The start of the season appears to have been tough on Celtic's Greg Taylor.  His form has looked patchy and on the back of consistent chatter that the club were looking for a new left-back in the summer window, it may be that he was unsettled.

That never materialised, of course, one of many key positions arguably not strengthened in this window. With Alexandro Bernabei struggling both on (form) and off the pitch with disciplinary misdemeanours, it seems once again Taylor has a run at the left back slot.

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Any notions of three at the back have been kyboshed by injury to arguably the leading four centre-backs. Therefore, it has been a back four, and Taylor has appeared in every match.


However - thanks to David Martindale and Livingston - it could be that Taylor has been played back into form, thanks to him being given the freedom of the Macaroni to roam and pass and prompt in Celtic’s ultimately comfortable 3-0 victory.

Redolent of Callum McGregor’s infrequent stints at left back (remember completing over 140 passes at home to Ross County?), Taylor bossed the game as an auxiliary deep playmaker in the classic inverted Ange Postecoglou role.

He completed 86 passes, a remarkable 32 more than the next player (Matt O’Riley), and most tellingly, split the Livingston back line to feed in Reo Hatate for the score-breaking penalty. His 23 pack passes outscored anyone else by 11.

Defensively he was sound, too. He won eight challenges/intercepts losing only three. He won the ball back twice in his defensive third and won the ball back six times, more than any other Celt.

Two secondary assisting passes and four progressive runs - both team highs - cemented a Man of the Match display – his overall packing score of 191 was 59 higher than O’Riley in second place.

So, is this the return to form?

SPFL comparison

Firstly, let’s look at the StatsBomb radar comparison:

Most striking is that he is doing more defending. Tackles, interceptions, and pressure are all up.

Brendan Rodgers’ sides are hardworking, and add to that the defensive frailties, plus the rather lopsided fixture list thus far, and Celtic have been forced back much more often than last season. Being down to 10 men does not help, of course.

However, dribbles, progressions, and xG in build-up is all down, indicating he has been less effective going forward than last, which may be indicative of the perception amongst the support being negative.

My own aggregated defensive metrics support the notion of greater defensive solidity this term:

Both his defensive action success rate and possession won from defensive actions are up on last season. This may be indicative of a player being more of a traditional full-back than the exotic inverted role under Postecoglou.

On the ball

My own observation is that his traditional bad habit of giving cheap balls away is even more pronounced this season. In every match bar away to Feyenoord (less possession) he has more than ten passes incomplete and averages 12.01. Last season that was 11.21 and on such small margins are definitive perceptions built.

Here is a range of ball progression and attacking metrics comparing last season and this:

By each measure bar xA generated from secondary assisting passes his attacking output has declined. Fewer touches in the opposition box; fewer passes into the danger zone; fewer chances created and consequently less chance xA.

This may be down to the fixtures, Celtic’s less cohesive start to the season and the fact two of the eight matches played so far has seen Celtic shorthanded. All valuable contexts.


If we look at the packing metrics:


A mixed picture. The pack passing is down 15% - these are the eye-catching line-breaking passes like the one that set up Hatate on Saturday. However, pack receives are up – this means he is getting into positions to receive forward passes more often.

Pack recoveries are further evidence of improved defensive performances from him – and again this may be due to necessity, not design. Pack turnovers are also up which is bad news – this means he is giving the ball away in areas where his teammates are now wrong side of the ball relative to the goal.

Heat is on

Finally, if we compare his overall league heatmaps we can see how his role has been tweaked under Rodgers:

Last season he was inverted further forward, and often was in a classic “number eight” midfield position. Taylor was a central midfielder as a youth player, so he is comfortable in that role. This season, not only is the inverting less pronounced and occurs less further forward, but he is generally not getting into the opposition’s final third as aggressively as under Postecoglou.


Taylor’s season - and the perception of it - is perhaps being driven by a more defensive role than under the previous manager and system. He is also giving the ball up more, in turn exacerbating the “out of form” narrative.

Taylor has always been a competent, unfussy defender, and in this regard, his numbers are very much improved. And so, it is a mixed picture for Taylor as regards his overall form and any conclusions on whether it is improved or not.

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However, it is not clear to me yet whether he is responding to more conservative orders, or whether Celtic’s transition to Rodgers’s demands; the crippling defensive injuries; and the overall lack of cohesion being shown by the team is more of an explanation that anything Taylor has tweaked.

Whatever one it is, he looks like having a straight run at the first team to demonstrate which, as the season unfolds.