A slightly surprising feature of this season has been the assertiveness with which Matt O’Riley has conducted himself on and off the pitch for Celtic.

His early comments about the way the new manager Brendan Rodgers was around the training ground and sat with the players at breakfast - for example - were eye-catching. More importantly, it has been the way he has assumed a leading role on the pitch that augurs well for the season. It is very early in the campaign to be making sweeping assertions based on five matches’ worth of data, but here are some areas in which O’Riley has been standing out.


His overall defensive action success rate is so far unchanged at 52 per cent from last season. However - more qualitatively - what we saw at Ibrox was a mature central midfield performance.

In the first half, O’Riley was charged with supporting Callum McGregor where appropriate and especially to shield the inexperienced centre-back pairing of Gustaf Lagerbielke and Liam Scales. However, he also had to get forward where possible and provide service to the front three. Additionally, he had to stem the flow of forward passes from the home side’s deep-lying playmaking double pivot of Ryan Jack and Nicolas Raskin.

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Not only a lot of work but many complex decisions to make regarding where to be and when. He managed to not only set up Kyogo Furuhashi for the goal but created one other chance too. Yet overall, his average positioning was deeper than the nominal pivot McGregor:

As Raskin and Jack perpetually passed the ball backwards in the first half, O’Riley and David Turnbull kept the pressure on to restrict the Rangers forward momentum.

In the second half, his role changed again. This time, he played as a more orthodox deep-lying playmaker as the midfield three shielded the defence whilst the front three were allowed to maintain high and wide positions as Rodgers went bold.

Over the piece, O’Riley completed a remarkable seven pack interceptions/recoveries. These are occasions when a player either wins the ball back or recovers the ball after a stray opposition pass and when receiving possession, the opposition has their players on the “wrong side” of the ball – i.e., they have been packed.

In shorthand, these are great counter-attacking opportunities. Why seven is remarkable? O’Riley led the squad in those pack recoveries last season – averaging 2.08 per 90 minutes. He managed 19 pressures - mainly in the first half - second only to pressing machine Daizen Maeda on 30. This performance defensively is precisely what will be needed as Celtic balances the demands of the SPFL and Champions League over the next three months.


O’Riley is currently third in expected assists this season with 0.23, eclipsed by Turnbull (0.37) and Maeda (0.26). He is leading the squad in secondary assisting passes – linking the play and providing the pass prior to the shot assisting pass – with 1.47 of those per 90m for an xA value of 0.34. Last season he was only the sixth highest by this measure.

In general, O’Riley’s assisting stats are not on the face of it eye-catching but where he shines is in the packing data. Specifically, he takes opposition defenders out of the game to a far greater degree than anyone else in the squad. Pack passing means completing (and receiving) forward passes that when executed result in opposition players being wrong side of the ball relative to their own goal.

In scoring packing actions, if you take an opposition defender out of the game you receive three points for each opponent. If you are taking the last outfield line out of play that is clearly significant in terms of creating scoring opportunities for others.

O’Riley has never had the highest overall packing scores, but on this one key metric of taking defenders out of the game, he is usually leading the squad. This season is no exception, with an average of 5.45 defenders taken out with forward passes per 90 minutes. The next highest is Kyogo on 4.49 in his new role as an all-round forward.

Goal Threat

Last season, O’Riley famously failed to score until February, and at one point had the most shots in the league (around 50) without a goal. Unsurprisingly, you worry more about the overall shot stats and xG from them rather than actual goals as this can be down to luck and other factors such as ‘keeper and defender performances.

This season, he has the equal second-highest number of total shots per 90 with 2.72, and his xG90 is 0.51, which suggests he is heading for a goal every other game. It remains to be seen whether that can be maintained but two goals in the opening four SPFL fixtures is a good start. He was encouraged to get into the box under Postecoglou and this is continuing under Rodgers, aided by Kyogo’s more varied link play.

His overall CAT Score (Celtic Attacking Threat) is 7.55 which is the highest in the squad – Turnbull is next on 7.5. This is an aggregated metric indicating attacking volume as regards touches in the box, shots, and chances created. In terms of quality, this is represented by expected scoring contribution – xA + xG. For O’Riley, that is 0.74 meaning he can be expected to contribute 0.74 goals and assists per 90 minutes, which is very high for a central midfielder.


Postecoglou’s system was thrilling, but quite rigid in terms of player positioning and expectations. Under Rodgers, the football may be more circumspect but tactically varied and therefore interesting to analyse.

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In O’Riley, the manager has the type of intelligent footballer to respond to the demands of the game and be flexible in the midfield role he plays. O’Riley’s key attributes are probably his intelligence and anticipation. What we seem to be seeing this season is a maturing into a genuine all-round midfielder, who is more than competent in all the key facets of defending, creating and providing a goal threat.

Those are rare characteristics indeed.