of attacking shape to utilise two of them at a time, might be an option to mitigate this. Griffiths and Dembele are not just consistent scorers, they feature near the top of the chance creation tables as well. Celtic need to get more creative talent on the pitch at one time.