A common comment we see on social media is that Brendan Rodgers Celtic are playing more slowly than under Ange Postecoglou. Words like “ponderous” are often thrown about.

Measuring this to test the hypothesis is certainly a challenge but that’s what we are here for.

Team Style

Over at The Analyst, they use Opta data to give an indication of team style. They do this by mapping direct speed – the number of metres per second covered on average by each forward attack and passes per sequence – the average number of passes completed in a passing move. Here are the SPFL teams mapped for each of the last two completed seasons and this season so far:In Postecoglou’s maiden season, Celtic were measured as above average in the league in terms of direct speed forwards, whilst being by far the most pass-hungry in build-up.Last season, the level of directness from Celtic fell below the league average, whilst the champions maintained their record as the team completing the most passes in build-up sequences.This season, Celtic remain below average in directness but are even further ahead of any other team as regards the number of passes completed on average per passing sequence of play.

Here is how the three seasons compare as regards the Celtic data only;Celtic under Rodgers are completing slightly fewer passes per sequence this season yet are slightly more direct than Postecoglou’s second-season team.

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We are not talking about huge differences (range of 1.45 to 1.52 metres per second direct speed and 4.18 and 4.58 passes per sequence). Yet on such slim margins are black-and-white perceptions formed…

Passing Style

An indicator that Celtic were playing quicker under Postecoglou was the sheer volume of completed passes. Whilst Celtic looked to dominate possession and control the match, there was equally an emphasis on getting the ball forward quickly and keeping the pressure on.We added the disastrous 2020-21 season to illustrate how much Celtic’s overall control and pace of play dramatically increased under the Australian.

This season so far, Celtic are completing fewer passes overall, and fewer pack passes. These are important as they are forward passes that take opponents out of the game. This lack of pack passes is illustrative of aggressive intent. Our biggest admiration of Postecoglou’s style was his ability to have his teams play aggressive forward passes whilst maintaining almost suffocating control of the ball.

To achieve this, players were well drilled in a highly positional style of play, where the aim was to create overlaps in wide areas and ensure that the box was flooded with midfielders and attackers for low and hard crosses and cutbacks. Such attacking cohesion takes much time on the training ground. As well as missing key personnel, Celtic are perhaps still adjusting to the new manager's attacking patterns.

Long balls and crosses

A further indicator of directness or otherwise to consider is the volume of long passes and crosses into the box. Here is the data for the last four seasons thanks to Opta:Neil Lennon’s side was more direct than either of the latest managers, and Rodgers’ team is going slightly longer more often than Postecoglou. We’ve seen this in games so far where the team are trying to get Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada in behind sides earlier.

Crossing volume has dropped off considerably this season. This might be a trigger for the perception of slow play – there is an element of the support who wants the team to get the ball in the box as quickly and as often as possible. Of course, with diminutive forwards, there is surely merit in waiting for the right moment.


Celtic have lost two players that were in different ways, assets that added pace to the game.

At the back, Carl Starfelt had great recovery pace, and although he was not the most nimble or agile on the ball -awkward in fact - he fed the perception of there being pace in the side.

Similarly, Jota lacked the top-end speed of an elite winger but played with a busy and aggressive attacking intent. He was always looking to go forward and make things happen in the final third. We have yet to see the new wingers’ bed in, and so that lack of all-round action that Jota brought to the attack has been perceptibly missed.

Cameron Carter-Vickers has also been missing - as well as the athletic Alistair Johnston - meaning the less agile Tony Ralston and Liam Scales have deputised. Add in that David Turnbull is a slower player than the then-injured Reo Hatate, and that both Callum McGregor and Joe Hart are slightly less sprightly as part of natural age-related physical decline, and it all stacks up to a perceived slowing down of the side.


So, are Celtic playing more slowly under Rodgers? Not necessarily.

Yes, the volume of passing and aggressive pack passing is down, as is the number of crosses into the box, but attacking patterns have been disrupted by injury and new intent. The team is still demonstrating a high level of control and indeed a greater propensity to go long and direct.

The speed of Celtic’s play was already dropping off during Postecoglou’s second season – he may have felt having achieved a treble he’d achieved what he could with this group on top of the obvious appeal of the English Premier League. Celtic playing slightly slower was already happening under the previous manager and isn’t necessarily a Rodgers “thing”.

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Due to injury, Celtic have had to draft in some of the slower players in the squad and the new, younger more dynamic talent has yet to settle. We need to give the squad time to settle into the required attacking patterns and for the new personnel to bed in before passing ultimate judgement on this.

Finally, speed for its own sake is not necessarily a good thing when balanced with injury. How relentless do you need to be to secure points in the SPFL? And we know that effectiveness using metrics like xG for and against will add further context. So, another one to monitor.