One feature of Celtic’s attacking play under Brendan Rodgers that has stood out has been the increase in longer passes.

In fact, Celtic have attempted 53 long passes in the Scottish Premier Football League (SPFL) this season compared to 42 per game past season. This increase accounts for the whole of the overall league increase of 11 in average long passes per game. Some are more direct (St Mirren, unbelievably, and Aberdeen), whilst others are less so (Livingston and Motherwell).

This got me to think about how the teams have been attacking overall in the league so far and how Celtic stack up in comparison.


Let’s start with directness. In simple terms, this is the increase or decrease per team in terms of the number of long passes attempted per 90 minutes between last season and this (Dundee United and Dundee are excluded):

Celtic are by some distance the team that has increased their volume of long passes the most. Remember, this isn’t possession adjusted, therefore Celtic are attempting many more passes in general (2126 completed is nearly 400 more than the next highest in the league). Nevertheless, this is a stylistic change under Rodgers. This suggests it stems from trying to introduce variety into the attack, given that they have three small but fast forwards in Liel Abada, Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda.

Let’s look at who is getting the ball forward using the shortest routes and flinging the ball into the box most – overall volume of long balls and crosses attempted:

Here we can see Celtic still lag all other teams in terms of total volume of long passes, even though they attempt the most passes in the league overall. St Mirren are very direct both in getting the ball forward and in getting the ball into the box. They generally play with two physical strikers, so this makes sense. Less coherent maybe Hibernian, Heart of Midlothian and Rangers who are similar in profile in terms of crosses, but less endowed with big target strikers. St Johnstone, Livingston and Ross County all get the ball forward quickly but then don’t get so many crosses into the box.

Opta provides a summary of team style as expressed by the speed of getting the ball forward as measured by metres per second, and the number of passes in each sequence on average:

Celtic are the league's outlier here in the number of passes taken per sequence without being particularly fast or slow. This may be the averaging out between Rodgers’ slow possession-based build-up interspersed with the occasional more long passes as noted above. Ross County and St Mirren are quick slow in build-up but very direct when they finally launch it.

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A question arises – it is better to have A style and do it well than be indistinct? Finally, where are teams playing their football? This view shows the percentage of passes the team plays in the opposition half versus their own:Kilmarnock and Ross County have both had encouraging starts to the season and one of their secrets may be to ensure that when they play, they do so mainly in the opposition half. That is, they clear their own defensive third as quickly and with as few passes as possible, then attempt to keep the ball in their opponent’s territory. St Johnstone and Livingston are both direct but have ended up playing most of their football in their own halves.

Celtic would expect to show a similar profile given the emphasis on playing out from the back and maintaining possession from the ‘keeper onwards. But also, they have not yet replicated the relentless pinning back of the opponent that Ange Postecoglou’s sides achieved. It is a little simplistic, but the teams who are so far being quite successful in their seasons are generally finding a way to play their football in the opposition territory.


Having got the ball forward by whatever preferred method, how are teams generating danger for the opposition? Firstly, let’s look at shot volume and accuracy:Rangers are an outlier here in that they have by far the greater volume of shots (just over 20) yet only just over six are on target per game. The issues they have had assimilating the vast array of new forward talent into a coherent system of play may be explained in part. Celtic are managing eight shots on target from 15 shots, in turn a better than 50 per cent accuracy rate. Aberdeen must be wondering how they can improve on less than two shots on target per match, given the quality of their strike pairing of Miovski and Duk.

If we look at the quality of shots as expressed by average xG per shot and map with the location of the shots in terms of percentage from inside the box:We see that Celtic - although not the best in the league in terms of ensuring their shots are as near as possible to goal - are generating the highest average xG per shot in the league. Remember, Celtic generate the second-greatest number of shots.

Ross County and St Mirren are taking a remarkable percentage of their shots (over 80 per cent) from within the box which may be good coaching or just a small sample, or both! Again, Rangers' relative woes are partly explained by an attack that is high on volume but low on quality. Celtic will look to improve further from here when attacking coherence increases under Rodgers.

Finally, a look at post-shot xG boils down the attempts to those hitting the target only. Let’s compare both post-shot xG for and against:

Again - given the relative lack of fluency the Celtic attack has evidenced thus far - Rodgers will be happy that his side is generating nearly three xG per game when we consider only those shots on target. Given xG against on the same basis is just 0.69, that over two differential should mitigate negative variances. No other team is generating over two post-shot xG, but four other sides are keeping the opposition down to less than one against.

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Aberdeen should be concerned, especially given their level of investment. There is clearly a lot of work to do at Pittodrie.


It is still very early days, with a small sample size of four matches. However, we can see already that Celtic have adapted their attacking style to be slightly more possession-based, but mixed up with a higher proportion of longer passes on occasion. Celtic also are generating the best quality in the league as regards shots on target and have an overwhelming differential of over two on post-shot xG (i.e., those on target). Others have improved and perhaps the main rivals are low on quality in the final third.

As Neil Lennon said, Celtic will only improve from here given a new manager, injury, and a lack of opportunity thus far for new signings to settle in. In particular, Celtic will look to play more of their football in the opposition half. With that in mind, further data reports will be provided as the season goes on.