I wrote a few weeks ago after the Hibernian away game (0-0) about the tendency for Luis Palma and Daizen Maeda to check back and play the ball either square or - more usually - backwards.

Substitutes James Forrest and Mikey Johnston may come with loaded emotional baggage for many supporters, given where they are in their Celtic careers, but the reality as I saw it then was Celtic may need all to contribute across the season to make up the huge deficit in creative play from selling Jota and having Liel Abada injured.

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The recent hammering of Aberdeen followed by the struggles to break down the eleven-man low block of Motherwell has highlighted further the importance of the wide players and their abilities to influence the games.

Dons Delight

An Aberdeen side lacking freshness after an exhausting draw and travel to Greece three days before had been no match for a well-rested Celtic side eager to make up for losing by six in Madrid.

Most pleasing for me was the development and improvement evident in the wing play. The critical opening goal was a case in point. Palma shuffled down the line, but instead of the trademark chop back inside, he got a yard on the full-back on the outside. A hard, low, driven left-footed cross was met by the head of Yang at the far post, he did not need to jump to steer it into an open net.

Both players tormented their markers by bringing variety to their on-ball movements, looking to go outside as well as inside. This variety is important. Defenders do not know which way you are going to go which buys the vital fraction of a second needed to whip in the type of cross from which Yang scored. If the defender can gamble on predictability that window to strike closes very quickly.

Palma was exceptional, with seven chances created and three shots at goal, converting a penalty and ending up with three assists. Yang’s numbers were nowhere near as impressive, but he was a constant danger to the Aberdeen defence, driving them backwards. StatsBomb gave him a single game-on-ball value score of 0.79.

Well Woe

An international break later, Celtic had the chance to go eleven points clear of second place with a home match-up against a Motherwell side without a league win since September 3.

The same formation up against a similar 5-4-1 low block Aberdeen deployed utterly struggled to break down a stubborn Steelmen defence. The pattern was similar in that Greg Taylor, Liam Scales, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Anthony Ralston did a decent job of progressing the ball past the initial four-man Motherwell block and got the wingers one versus one against their full-back opponents within the enemy half.

This time, however, we saw a reversion back to the Hibernian game. Predictability of movement and a lack of aggression to get past the full-back. Both Palma and Yang time and again cut back inside the full back into heavy central traffic.

Palma’s two shots include missing a crucial penalty that on 66 minutes would have forced Motherwell to open up with plenty of time for Celtic to counter.

As mentioned above, they had even more of the ball with a depleted defence in front of them - 40 times between them they received packing passes. From that only one chance was created, no successful crosses and only two shots from open play.

Focus on the Final 3rd Losses metric. This counts the number of times the player gives up the ball in the opposition's final third without a shot, chance, corner, or a successful pass. Thirty final-third losses between them is an extraordinarily high volume of wasted possession.

To put into context, here are the only instances I have on record of players playing more than 900 minutes in a season and averaging nearly ten final-third losses per 90 minutes.

Only once has a player averaged more than ten final-third losses every match. That was the much-maligned Albian Ajeti in the 2020-21 season. The only other two instances of this metric being higher than nine per 90 minutes were the famously erratic Lewis Morgan and serial risk-taker Leigh Griffiths - both under Neil Lennon in the 2019-20 season. Indeed, all three instances were under Lennon, who tended to favour more risk-taking in the final third.

This season Palma is averaging 11.12 final third losses and Yang 9.85 per 90 minutes. In other words, both are on track to be the most wasteful in the final third on record. And remember, this is within the context of a manager like Rodgers who wants his teams to maintain control and possession.

Lazio Learnings

With Palma injured, Celtic went back to last season's fifth-choice winger, James Forrest, to patrol the left flank in Rome against Lazio in the Champions League.

Celtic looked to play a controlled possession-based game which was wise in that the longer Celtic can stay in these Champions League tires the better their chances of nicking a goal.

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However, the wing play once again failed to inspire. Between them, there was one key pass from Yang. Forrest even had a highly negative -0.2 on-ball value overall score.

Here is Yang’s pass map from the Lazio game:

He at least completed five forward passes including one into the box but very few even close to the opposition box.

By contrast, Forrest’s include just the one forward pass all night and none anywhere near the final third, never mind the opposition box.

There was some chatter online about Kyogo Furuhashi not being as effectively utilised as under Ange Postecoglou. What is he supposed to do with such a lack of service?


There is no doubt Palma has shown promise of being able to earn a regular Celtic starting role. Against Aberdeen, he was spectacular. Against Lazio, he was clearly missed.

The role of a Celtic attacker is a hugely pressured and demanding one. As shown against Motherwell, you cannot afford not to be “on it” in any game. Celtic will dominate the ball and territory and your teammates will get you plenty of the ball. You then need to deliver. Against Motherwell, Palma did not, and he will quickly have to learn that won’t be good enough.

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Meanwhile on the right, whilst Yang is showing signs of improvement and variety, the Lazio game highlighted that at the highest level, he is vastly inexperienced. Similarly, to Palma, one good outing against Aberdeen must be followed up in the next game and the next at the SPFL level.

With Liel Abada and Daizen Maeda injured, Celtic are being badly exposed in the wing attack areas and other aspects are therefore suffering, especially the lack of service to Kyogo. A change in shape may yet be the best way forward. I’d favour a 4-4-2 diamond but that would put a lot of pressure on Greg Taylor and Alistair Johnston to provide width. Can they be as wasteful?