A fine away win at an in-form Hamilton Academical boosted Celtic confidence for what will be a very different match in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain.
The Dangers of Confidence
Hamilton Academical had made a sparkling start to the season. Early relegation favourites, 7 points and 8 goals in their last three league matches, including a 3-1 away at Hibernian had confidence flowing. Additionally, Celtic may have appeared as vulnerable as it is possible for undefeated treble winners to be:
- 2 matches without a win
- Uncertain team selection due to tired international returnees from far and wide
- New players to integrate
- Lack of central defenders
- Doubts over striker fitness
- Distrust of playing on artificial surface
- Looming Champions League distraction
For whatever reason, Canning decided to set up Hamilton positively with two strikers and a number 10 in Crawford. Additionally, there were two wing backs with license to try and get forward.
There were several problems with the way Hamilton set up.
- The two strikers and number 10 stayed high, but out of possession did not press. Neither did they effectively cut angles to allow Celtic to build attacks from the back. Consequently, the three Celtic centre backs racked up impressive passing statistics:
This represents 1st, 2nd and 3rd ranking for Pass Impect meaning the three Celtic centre backs were able to bypass Hamilton players throughout.
- Because Crawford rarely dropped into midfield, MacKinnon and Docherty had to cope with Brown and Armstrong. Trouble was, Roberts and Sinclair played “in” one position to an inside forward position making a midfield four on occasions. Celtic could find players between the vertical Hamilton lines at ease.
- Edouard proved capable of occupying the three Hamilton centre backs on his own. With pace and movement, he worked across the lone effectively even when not receiving the ball. Consequently, the Hamilton back three did not step out to help the midfield.
- The wing backs had a man each – McGregor and Forrest stayed wide. But on occasions they were supported by Roberts or Sinclair on the overlap, outnumbering and pinning the wing backs back.
- Therefore, Hamilton had no horizontal solidity, being staggered out along the pitch. Celtic could play through the spaces with ease. The team was not connected defensively. There were too many holes.
Celtic were 3-0 up by half time, and didn’t have to try particularly hard to be so. Being used to facing a low block in 4-5-1 formation, Celtic often must recycle the ball from side to side across the backs and deep midfielders to find space. This racks up possession and passing volume. Domestically, Celtic average 691 completed passes per 90 minutes and therefore 345 per half. On this occasion Celtic completed 228 open play passes and 21 set piece passes in the first half. They simply didn’t have to recycle possession to make progress towards the Hamilton goal.
The second goal illustrates the ease by which Celtic could get forward and into threatening positions.
From Gordon to Simunovic to Edouard took 2 passes and no long ball! The movement was good, but there was always the space to break the defensive lines.
This allowed Celtic to play possession football in the second half, containing, and controlling. Hamilton also closed off the passing channels to greater effect in the second half.
15% of all Celtic’s passes in the first half took out an opponent and only 6% in the second. Despite having less shots at goal in the first half, they were better chances as shown by the xG (Expected Goals).
Celtic managed 17 possessions in the box in the first half, compared to 9 in the second. Hamilton may take consolation from drawing the second half 1-1 but the stats above show what it looks like to contain in the second half, after your opponent had it badly wrong in the first.
Some credit to Hamilton for optimism and positivity. But this shows why so many teams park the proverbial bus domestically against Celtic. To take them on and commit players forward risks being broken against at speed which is where three Celtic goals came from. High pressing contributed too. Scoring from three fast breaks is a capability of this jet heeled Celtic side, and this provides hope for Tuesday’s Paris test.
Rodgers would have been disappointed that his one fit centre back did not get game time on international duty with his new county of choice, Bosnia. Simunovic has mainly not been played on artificial surfaces with concern over injury issues. Given the number of teams both in Scotland and in Champions League qualifying with artificial surfaces, he may get plenty of rest!
And so, to be match fit for the Champions League, he had to get game time. Partnering Lusting and Tierney in the centre of a three, but up against three high Hamilton attackers, it could have been a difficult evening.
Given the lack of pressure when on the ball, as described above, Simunovic strolled through the game. In fact, he could complete 3 dribbles and provide several insightful passes to get attacks started.
Tierney was a standout from an attacking perspective, leading the team with a Pass Impect of 108 from 14 Pack Passes, creating 2 chances. He also led Dribble Impect with 22.
Meanwhile, Lustig led the defensive statistics with 12 successful challenges and intercepts, for a Defensive Action Success Rate of 80%.
Simunovic provided the balance, being as defensively sound as Lustig, whilst striding out comfortably with the ball, and passing to great effect, having the second-best Pass Impect of 40.
If only we had two of him.
Much rejoicing within CBN laboratories, but how would the impressive number generating forward adapt to his second debut?
There was much fanfare on the TV coverage and there were flashes of brilliance with a couple of incredible first touches to take difficult receives away from the defender. Many through balls were attempted, thwarted by offsides, not all of them correct.
An eight man pass pack, wrongly denied.
He had once good chance in the box with a shot hit at the defender. Success came in the second half with a perfect high speed passing interchange to set up Edouard’s debut goal.
A “nearly” performance, full of danger from an inside right forward position. Overall though, things just did not come off for Roberts, but he looked damn fine trying!
19-year-old Edouard made an impactful debut, as the only fit Celtic striker. Apparently applauded into the Celtic dressing room, the youngster seemed raw but full of promise, and with some clear natural attributes. I covered the second goal above. This was terrific centre forward play:
- The intelligent arcing run;
- Receiving the ball at pace between the defenders;
- Marvellous balance and strength to hold off the challenging defenders;
- Speed to get quickly to the edge of the box.
A bullet header from an offside position off the bar in the second half illustrated another aspect of his game. His goal came from anticipating the poor inside pass and holding off the challenge with skill and power. Again, he advanced at pace to the box exchanging passes with Roberts before surprising the ‘keeper with a quickly delivered shot.
He appears an all-round forward. An exciting prospect.
Apart from the erroneous offside denying Roberts pass to Sinclair, there were two contentious decisions. In the first half Brown, challenging Skondras, appeared to flick his boot into the face of the stricken defender.
Brown’s failed audition for “Strictly Come Dancing”.
It looked naughty, frankly, and if he is retrospectively cited, can hardly complain. It would have been very difficult for the referee to spot. Brown had a poor game, barely involved by his standard, and dispossessed on occasions. He perhaps got frustrated, but there is little mitigation for this.
The second incident involved Sinclair going for his hat-trick in the second half. His shot hits the outstretched arm of McMann and deflects onto the post for a corner.
The arm is clearly away from the body. The ball hits the arm, deflecting it away from goal. The referee was looking straight at it. It seemed a good penalty claim.
Bhoy of the Match was relatively straight forward, although honorary mentions to Tierney, Simunovic and Edouard.
My favourite match stat was that Sinclair had 7 possessions in the box, and got a shot away on all 7 occasions. He was pure danger to Hamilton throughout.
From his disguised finish for the second goal, to his anticipation and clever finish over the defender for the third (given the angle, not as high an Expected Goal as you may think – 0.131, he threatened the Hamilton goal with 8 shots, 7 inside the box and 4 on target.
Only Tierney had the higher Impect score because of his 5 passes that all had an Impect score higher than 10 including taking out 9 players to give Sinclair a chance which he put over the bar.
Otherwise, Sinclair bossed the attacking statistics. If you have scored 7 goals so far this season the press tell me all sorts of records are about to be broken. Sinclair has scored 8, including 5 in Champions League qualification. He might finally be settling in!