THE JUXTAPOSITION of Tommy Burns and Ange Postecoglou is apt.

The Greek-Australian manager recently attended a play of the Celtic legend’s life and revealed some of the warmth and openness that Burns himself was famous for.

In terms of footballing philosophy, Burns created an all-out attacking team staffed with the talents of Jorge Cadete, Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Andreas Thom. Unfortunately, he relied upon the likes of Gordon Marshall, Malky Mackay, John Hughes and Brian O’Neil to guard the other end.

I mention this as reading the pre-Postecoglou appointment material on the prospective new boss, it was of “philosophy” and particularly, a seemingly no-compromises all-out-attack style that prompted comparisons with Burns.

Postecoglou’s early Celtic career saw the first international break ushered in with mutterings from some quarters about a lack of adaptability. It is a thin line leading to the “naivety” label. A four-goal hammering in Europe did not help, added to a perceived continuation of being “weak” from crosses and set-pieces.

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Intense criticism given 12 new arrivals, significant negative variance and a complete organisational overhaul are, to any rational soul, incredible. However, it does not take long for the pressure to build with this job.

There seemed genuine relief from the manager when an away win (the first domestically since February 2021 for the squad) was eeked out courtesy of a late Jota goal at Aberdeen.

He got to the first respite, an international break and a chance to work with his squad on the training ground, with at least one monkey off the back.

And since then? Six wins in seven (16 goals for and five against) including back-to-back Europa League successes against Ferencvaros.

Is this upturn in form down to kinder fixtures, or is there something else afoot?


What is clear from the numbers is the greater level of control Celtic are exerting on games.

Early season promised a helter-skelter of high scoring wins and defeats. A dizzying “Attack! Attack! Attack! and to heck with the defence" mentality.

Now, though, it seems Celtic are back to Brendan Rodgers-era suffocation.

Celtic Way:

At the most organic level, Celtic are completing more passes and maintaining possession to the level of 70 per cent. The opposition may soon bring their own ball.


No change in approach is without risk and trade-off.

The recent 0-0 home game versus Livingston saw Celtic bogged down in the possession-heavy horseshoe of futility – the endless recycling the ball across and down the flank and back again.

As TCW columnist James Dailey has been flagging up for some weeks: there has been a decrease in creative output from the Hoops.

Celtic Way:

Across a range of attacking indicators, Celtic are less productive than earlier in the season.

Fewer shots, lower quality chances created, overall non-penalty xG down, cross success way down and fewer big chances created.

Cross success is down nearly 35 per cent while the other metrics are down 10 per cent or less. What has he done?

Iron Curtain

Well, as always with data, you need to look across a wide range of metrics to form a coherent picture of what is happening.

Let’s look at some key opposition attacking metrics since the October international break:

Celtic Way:

There are big (10 per cent-plus and up to nearly 50 per cent) reductions in opposition attacking productivity.

Admittedly, we are comparing with a period when Celtic had to face Real Betis and Beyer Leverkusen and this has to be acknowledged. But these are not marginal reductions.

Expected non-penalty Goals (xNPG) is down significantly from 1.09 per 90min to 0.6 per 90min. And it isn’t just ”luck” as shots against are down by the same rate of 45 per cent.

The opposition are taking fewer players out with forward passes, having fewer shots, taking lower-quality shots, forcing fewer saves, creating fewer big chances and passing less into the danger zone as well as being less successful from crosses. All of these are to a lesser degree of 20-45 per cent.

Even defensive errors are down from three to two per 90 minutes.

It appears the benefit of increased understanding among what is a new group of players, plus coherence and improved structure, positioning and orientation from training time, are all bearing fruit.


Celtic’s defensive metrics show such a huge and consistent improvement that it would be unlikely that the coach is not making adjustments to the style of play and, more importantly, the cohesion of the team.

In short, Celtic are controlling games to a greater extent with a slight downside of reduced creativity. The risks of this are more games like Livingston.

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However, the percentage decrease in attacking effectiveness is more than offset by the massive uptick in defensive performance.

Four goals conceded in the last two matches - against Dundee and Ferencvaros - shows that mistakes and vulnerability remain.

How the team has further evolved following another two weeks with Postecoglou at Lennoxtown is an exciting prospect.