THE START Celtic have made to this Scottish Premiership season in terms of results, including three defeats after just eight matches, has been far from ideal.

That holds true even when considering the fact that new manager Ange Postecoglou is still implementing his style of play and has been without several key players due to injury.

Some Celtic fans and analysts have taken comfort in the fact that the underlying stats, particularly xG difference, suggest that the team’s performances overall have been good and results should soon follow suit.

However, early-season trouncings of a lacklustre Dundee and a St Mirren side reduced to 10 men for the majority of the match have skewed these numbers and the statistical detail of the subsequent five fixtures gives some continued cause for concern.

Celtic Way:

The Hoops do have the best xG difference, on average, in the league by a distance but an extremely healthy 2.0 per 90 for the season to date dips to 1.27 per 90 when just the matches against Rangers, Ross County, Livingston, Dundee United and Aberdeen are analysed.

This is still a fairly impressive figure, only slightly less than the Bhoys’ season average in 2018-19 and in excess of Rangers’ xG difference last season, but the specific changes in attacking chance creation on both a team and individual level are notable. 

The absence of Kyogo Furuhashi due to injury and the relative increase in defensive quality of these more recent opponents brought about a bit of a change in style which can be seen statistically. 

Celtic Way:

Celtic Way:

In the opening three matches of the league season, Celtic passed the ball inside their opponent’s penalty area an average of 8.67 times whereas in the subsequent five league matches they managed just four passes in the box per 90.

The side’s entries into the opposition box were with crosses on 24 per cent of the time against Hearts, Dundee and St Mirren but against Rangers, Ross County, Livingston, Dundee United and Aberdeen they entered the box with a cross 39 per cent of the time.

In fact, those five more recent matches featured an average of 16.40 crosses per 90 from Celtic compared to an average of 9.33 per 90 in the first three games. Within that stretch of games this stylistic change was amplified when facing more limited or less open opposition as the three game run against Ross County, Livingston and Dundee United featured an average of 21 crosses per match.

For further comparison, last season under Neil Lennon, the Hoops passed the ball inside their opponent’s penalty area four times per 90, entered it with a cross 29 per cent of the time and made 9.53 crosses per 90.

Although Celtic still produced, on the surface, fine shot numbers and xG per shot during this group of games they were, unsurprisingly due to the number of crosses, not making a lot of high quality open play chances for attempts with their feet.

The Hoops have led the league in each of the last three seasons for the number of ‘clear shots’ - chances when only the goalkeeper is between shot-taker and the goal - they get per match on average but in their most recent five Premiership matches they have been below league average in this metric with just 1.60 per 90 compared to 2018-19’s 3.39 per 90.

Celtic Way:

Celtic Way:

These images, of Celtic’s open play shots without any headers, show the stark difference in chance creation between the first three matches of the season and the subsequent five. Just look at the absence of high quality shots around the penalty spot and the increase of attempts from wide areas outside the box. 

The return from injury of Kyogo should prompt a reversion in style as, although he did score from a cross against Aberdeen, all of his goals and xG in the league so far have been from open play and none of them headed.

In the absence of the Japanese forward Albian Ajeti played the full 90 minutes against Ross County, Livingston and Dundee United and attempted just one open play shot with his feet in each game.

READ MORE: Celtic must shake off flakiness and win at all costs - Alison McConnell

The change in style of forward play and the decrease in output with Ajeti in the team has led to criticism of the Swiss centre-forward but there are other members of the side whose contribution is concerning during this period.

In the first three matches of the season Liel Abada had an average of 11.28 touches in the opposition penalty area and just 14 per cent of his successful passes into the box were crosses whereas in the following five league games he has touched the ball an average of 5.64 times in the box and entered the box with a cross 46 per cent of the time.

He’s still delivered a high level of open play xA but it is evident that he doesn’t excel in tight one v one situations on the wing and needs time to develop, particularly if he is to be considered a starting right winger in a ball dominant team in the long term. 

On the left wing, Jota has a total of 1.38 open play xG from playing the full 90 against Ross County, Livingston, Dundee United and Aberdeen but half of that figure is derived from his late winner against the Dons. That strike was his only open play shot to date from inside the box which he managed to get on target.

In fact he has only taken one other shot with an xG greater than 0.10 and without that goal his average xG per open play shot with his feet is 0.049. As a comparison, in the 2018-19 season, Scott Sinclair had an average of 0.148 for the same stat.

Celtic Way:

Celtic Way:

Against Aberdeen there was a good example of Jota’s decision making affecting chance creation as he checked in on his right foot and, thrillingly and memorably, hit the bar with a long shot but the far smarter option would’ve been a pass into the path of the lung-bursting overlapping run made by left-back Adam Montgomery which could have led to an excellent cutback opportunity, perhaps even for Jota.

Further underlining the cross-dependent style that Postecoglou’s team have played over the last few matches 55 per cent of Jota’s successful passes into the opposition box are crosses whereas 19 per cent of Sinclair’s were crosses in 2018-29 and last season, granted he spent some time as part of a front two, just 16 per cent of Mohamed Elyounousi’s passes into the box were crosses.

The issues with attacking performance have not been limited to the front three. Tom Rogic and David Turnbull are both highly capable of a moment of magic but perhaps haven’t imposed their will on matches and delivered goals and assists to the level that players in the hybrid 8/10 role could be expected to. 

Turnbull delivered a perfect cross after some quick thinking on the wing for Kyogo to score against Aberdeen. However, the Scotland international created 0.18 open play xA per 90 in the first three games of the season, and 0.19 per 90 for the same metric last season, and this has dipped to just 0.08 per 90 for the five-match stretch in the league starting with the tie against Rangers.

Rogic got in the box for a goal against Dundee and a good shooting chance against St Mirren but in the subsequent matches his open play shots with his feet have an average xG of just 0.058 meaning he’d likely have to hit a shot of that type almost twenty times in order to score. Celtic as a whole team are taking around 12 open play shots a match so there might be a lengthy wait for a goal if the Australian continues those efforts. 

Celtic Way:

Celtic Way:

With Mikey Johnston fit again, James Forrest back in training, Giorgos Giakoumakis an option and Kyogo’s return Celtic have reasons to be optimistic and those early-season performances do show what they are capable of.

However, it will be interesting to see if Postecoglou can successfully adjust out of this cross-heavy change in style, get more quality out of his team in the final third, end up with some pass maps comparable to the one against Dundee instead of Livingston.

And, more importantly, deliver the results that fans and analysts alike might expect.