Cameron Carter-Vickers and injuries: a toxic relationship that has been alive and present this season for Celtic and Brendan Rodgers.

Indeed, the centre-back was missing again for the club’s 4-2 victory over Livingston yesterday afternoon in Glasgow. An all-too-familiar pattern is emerging this season with the United States international and his constant battle to keep fit for a sustained period of time, as he was left out of Scottish Cup proceedings by his manager as a ‘precaution’.

Signing on deadline day back in 2021 from Tottenham Hotspur, the imposing defender has been a colossus at the back for Celtic since his last-minute arrival almost three years ago. Strong on his feet, going to ground and in the air, the Essex-born stopper has established himself as the club’s stand-out player at the back, with a solid case to suggest that he is Celtic’s pound-for-pound best player overall.

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Big performances in the past – both domestically and on the European stage – have allowed Carter-Vickers to garner a reputation as being a Mr. Reliable sort of character, who is unshaken in his efforts at making sure his side stays solid at the back. However, that reliability that was ever-present in his first two seasons has evaporated, through no fault of his own. You see, the defender has been fighting himself all season concerning injuries, a personal saga that has been going on for months. Of course, he is not the only one, as you only have to look at the likes of Maik Nawrocki in defence, as well as Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate in the midfield to see that Celtic’s injury woes have been present in several key areas.

Having a quick glance at the defender’s Transfermarkt page specifically for this season, Carter-Vickers has been absent for a total of 19 matches, with a persistent hamstring issue keeping him out of a large portion of games. Making 21 appearances in total this season – including none in either domestic cup – it makes for painful reading, especially when you consider the injury to Celtic’s big buy in the summer window in Nawrocki. Admittedly, the Poland defender has spent more time on the sidelines than on the pitch since he arrived from Legia Warsaw, a harsh but true assessment of his time in Scotland so far. When you add the puzzling Gustaf Lagerbielke scenario into the mix – who is not fancied by the manager - then you begin to understand why Celtic are leaking goals at the back.

To hammer this point home further, above are the minutes played by Carter-Vickers this season, thanks to StatsBomb. The sporadic nature of the lines tells its own story, as there are few full 90 minutes on display here, with his injury-ravaged season clear for all to see. In terms of the Scottish Premiership, the longest run of 90 minutes the defender has managed this campaign is four, a figure that speaks for itself. There are no patterns at play here, as his season has been stop-start due to the aforementioned hamstring injury that continues to occur.

Compare this to last season’s minutes played chart, and it tells a completely different story concerning the defender. His run of games from October to January in the Scottish Premiership amounted to 13 in total, as he was a mainstay in the back-line for Ange Postecoglou’s treble-winning team. Carter-Vickers could only dream of having this sort of run at present. Looking at this graph more closely, it would appear that the American was only missing a single game – or at most, two – in his spells out of the team. The multiple grey dots at the bottom represent his season-ending surgery following his heroics at Hampden in the semi-final against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. It would seem that Carter-Vickers has not been the same since going under the knife around this time last year, for whatever reason.

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Which brings us back nicely to yesterday’s events at Celtic Park. Rodgers’ defence included Greg Taylor, Stephen Welsh, Liam Scales and Alistair Johnston, who lined up to face the bottom side in the Scottish Premiership at present. When highlighting the two central defenders respectively, they were both players who were very much on the fringes under Postecoglou, with Scales having to go out on loan to Aberdeen to get game-time, whilst Welsh found minutes hard to come by due to injury and form.

Currently – with injuries to both Carter-Vickers and Nawrocki – this is the first-choice defensive pairing that Rodgers has at his disposal. The two players struggled against David Martindale’s struggling Livingston, as Daniel MacKay and Tete Yengi got joy from the pair of them, on what was an afternoon to forget for the duo in Glasgow. Despite his good early-season form, Scales has looked a shadow of the confident ball-playing defender that was earning rave reviews in recent weeks. The less said about Welsh’s performance, the better, as he put in one of his poorest displays since pulling on a hooped jersey four years ago.

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This is why Carter-Vickers has to return quickly to full fitness – as well as stay fit – or Celtic could be in a perilous position in their pursuit of a league and cup double. That is if they aren’t in it already. Despite securing the victory yesterday late on, Livingston’s attack had its way with the faltering back-line, which would not have occurred if Celtic’s best defender was on the park. In black-and-white terms, MacKay’s goal simply would not have happened if Carter-Vickers had been available, and he may have been able to stop the visitors’ second goal from transpiring, too.

Quite simply put, the inclusion of Carter-Vickers in Rodgers’ back-line can be – and probably will be – the difference between Celtic being successful this season or not. The ‘niggle’ that Rodgers said kept the defender out of yesterday’s encounter has to clear up, and the injury record of 2021-2023 must be replicated by the player from now until the end of the season, though that reality seems far-fetched at this point in time.

An area to keep an eye on, though perhaps best placed through your fingers at this moment in time…