Celtic have completed the signing of Legia Warsaw centre-back Maik Nawrocki on a five-year deal.

A fee of between £4m and £5m, plus a sell-on fee, sees the young defender make the move to Parkhead, where he will provide competition for current first-choice centre-backs Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Here, we take a closer look at Nawrocki’s playing style, strengths and areas for improvement to assess what he will add to Celtic’s backline. 

Player Profile

A German-born Poland international, Nawrocki came through the ranks at his hometown side Werder Bremen. He did not make a first-team appearance for the Germans, though, and following a brief loan spell with Ekstraklasa side Warta Poznan in 2020/21, he joined Legia Warsaw on a season-long loan for 2021/22. Nawrocki enjoyed a successful first full season in Poland’s topflight, making 29 appearances in all competitions, including playing in the group stages of Legia’s Europa League campaign. 

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His form was enough for Legia to exercise their option-to-buy clause in his loan last summer with Nawrocki signing a three-year deal with the capital side. Despite missing a few weeks at the start of 2022/23 through injury, Nawrocki made 25 league appearances in his first season as a permanent Legia player, scoring four and providing one assist as they finished second in the Ekstraklasa. 

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Last season, he was used mostly as the outside right centre-back in the back three of Legia’s favoured 3-4-1-2 formation (2,520 minutes at RCB). However, he was also used on the left of the back three on occasions (1,229 minutes at LCB), as well as the left-sided centre-back in a two when Legia switched to their second most used system last season 4-1-4-1. Wyscout also registers 162 minutes for Nawrocki as a right-back so far in his career, mostly in the 21/22 season, while he also has some, albeit limited, experience in midfield (73 minutes) which was in 2018 while playing with Werder Bremen’s under-17 side.

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Although yet to make his full international debut, Nawrocki has been capped from under-15 through to under-21 level for Poland and was named in the provisional squad for the 2022 World Cup. In terms of height, Nawrocki stands 6ft 1in tall, which is around the height of Yuki Kobayashi and in between Starfelt (6ft 2in) and Carter-Vickers (6ft 0in). In terms of other physical attributes, he is fairly athletic and while his speed is not top-end, he is pacy enough, and agile enough, to cover the ground quickly. 

Data Analysis 

The chart below starts to build a picture of Nawrocki’s playing style. Using Wyscout per-90 data converted into percentile ranks, the charts compare him to other centre-backs who played over 1,300 minutes in last season’s Ekstraklasa (52 players). The chart is split into three sections and covers several key attacking, possession and defending metrics.

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Looking at the possession section first, we can see he is pretty active on the ball. He ranks above the 75th percentile for carries, a combination of dribbles and progressive runs. Nawrocki averaged 0.82 dribbles per 90 and 1.39 progressive runs per 90 in last season’s Polish top tier.  He is also in the top quartile amongst his positional peers for passes, attempting 49.67 per 90. Given Legia averaged around 56 per cent possession in the league last season, and Nawrocki was likely tasked with some involvement in build-up play given his outside centre-back position, this volume is perhaps to be expected to some extent. It is also worth noting here that centre-backs data profiles are often those more impacted by team playing styles than any other position. 

In terms of his passing accuracy, Nawrocki only just ranks above the 50th¬†percentile/average mark (87.02 per cent). However, it does seem he was heavily involved in facilitating Legia‚Äôs build-up ‚Äď over half of his passes were either forward (20.98 per 90) or progressive (7.8 per 90), with above-average accuracy rates for both, 78.79 per cent for forward passes and 66.49 per cent for progressive passes. His lower overall pass completion may therefore be down to attempting more of these forward and progressive passes than short, simple, lateral ones.¬†

Defensively, he ranks below average for the volume of defensive and aerial duels he was involved in last season. Again, team style will impact this, with Legia defenders less likely to be involved defensively than their positional peers if they are more dominant on the ball. Middle centre-back in a three and centre-back pairings are also potentially more likely to be involved in these duels than outside centre-backs. In terms of his success when he was involved in these duels, Nawrocki’s defensive win rate of 63.93 per cent ranks more favourably than his aerial duel win rate of 56.63 per cent. 

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For the other two defensive metrics included here, Nawrocki’s 0.61 shots blocked per 90 was just above average for a centre-back in last season’s Ekstraklasa. His possession-adjusted (PAdj) interceptions stand out most in his defensive section with his 8.0 per 90 seeing him rank in the 71st percentile for that particular metric. Finally, on his percentile rank chart, we can see Nawrocki appears to pose a decent threat in the opposition box with the highest rank for goal contributions amongst other centre-backs last season (0.2 per 90). Although he did overperform in terms of expected goal contributions (0.1 per 90), this still ranked towards the top end in comparison to other players in his position too. 

Before looking at some of Nawrocki’s attributes in closer detail, it is also worth highlighting the below radar from StatsBomb which covers his appearances for Legia in the 2021/22 Europa League, where the Poles were interestingly in a group alongside a Brendan Rodgers-led Leicester City. 

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Covering just 4.3 90s played, this is, of course, a relatively small sample size but does offer some insight into how Nawrocki fared in his first exposure to European group stage football. His pass completion percentage of 90 per cent impressively ranks in the 90th percentile versus other centre-backs in the Europa League while Nawrocki’s xGBuildup of 0.52 per 90, which ranked in the 88th percentile, suggests he still played his part in ball progression in these European matches.

There are some encouraging signs in his defensive metrics here too, albeit again from a small sample size, with Nawrocki only committing 0.23 fouls per 90. His Tack/Dribbled Past percentage value of 80 ranked well too while he also won 71 per cent of his aerial duels and made 1.84 PAdj interceptions per 90, above the 50th percentile. 

Defending 

As indicated in his data profile, Nawrocki reads the game well and likes to move in quickly to intercept before passes reach their intended targets. A proactive, front-foot defender, if he does not get to the ball first in a duel he shows controlled aggression to battle well, looking to get a foot or leg in to steal the ball at the next earliest opportunity. 

He appears to relish the physical battle too, so he would likely stand up well to some of the bigger target men profiles often preferred by SPFL Premiership clubs. Nawrocki is definitely more proactive than reactive in terms of his defensive work, only averaging 0.2 sliding tackles per 90 in last season’s Ekstraklasa compared to the higher volume of interceptions seen in both his domestic percentile rank chart from last season and his 2021/22 Europa League radar. 

The below example shows just how proactive he is in his defensive work. 

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Reading the ball inside to the free man in midfield, Nawrocki leaves the player he is marking to jump up and cover the passing lane, intercepting the forward ball to win back possession. 

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Nawrocki can often afford to be more aggressive in this regard due to Legia often playing a back three, usually another covering centre-back when he attempts to win the ball high. Of course, this trait will be particularly useful at Celtic too, as winning the ball high to keep the pressure on is often required, certainly domestically. It doesn’t appear like Nawrocki would have an issue with playing a high line physically either. As mentioned, he has enough pace to cover when required. He could maybe work on being a bit more selective when he does jump up, though, especially as he adjusts to playing in a four more regularly, as the below example shows, from when Legia did play a back four away at Lech Poznan, last season shows.

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Here, Nawrocki again is aggressive in his attempt to cut the ball out in front of the intended recipient of the pass. 

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He gets there first in this situation but then mistimes his attempted clearance without a covering central centre-back, and this allows the Poznan attacker in to get a shot on goal. 

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In this situation, it may have been more appropriate to just get tight with his man and hold him up. With his back to goal, this would have been a more difficult situation for the Poznan attacker to generate a chance from. This is admittedly just one example, though, and there are many more examples of Nawrocki’s proactive defending being very effective for Legia over the last few seasons, especially in transition phases. 

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In this example above, the opposition has just regained possession on the left and looks to work the ball infield as they move up the pitch. Nawrocki’s excellent anticipation and speed to get over and cut out the pass is again evident though.

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Getting a foot in and then batting to get onto the loose ball, he then weights a nice through ball in behind to immediately set up a team-mate for 1v1 chance. 

Possession

As mentioned, Legia have been a possession-dominant team in the Ekstraklasa so transitioning from there to a Celtic team that will also be dominant on the ball, domestically anyway, should not be much of an issue for Nawrocki. 

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He will certainly still be tasked with helping build play from the back at Celtic too. The above graphic further highlights how progressive on the ball he was for Legia last season. Again it shows his above-average progressive runs for an Ekstraklasa centre-back, as well as an above-average number of successful progressive passes completed per 90. 

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He is sound when keeping things simple but, as indicated, also comfortable distributing the ball further forward and can produce accurate passes over a distance that release teammates into space, as can be seen in the below example from a match against Slask Wroclaw where he lifted an accurate ball over the top to get Legia’s right-back in behind. 

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He often has, particularly when playing as an outside centre-back, been comfortable stepping into higher positions to help progress the ball in more dangerous areas too, such as in the below example.

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Here, Nawrocki steps forward to make an offer for his Legia team-mate on the right touchline. After receiving, he then remains composed to slide a nicely weighted through ball that puts his teammate through to square for a tap-in at the back post. On other occasions, he does tend to overhit the final ball in and around the box so working on being more accurate in his execution of these types of passes would be one area for improvement for Nawrocki as he develops. 

Attacking 

As shown in the percentile rank chart, Nawrocki offers a decent threat in the opposition box, particularly aerially. He uses his height and strength well and has a good spring when jumping. This makes him a big threat at set-pieces where he often takes up a position in the middle of the box. From there, he has good movement and attacks the ball aggressively, such as in the below example from one of his four goals from last season.  

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Here, Nawrocki times his run to meet the delivery from a well-worked short corner by Legia. 

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Leaping highest, the young defender uses his strength to outmuscle his marker and power the header into the net. 

Conclusion

Overall, although there are a few areas of his game that require refinement, Nawrocki has some great attributes for a young centre-back. Strong and aggressive with an excellent reading of the game, he has been a commanding presence at the heart of Legia’s defence and looks ready to test himself at a higher level. With decent experience already, including European group-stage football, Nawrocki, despite his relatively young age, has shown enough to suggest he could come in and provide serious competition to Starfelt and Carter-Vickers straight away. He certainly appears to be more robust than some of the current backup options on offer to the Celtic manager. 

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He would be comfortable on either side of a back two while his experience in a back three could also give Rodgers the option to switch to formations that include a backline of that shape, something he did towards the end of his first spell as manager. Following a couple of arguably project signings so far this summer, Nawrocki represents the first starting-eleven-ready addition of Rodgers’ second spell as Hoops boss, but one that still has plenty of potential to develop further.