Norwegians Blue

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? “One of us made history, you made The Song of Norway” ?

Celtic made it four European away games undefeated, and recorded their fourth clean sheet of the season, in Trondheim, as Group Stage football was guaranteed. The mouth of the cash river that is Champions League football has been reached. Navigating to safe ground will require management of extreme distance, and a plastic carpet.

Rosenborg Stick

The sun finally set on the Lerkendal, but for 135 minutes, day light persisted. Darkness was held at abeyance with a rigid 4-5-1 behind the statuesque Bendtner. Jensen was never far away from him, and de Lanlay and Jevtovic were progressive down the flanks. But mainly resistance beat persistence as Brown once again played the ball around the horse shoe, engaging Hayes and Tierney down the Celtic flanks.

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Out wide, Recycle, Repeat

Rosenborg would have left Celtic Park with mixed feelings. Their goal was never really threatened but chances, one in particular for de Lanlay, were spurned. By xG, the Norwegians should perhaps have edged it (0.64 – 1.01). A nagging sense of doubt – of opportunity missed? Nevertheless, the 1st half here was woven in a familiar pattern in terms of the balance of possession.

Again, Brown dominated the ball. Completing 76 1st half passes, following the 147 (a Celtic By Numbers record – CBN history starts in 2014/15 remember) in leg one, the ball magnetically followed the same horseshoe pattern. This isn’t a good thing. Brown is the least creative of the midfield, with the lowest assist and chances created rates. As the opposition, you are not concerned if he dominates the ball in comparison to an Armstrong, Rogic or even Ntcham. He created no chances nor provided any key passes.

Remember this chart only shows passes where at least one opposition player was taken out the game (packed) by the pass, not all passes.

Brown broke no lines going forward but kept the supply lines to the flanks. Tierney was particularly successful in finding space. Unlike at Celtic Park, he moved forward when he could, rather than turning back and recycling the ball. On the right, Lustig fed Hayes a steady stream of possession, but Hayes, like Tierney the week before, turned back and inside returning the ball except on two occasions when he ran Meling down the line, succeeding once. With no obvious pass inside, Lustig largely had to recycle the ball square. After Brown, Tierney and Lustig completed 54 and 46 passes respectively, with Armstrong the next highest on 33.

Only once did Celtic bypass a Rosenborg defender with a pass the whole of the 1st half. On 36 min, Sinclair got Tierney in behind the whole team but his characteristic low cut back failed to find the emerald. Four times Tierney attempted to create scoring opportunities from the left, but couldn’t find his man.

And yet, like Rosenborg in the first leg, it was Celtic who created the chances. And it was Tierney again, responsible for two of them. Finding Lustig for a poorly executed volley. Then, a good chance, another volley, for Forrest which Hansen saved well. The clearest chance fell to Sviatchenko from Hayes free kick, but his header was cleared off the line by, of all people, a diligent Bendtner. Forrest had done ok as the central striker, completing 8 passes with 1 shot on target.

The facsimile of leg one continued, as Rosenborg were restricted to long range or half chance headers (ok, one of each). In the 1st half they completed only 77 passes from open play. Of those only 11 bypassed any Celtic players and only 1 took out any Celtic defenders, de Lanlay connecting with Bendtner.

By half time Celtic had managed 17 possessions in the Rosenborg box with only 2 at the other end. But despite the home crowd serenading positively throughout, the balance of play had spooked the home dressing room and Ingebrigtsen decided to chase the game after half time.

Rosenborg Twist

135 minutes of predictability was blown away as Rosenborg applied a high press, and started to move the ball quickly forward, getting the midfield in support of Bendtner.

The Rosenborg 2nd half Pack Pass Map is an interesting counter point to the Celtic one in that it highlights:

  • How comparatively little ball Celtic play into the number 9 and how effective Bendtner is in that role
  • The comparative lack of connections Rosenborg have between full backs and wingers
  • Jensen’s failure to influence the game 2nd half
  • Konradson had difficulty making telling forward passes
  • Lack of distinct connections within the team compared to Celtic

51 times they managed to bypass a Celtic player with a pass, compared to 54 in the whole of the first leg. The strategy was to go early and long, and the four defenders and goalkeeper responsible for 31 of them. Bendtner and willing runner Midtsjo were regular recipients. The clever Jensen and bullish Konradson could not connect with the forward line, however. Jensen’s one meaningful slide ball to Bendtner resulted in a de Lanlay shot. It was a good effort, but from distance and of low probability with Gordon covering. And that was the problem. They knocked Celtic out their own comfort zone of horseshoe pattern passing, but didn’t actually threaten the goal in a meaningful way. After 20 minutes of direct and fast play, Rosenborg had three long range efforts off target to show for it.

Such a change in game dynamic may have fatally unnerved the Celtic of a year ago, and certainly before. Many, including me, fretted in advance of tonight. But Rodgers, calm and confident, taking the positives from (in the end) disappointing draws in Moenchengladbach and Manchester last season, and steeled with an unbeaten treble, was patient. Rosenborg would have been dispirited to see Sinclair tracking back effectively, twice intercepting promising attacks, and generally supporting Tierney.

As the relative mayhem from the home team continued, Rodgers twisted too. Bringing on Griffiths for Hayes and moving Forrest to his preferred attacking right position, the attack suddenly had a focus. After 147 minutes of comfort, the excellent Skjelvik and Bjordal suddenly had perceptive striker movement to deal with. Tierney and Forrest both soon threatened. Griffiths was Griffiths, as he always is. He didn’t touch the ball much, completing only 8 passes from 10 attempts and miss controlling it twice. But he also tried to create 2 chances, providing a superb corner for Lustig to miss from 5 yards. 6 times he was able to receive the ball in from “pack” passes.

Celtic’s increasing maturity at this level saw Sinclair finally find release in the “10” space. He was able to take the ball and turn, not now suffocated by two deep banks of four. In 69 mins he received from Armstrong, turned and advanced with characteristic Sinclair speed, and was upon the defence before they realised the danger. The goals were shared around last season and this time is was Forrest, who reprised his Karagandy moment with emphatic certainty, unfazed by a poor first touch. It may have been the first time in the tie a Celtic player was able to find the time to turn and advance in the half space in front of the defence.

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As Celtic have found to their cost in the past, good teams hurt you when given those opportunities. Gordon did not have to make a save in the 2nd half, and Forrest had the 1 Big Chance of the game to seal it late on. Celtic had only 3 possessions in the box 2nd half yet should have scored 2 goals.

The ease with which his side sealed the deal will also have pleased Rodgers. The overall Goal Threat data highlights Celtic’s dominance.

Finally, Rosenborg could not get their overall pass completion above 75%. Playing to a higher standard of passing, moving the ball quickly AND accurately is the gap both Norwegian and Scottish clubs have to bridge. Celtic maintained 89% throughout the tie whether circling the horseshoe or given the opportunity to break more dynamically in the 2nd half in Trondheim.

Moody Stu

Like the rain, Brexit and the Patrick Roberts saga there is seemingly no end to the Armstrong contact situation. Players suffer dips in form, and tiredness and knocks hamper fluidity. But it was glaringly obvious that underneath the oft admired blonde mop, there were dark furrows over Armstrong’s visage. He played as if a weight draped his shoulders instead of a GPS monitor and trudged off on 70 mins looking worn down. The zip and decisiveness were not on show, failing the eye test. Neither do the numbers disappoint in their ability to lay bare the soul of a performance.

Eyeliner? Check. Black t-shirt? Check. Dark, surly ‘tude? Checked and check.

He wasn’t terrible – nothing like. But usually his play is just so damn interesting! He breaks the lines – he is the Pack King! This was such a colourless, dull, average performance. And he has been anything but that for several months. Typically though, his one shining moment mattered – the line breaking pass to Sinclair that lit the fuse for Forrest to score.

His Broonificence

Reading back, you may conclude that it is Brown’s fault that much of Celtic’s play for 1.5 games was so predictable and directionless. Remember when Celtic had two people doing this job (Bitton and Brown)?? Brown tried to drive the team forward and keep the ball moving but with Armstrong moping and McGregor proving difficult to connect to, it was left to the captain to try and free the wings.

However, as Rosenborg changed gear in the 2nd half, Brown increasingly came into his own in terms of effectiveness. And his defensive performance highlights his value to the team.

Yes, he had some difficult moments – being dribbled past 3 times in the second half as Rosenborg pressed, and most awkwardly a 1st half wayward pass back that gave Rosenborg hope. But overall, on his own in the deep lying role, he did the largely unseen dirty stuff well. Against better opposition away from home, he may need some help though as neither McGregor (33%) nor Armstrong (44%) were successful in half their defensive actions. Bitton will continue to add value to the squad, with Kouassi yet to be unleashed.


Dear all. Thanks for continuing to support the blog. As you will appreciate, it takes some time to capture match data, record it, organise it, think about it, write it. Consequently, this will never be a site with a match summary the day after the game. I may even fall behind or occasionally miss matches all together, especially as we have a game every 3 or 4 days. That is just the way it is. Please follow me on Twitter as this is a perfect medium for throwing out “stat snips” you won’t get in the mainstream media. Thanks again.

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“C’mon ref, need tae get tae ma bed”

3 thoughts on “Norwegians Blue

  1. Thanks for taking the time to compile the stats and turn them into an interesting and informative read.

    Brings further colour to the game.

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