A tired, lethargic Celtic team left arguably the hardest away ground in the country for the Champions with a disappointing 0-0 draw at the weekend.

Brendan Rodgers had been quite prickly pre-match when asked about fatigue and the impact of a draining Champions League encounter with Atletico Madrid prior. He was bullish in the view that playing for Celtic required the squad to be up mentally and physically for two tough matches a week. Those are the expectations.

READ MORE: Celtic vs Green Brigade standoff must end amicably - Tony Haggerty

Hibs hell

He then picked the same starting eleven bar Paulo Bernardo for the stricken Reo Hatate. For around 60 minutes, Celtic toiled badly and the match was meandering away with little threat at either end. By the time James Forrest and David Turnbull replaced Bernardo and Daizen Maeda, Celtic had not touched the ball once in the Hibernian box in that half.

Maeda had executed 40 pressures versus the Spaniards but only 11 here. Bernardo led in pressures with 20 despite only managing 57 minutes of play. The xG step map clearly shows the sloth of despond the starting team fell into…

It was a coin flip until the four attacking subs led to a flurry of activity in the final quarter of the match.

Where I want to focus attention today is in the wide attacking areas. I have been opining all season that Celtic are considerably weaker in the wide attacking areas this season. Jota’s all-action threat has not been replaced and Liel Abada has been long-term injured. Without the variety of a pairing of Maeda and Jota, the replacements (either Yang Hyun-jun, Luis Palma or Forrest) have been prosaic.

On Saturday, add in the fact Celtic lost their primary risk-taking midfielder Hatate and replaced him with a player we have not seen a lot of yet – he seems to be defensively strong without showing line-breaking passing potential - in Bernardo. Therefore, there was an onus on the wingers to create.

Wing woe

Kyogo Furuhashi had a total of five on-ball events in 65 minutes. He did not complete a single pass, gave the ball away once, and did not touch the ball in the opposition box. He sent up a chance by dint of being fouled on the edge of the box to allow Palma a shot and had no efforts at goal himself. This is not the definition of receiving great service.

Not all down to the wingers of course, but I recorded each of their actions on the ball. Think of this as a traffic light system whereby green = moving the ball forward taking out opponents, creating a chance or having a shot; yellow = a square pass or forward pass that does not take anyone out of the game; and red = losing the ball or a pass backwards.

Firstly, here are the starters Palma and Maeda.

Palma – First Half

Palma – Second half

Maeda – Whole Game

Palma was involved nearly twice as much as Maeda. The Honduran had the highest xG of any Celtic player with 0.39 but from five shots at goal, three outside the box. He also created one chance for Callum McGregor. Maeda had the best chance of the game, but Marshall made a good save. He did not create any chances. Neither connected with Kyogo.

You can see the sea of red that is mainly backwards or negative passes. Not all back passes are the wrong decision but there was a distinct absence of forcing Hibernian to face their own goal.

Let’s compare with the wide substitutes.


M. Johnston

Despite the negative outcomes – no goals –, there was much more forward momentum with the second-half wingers. More efforts at goal (five efforts between them) and many more pack passes (nine by the subs, seven by the starting wingers). Here is a crude summary of the percentage of “bad” decisions from on-ball events:

The two subs were getting to generate positive events (if not goal outcomes) from over half their on-ball efforts whilst the starters were well short of that.


The question is should some of the substitutes have started the game given the obvious lethargy of the starting team? Or is this a function of playing against a tiring and retreating Hibernian side?

We cannot know what analysis the sports science people do at Celtic to assess player conditioning and match readiness. But the performance outcomes suggest that perhaps after a tough European night, a refresh of the starting lineup may be needed.

READ MORE: Will Celtic be affected by Green Brigade ban? - video debate

As well as the lack of a win and therefore outcome bias, I suggest there is a little bit of cognitive dissonance in some of the fan reactions. Why? Last season players like Turnbull, Mikey Johnston, and James Forrest were not seen as part of the regular first-team picture and here they are trying to force the three points.

Given the quality of summer recruitment, the harsh reality may be that Celtic needs to rely on these players more to navigate a crowded fixture schedule.