On a frosty surface, Celtic and Hibernian served up an exhilarating second half at Easter Road to ultimately share the points. Moans and groans about letting leads slip, failing to take chances and defensive howlers? Sure, but sometimes the sheer entertainment leaves a smile of your face. In the middle of it all, Brown and McGinn went toe-to-toe. The King and the Pretender?
As always, the Glossary is your slightly awkward but ever so knowledgeable friend.
Once again, Lennon made a case for being up there with the best tactical coaches in the league. Hibernian were happy to let Celtic have possession in their own half. Stokes, nominally the centre forward but with the tendency we are familiar with to drift to inside left forward, occupied Simunovic at right centre back. McGinn man marked Brown restricting his ability to be the deep play maker. Tierney had to be wary of the lively Boyle. Lustig, a good long passer, was largely ignored – he completed 25 passes.
This left Boyata as primary first receiver. Boyata passes to 95% completion, equal to the highest in the squad. This does not mean he is the best passer. Quite the opposite. He is under instruction to play it simple, specialising in short, safe passes as letting him undertake longer passes is a danger. He takes few risks with his passing. Boyata accounted for 17% of all Celtic possession, completing 109 passes, 33 more than anyone else. He gave away 5 passes, and 2 of those resulted in Hibernian chances.
The net result was that Hibernian could contain Celtic, who seemed circumspect about the icy pitch, and without Brown driving the team forward, struggled to get momentum in the first half. Boyata actually led the team with the highest Pass Impect of 51. This is not a good sign for Celtic. The highest Pass Impect score needs to be Ntcham or Armstrong or Brown. It means the creative midfielders are connecting with the attackers. Instead we had Boyata finding the central midfielders but in traffic in Hibernian’s half where they pressed more aggressively. Hibernian skilfully manipulated the way Celtic played.
By half time, Celtic utterly dominated possession (70% – 30%) yet the Expected Goals (xG) were level and Hibernian had the higher team Passing Impect. That is, they had played past more Celtic players with their minimal possession than Celtic had managed. Six times in the first half, Boyle was released bypassing the Celtic team on the break. Hibernian “packed” (i.e. bypassed) 21 Celtic defenders the most by any team domestically this season.
Ultimately the second half was a defensive nightmare for both managers. Hibernian racked up 7 defensive errors, the most by any team in Scotland. This resulted in 5 Big Chances (see the Glossary), another season high. Whilst Celtic gave up 5 defensive errors – more like their European form. Celtic probably should have won – the xG scores were 1.334 to 0.698. On chances created, the Expected Assists (xA) were 2.276 to 0.802. Which puts “it should have been 4 or 5” into context. Still, in the spirit of the season, football was the winner (1, 2, 3… awwwww).
Brown vs McGinn
And so to the top of the bill.
The two were in direct opposition with McGinn stationed in an advanced position to restrict Brown building the play from deep, but also to have McGinn’s creative abilities available high up the pitch.
For a detailed assessment of McGinn from the 2-2 draw at Celtic Park, please read this Scouting Report. McGinn is of special interest as, in my opinion, he is clearly the best player outside of Celtic in the league.
Firstly, we are not strictly comparing like for like. Brown these days is more likely to move backwards to cover an advancing defender, or slip into a back three if the full backs are both advanced, than to drive forward himself. McGinn is more like the player Brown was at 23. A box to box midfielder equally at home passing forwards and making runs into the box as getting stuck into midfield combat. This season, Brown averages 0.08 possessions in the opposition box per 90m. This is the lowest in the Celtic squad. The next lowest is Bitton at 0.19. It was surprising, therefore, to see Brown get into the box for a second half shot (his 8th of the season and only 3rd inside the box). Also, a clearly motivated Brown made the lung bursting last minute run that led to Sinclair’s last kick of the game chance. But this was unusual for Brown to be so involved in attacking. Only Bitton has a lower Expected Scoring Contribution (sum of Expected Goals and Expected Assists) than Brown at 0.083 per 90m.
Assessing Defensive data, it is no surprise Brown was the busier given his role as the screening midfielder. McGinn posted himself onto Brown and that contributed to the Celtic captain having to work very hard. 14 successful challenges and intercepts is Brown’s highest of the season. And the 8 challenges and interceptions lost is his second highest of the season. Brown performed one key defensive action, anticipating and clearing Barker’s cross into the box in the second half. He also initiated 2 clearances. Overall Brown’s DASR at 64% was twice that of the Hibernian midfielder, not surprising given their respective roles.
Hibernian fans may ruefully consider that during the first half Brown seemed to be encouraging the referee to book McGinn for persistent fouling. In fact Brown committed 5 fouls in the first half alone, which would normally be enough for a card. McGinn committed only 3 fouls all game in comparison. Perhaps the youngster got underneath the old man’s skin?
Celtic dominated possession, although Brown is usually the leading Celtic passer by volume, here he was 38 passes below Boyata as discussed above. Such was Hibernian’s organisation and compact shape, Brown was forced into many short passes that did not open up the opposition. His pass completion success of 96% sounds impressive but is in line with a holding midfielder taking few risks.
McGinn’s 22 completed passes would make him the lowest passer by volume on the Celtic side bar Edouard (11). His pass completion of 71% was also lower than any Celtic player. But as the effective Number 10 in the system, it can be expected McGinn would take more risks with his passing as we will see below.
Brown won possession back 13 times, which is his highest of the season by 3. Again, indicative of how hard the captain was made to work. McGinn lost possession 6 times, regaining it 2 times. Not unusual for an attacking midfielder. For context, Sinclair won 2 possessions and lost it 7 times. McGregor, who is less risk taking than Rogic, 4 and 5 respectively.
Brown had a relatively busy game by his standards attacking wise, but McGinn created 3 chances for his side. His xA (Expected Assists) of 0.291 would have been the 5th highest in the Celtic side that created 21 shooting opportunities to 10.
Most impressively, 23% of McGinn’s passes took out at least 1 Celtic player (packed) for a Pass Impect score of 37. Only Boyata (51) and Ntcham (39) had higher Pass Impect scores but you have to consider they had 109 and 76 completed passes respectively, compared to McGinn’s 22. In addition, McGinn’s Dribble Impect score of 9 was higher than any player on either side.
Attacking threat is not really Brown’s game anymore and it was a surprise to see him get a shot in the box. The last such event was on the 19th August in Kilmarnock! Brown was also forced deep to pick up the ball hence his Receive Impect score of 9. He averages 19.36 per 90m.
McGinn was an outlet for Hibernian in the attacking sense and his Receive Impect of 39 is 12 higher than any Celtic player. This means he found space in the attacking areas and was available and technically able to take the pass. He only got possession in the box once, managing 2 shots, neither on target.
With Total Impect of 95, only Ntcham with 92 scored higher considering passing, receiving and dribbling past opponents. With stats like that, McGinn is more Armstrong than Brown. 14 pack events based on such minimal possession is also highly impressive, only Ntcham and McGregor getting more.
Finally, Brown’s CAT Score of 1 is average for him. McGinn’s score of 4 is nowhere near Sinclair’s 16, but would give him parity with Ntcham again.
Overall, no surprise that Brown bossed the defensive stats and McGinn the attacking – that reflects their relative positions. Brown was forced into arguably his most effective domestic game of the season. He was my Bhoy of the Match. He was driven to that performance in part by McGinn who harried him throughout, yet still managed to be arguably the most creative attacking player on the pitch, from minimal possession.
Post-game, with the pairs’ duel being a topic of interest, Rodgers is quoted as saying McGinn “will have a way to go” before he could be at Brown’s level. I don’t see anything controversial in that. McGinn is 23, nearly 10 years Brown’s junior. He has never played Champions League football nor captained his country, nor won trophies consistently. Rodger’s comments are self-evident and have been used to create imaginary controversy. As such I don’t believe Rodgers was being disingenuous, but maybe a little cute in his word selection.
However, based on this performance and the previous scouting report I complied, if McGinn is not high up on a wanted list at Lennoxtown then I will be having words (***banging a keyboard in a frustrated fashion***).