Celtic enjoyed a relatively rare performance level versus Dundee on Sunday.

The 6-0 scoreline was a dominant result, with Celtic, according to Statsbomb, having enjoyed 73% possession while completing 695 out of 756 passes.

Thier xG model had the game at Celtic 5.96 xG versus Dundee with 0.56, which represented the highest xG output from Celtic since the company began covering the Premiership in the 2018-2019 season. In addition, the non-penalty xG (npxG) of 5.20 was also the highest over the period.

Celtic Way:

Not only was the result tremendous, the underlying performance was even better.

With a little luck or better finishing, that level of chance creation was the sort that can result in double-digit goals being scored.

Single-game xG is just one measurement, and due to the variance in scoring in football matches, it is normal for actual results to deviate significantly from xG. For example, Celtic’s 7-0 win over St. Johnstone to open the 2019-2020 league campaign had an xG of “only” 2.45, as multiple relatively low xG shots happened to be scored that game.

Along with the unusually good performance level, there was another quite unusual occurrence: Callum McGregor played as the sole sitting, or pivot, midfielder.

Since the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, Wyscout has 23,164 minutes of Callum McGregor’s performance data across all competitive Celtic fixtures, and my research shows that just 1,075 have been in that role.

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Over those 1,075 minutes, Celtic averaged non-penalty xG of 2.58 per 90 minutes, while having conceded 0.58.

To put that into perspective, the team averaged about 2.00 in npxG over that time, according to Wyscout, while conceding 0.87. In addition, just over 10% of his 1,075 minutes, a total of 112, came in European action versus Salzburg in December 2018, and then as part of last season’s Europa League group stage debacle versus AC Milan and Sparta Prague. That number of minutes versus quality European opponents suggests that the sample is not unusually weak relative to strength of opposition.

Even during the disappointing 2020-2021 season, McGregor showed many of the attributes which are important as a sole pivot in the modern game:

Celtic Way:

With pressing and counter-pressing becoming more widespread in the modern game, McGregor’s relative ball security and ability to create space, while also passing accurately under pressure, are particularly valuable. As shown in his 2020-2021 season radar immediately above, along with having been secure in possession, McGregor also showed a high degree of skill progressing the ball through opposition lines, which was reflected in his Deep Progressions, Carry %, Long Ball% and Throughballs metrics.

While playing mostly in a midfield with either Scott Brown or Ismaila Soro anchoring in a more defensive role, McGregor’s defensive metrics were generally pretty good.

Celtic Way:

McGregor is not the most physical player, and tackling and aerial duels are not his strength. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that a defender-first profile should be a priority for this sole pivot role at Celtic, but the club'e recent history leaves me questioning that view.

Out of 30,934 total minutes since the start of the 2015-2016 season, McGregor’s 1,075 as a sole pivot represent just 3.5%. Despite the limited minutes playing the role, those games represent five out of the top 30 in npxG for Celtic over the period, and five of the top 22 in npxG differential. In contrast, despite playing well over five times as many minutes in a single pivot, games with Scott Brown in the role accounted for seven of the top 30 in npxG and just one of the top 22 in npxG differential.

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I am sure James McCarthy has not been signed to be a squad player, but he will be turning 31 in November, and his playing time may need managing.

Callum McGregor appears an excellent alternative to be the single midfield pivot in the new, and exciting, “Ange-Ball.”