Maik Nawrocki has had an interesting first six months at Celtic following his move from Legia Warsaw.

The Polish centre-back, signed for between £4m-£5m – Celtic’s most significant summer transfer outlay, was brought in just before Carl Starfelt’s departure to Celta Vigo last August. With Starfelt’s move to Spain confirmed as the season got underway, the 22-year-old slotted in alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers for the opening two league games of the campaign.

But just as his Celtic career was getting started, Nawrocki suffered a hamstring injury in his third appearance, the League Cup defeat at Kilmarnock. Due to the nature of his injury, Nawrocki was left out of Brendan Rodgers’ Champions League squad. Despite being fit ahead of schedule, he failed to make any domestic squads until an injury to Carter-Vickers opened the door for the German-born defender to make the bench for the Glasgow Derby match on 28 December.

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An injury to Stephen Welsh, who replaced Carter-Vickers in the starting eleven, midway through the first half of Celtic’s 2-1 win over Rangers saw Nawrocki thrown in for his first appearance in around four months. He followed that up with just his third league start for the Hoops’ trip to St Mirren last Tuesday. Despite this rollercoaster first few months in green and white, his start in Celtic’s final match before the winter break saw Nawrocki tick over 300 minutes of league action.

Albeit a relatively small sample - with the added context of his minutes being split four months apart - this still offers an opportunity to take a closer look at what he has offered in the early part of his career at Parkhead…

Penetrating passes

Nawrocki showed signs of good ambition on the ball in his opening league matches last August. In the two matches against Ross County and Aberdeen, according to Wyscout, he completed 14 of his 16 attempted passes into the final third (87.5 per cent). He wasn’t quite as successful in the League Cup defeat at Rugby Park though, completing nine of his 13 attempted passes into Killie’s third that day (69 per cent).

Although, understandably, he took a bit of time to settle when he was pitched in against Rangers at Celtic Park last month, Nawrocki didn’t take long to demonstrate this impressive ability to break lines with his passing again.

The best example of this was of course his pinpoint pass to Matt O’Riley in the opening exchanges of the second half that led to Kyogo’s goal. 

Admittedly in a less testing environment against a poor St Mirren side, Nawrocki again showed encouraging bravery on the ball, such as the below example where he split the Buddies forward line to find Grey Taylor in the centre of the pitch.

Proactive defending

Another area of Nawrocki’s game that has stood out in his opening few Celtic appearances is his proactive defending. Something that was also highlighted in his scout report when he joined last summer, Nawrocki has demonstrated his ability to read the game well and cut out opposition forward passes.

His timing, again understandably given his lack of action, wasn't quite there against Rangers – none more so than when he mistimed his challenge against Cyriel Dessers on the edge of the Celtic box, giving away a free kick that James Tavernier converted to set up a nervy finish.

However, across his 70 minutes against Phillipe Clement’s side, he did make five interceptions and showed a good reading of the game and sound positioning again a few days later, making another four interceptions (Wyscout) in a steady 67-minute display at The SMiSA Stadium.

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When he hasn't been able to cut out the opposition’s attack at source, Nawrocki has shown he is not averse to getting stuck in to win the ball back either. He has been relatively efficient when he has done this too. According to Wyscout, he has won 77.8 per cent of his defensive duels, averaging 8.02 per 90 in four league appearances, while his three slide tackles, all of which came in the Rangers match, were all successful.

Aerial issue

There is one defensive vulnerability that has been evident in Nawrocki’s game. According to StatsBomb’s data, of all 50 SPFL Premiership centre-backs that have played a minimum of 300 league minutes, Nawrocki has the lowest aerial duel win rate (33 per cent).

Of course, Nawrocki has the lowest minute count of all 50 of those centre-backs but even in a small sample, this is something of a concern. This is something that also came through in the data analysis section of his scout report in the summer where he ranked in the bottom half for his aerial duel success rate compared to other centre-backs in the Polish top flight. 

Paired with the consistently aerially dominant Carter-Vickers, who has won 81 per cent of his aerial duels this season (98th percentile v other Premiership CBs), as he was in his first few appearances may mitigate this somewhat going forward.

Playing alongside Scales who, although decent enough in the air (73 per cent success rate) is probably not at a level that fully compensates for Nawrocki’s deficiencies in this area though. Against more physically dominant opposition attackers and playing in front of a declining Joe Hart who is almost completely relucent to his line at this point, this may be of greater concern for a Nawrocki-Scales partnership, if it is to be used again for any significant period of time in the second half of the season.

StatsBomb Radar

The above radar from StatsBomb visualises some of the parts of his game that have already been highlighted. Covering metrics most relevant to centre-backs, a few other things stand out here too.

Possession-wise, although not shy in attempting, and executing those more ambitious, line-breaking passes, Nawrocki boasts a decent overall Passing% of 90 per cent. He also ranks highly for his xGBuildUp (0.74) - StatsBomb’s model which attributes the xG of the final shot to all players involved in the possession – but he has not been as productive in the build-up overall as the four other centre-backs used by Celtic that make the 300-minute cut, Carter-Vickers the highest at 1.34, Scales at 1.18, Nat Phillips at 0.93 and Gustaf Lagerbielke at 0.88. This is perhaps something that will improve as he plays more and gets accustomed to the system.

That aerial issue shows up here too with Nawrocki registering less than two aerial wins per 90 so far. Those other more encouraging defensive traits show through though too. StatsBomb have Nawrocki at 5.4 possession-adjusted (PAdj) Interceptions per 90 while they also attribute 2.26 PAdj Tackles to the Poland under-21 cap. Impressively, he boasts the joint highest Tack/Dribbled Past % of all centre-backs in the league. That is to say, he has yet to be dribbled past when going in for a tackle.


Overcoming the disappointment of his injury and omission from the Champions League squad, Nawrocki has shown resilience in working his way back into the fold. Even when recovered from injury, his lack of appearances led many to question whether Nawrocki was set to become yet another summer transfer that was destined not to work out.

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Taking the opportunity that came his way after Welsh’s against Rangers injury, Nawrocki has again shown glimpses of real potential both on and off the ball. That aerial vulnerability, albeit from a small sample of games, cannot be ignored, though.

Ultimately Nawrocki will hope for a much more settled second half to his first season in Glasgow, one in which he can kick on as he looks to cement his place at the heart of the Celtic defence.