Saturday is one of those days in the season that Celtic supporters will look back on very fondly.

To go away to a doughty in-form opponent and struggle, then seemingly win with a late goal from the new kid Luis Palma, only for the opposition to dash hopes five minutes into added time. Then, to go again and win the game seven minutes into added time to continue the winning sequence at tough away grounds while utterly deflating your main rivals, who then were defeated at home to Aberdeen.

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Whilst we will enjoy all of the above as much as anyone, on these pages it is all about performance. So, fan goggles off and sceptical analyst specs on.

Meaningful Margins

There is no doubt Celtic dominated the ball and territory over the game.

69 per cent possession and 24 shots imply a suffocating display from the Champions and fundamentals upon which to build an assertive scoreline. Yet, as we know, it was an incredibly tight one-goal victory.

A remarkable feature of performance under Ange Postecoglou was the consistent gap achieved per game between xG for and against. Why is that important? The higher the gap, the more likely the team can absorb what we call negative variance – think sendings off; refereeing anomalies; the opposition goalkeeper turning into Manuel Neuer; poor finishing or general bad luck.

Here is the average xG differential versus Motherwell away under the Australian:

An average 2.79 differential between xG for and against is emphatic and indeed those matches were all won by Celtic on an aggregate of 12-1.

Celtic’s differential in this match of 0.85 was well under that and indeed, despite victory, it was spotty. Those 24 shots on Saturday generated but 1.67 xG, an average of 0.07 per shot. This is a poor quality of chance creation. Prior to this game, Celtic were averaging an excellent 0.16 xG per shot – easily the highest in the league. Credit is due to an incredibly hard-working and disciplined Motherwell side under Stuart Kettlewell.

If we look at the home side's average position courtesy of Sofascore, we can see that the Motherwell defence are deep, mainly a five, narrow and crucially, compact. They are also shifted predominantly to the left: not an unusual outcome versus Celtic.

With the established pairing of Greg Taylor and left-leaning Callum McGregor both being ball-hungry and Daizen Maeda the established winger on that side, Celtic tends to favour left. It also highlights how little Celtic got from the right side with Yang Hyun-jun first half and James Forrest in the second.

Wing Woe

It is a team game, and many small margins contribute to a performance. But there is a facet of Celtic’s game where there are clear deficiencies currently.

The loss of Jota in the summer may have boosted revenue dramatically - the equivalent to a season’s Champions League bounty - in the main but has left Celtic with a creativity and productivity deficit from wide.

Here are the comparative xG and xA numbers from the wingers last season versus this (xSC = xG + xA):

Last season, the four main wingers averaged 0.81 xSC per game. Liel Abada was by far the most productive with 1.14 and Jota with 0.79. The only player from that group expected to make significant minutes in the first team who is fit is Maeda, who also has by far the lowest xSC at 0.55.

From this season’s group of wingers, Abada has a long-term injury. Maeda is not even matching last season's productivity and is on 0.44. The new signings, Yang and Palma, have very few minutes of course, but so far there isn’t anywhere near the productivity compared to those that have been replaced, so far. Indeed, as a group, the 2023-24 wingers are so far (small sample) producing nearly half the expected goal and assist numbers compared to last season.

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That was very evident in this match. Forrest, who was effectively fifth choice winger last season, was drafted in at half-time, as young Yang struggled to maintain possession in the final third.

Forrest generated 0.25 xG, mainly from a header centre of goal but 0 xA. Palma created 0.22 of xG and obviously scored but that may well have been a cross and was awarded a mere 0.01 xG by StatsBomb. No one doubts Maeda’s work rate and pressing acumen, but he created 0 xA and 0.27 in xG, spooning a big chance in the second half.

Celtic are currently relying on Kyogo Furuhashi and Matt O’Riley to generate the chances and take them so far – Reo Hatate the most forward-facing of the midfielders also generated 0 xA. Celtic’s creativity mainly came from the full-backs Greg Taylor (0.56) and Alistair Johnston (0.28).


You do wonder, given the paucity of creativity and goal threat coming from the wide areas, whether Brendan Rodgers will consider a change of shape.

If Celtic were to transition to a 4-4-2 diamond. This would push Maeda up into a two with Kyogo and mean he plays in his more natural (and productive) position. It would mean either a David Turnbull, Odin Holm or Paolo Bernardo coming into midfield and a narrow four. This probably means the strongest XI could be achieved but within a solid defensive shape whilst releasing the pace of the front two in more central areas.


Celtic’s victory was dramatic, memorable and will form no doubt a critical hinge point in the season. However, we cannot gloss over some of the issues Celtic are having with regards to creating and taking the chances needed to generate the xG gaps a dominant Celtic achieved last season. There is too much risk in a much smaller differential.

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Most noticeably, Celtic are not generating enough threat from the wide areas and whilst it is only fair those young players are afforded time to settle, given the import of this domestic season and the dual challenge of being Champions League competitive, one wonders if a change of shape would be beneficial.