In reading this, I am hoping you already read my site Celtic By Numbers. Why wouldn’t you?! It’s free and has no advertising, to speak nothing of impeccable quality, obviously.

The shameless self-promotion is because a topic I cover regularly is packing. Packing was a concept developed by a German data firm Impect. Their packing concept is something I manually gathered data for Celtic matches since the 2017-18 season.

The power is in the number of key attributes that can be inferred from the data given it covers forward passing, receiving, dribbling, turning the ball over, and recovering it. You count the number of opponents (or your teammates if a turnover) taken out of the game by the above actions. The more players, the more points, and crucially, the more defenders the more points.

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This piece will look back over the players in each key position since the data set started and compare the current players. Each graph plots pass pack rate – the average number of players taken out of the game by forward passes per 90m, and pass accuracy – the percentage of all passes completed.


Risk-taking in passing out from the back is a relatively new concept for goalkeepers. Celtic are generally a team who seek to maintain possession and build play from the back. Therefore, even the goalkeeper is key to starting that process.

You must credit Joe Hart. Dispensed with by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City partly due to his perceived lack of skills on the ball, he has the highest overall pass accuracy rate whilst in his first season achieving the highest pass pack rate of goalkeepers since the metric has been captured.

Also true is that his record in this regard has been regressing season on season and whilst he is maintaining accuracy, the volume of opponents he is taking out of the game has been steadily falling to around half his 2021-22 rate this season.

This may be another indicator of physical decline – his relative lack of mobility and speed across the ground is giving him less time for riskier passes. Also, teams may be sitting off Celtic to a greater extent therefore without an aggressive press to deal with he is simply recycling the ball to the defenders.

Note also how unsuited Fraser Forster was to this style of play although having a skilled footballer in goal was less of a priority for Neil Lennon than for Brendan Rodgers and Ange Postecoglou.


When we look at the full-backs, we start to see the importance of managerial instruction over individual ability, to some extent.

Check my site back to 2017-18 and I would have been waxing lyrical about Mikel Lustig and his abilities to play out from the back. Before Postecoglou, a pass pack rate of 20 opponents per game would have been considered high. Now, due to the way football and playing styles have evolved, you need to double that to get a very noticeable score.

Alistair Johnston’s 2022-23 campaign saw him record the highest pass-pack rate ever recorded. He is not meeting that benchmark this season - indeed both he and Greg Taylor are sacrificing a little in accuracy to achieve their pack passes. Pack passing wasn’t a key strength of Josip Juranovic, whilst current full-back Alex Bernabei simply lacks the necessary accuracy at this level.

Other noticeable outliers are the wholly unsuitable Diego Laxalt from the disastrous 2020-21 campaign, and Jeremie Frimpong – ball progressor extraordinaire but not a pack-passing legend. For full backs then, the scores are heavily influenced by team style, and both Taylor and Johnston are, this season, adjusting to the demands of Rodgers to, on occasion, try and hit Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi earlier.


In some respects, the key position for the packing metric as the central defenders tend to see more of the ball than other positions and are tasked with setting the tempo along with Callum McGregor. If the centre-backs are slow and cautious in possession, then that ripples through the team.

As with the full-backs, if we return to 2018-19 then a pass pack rate of around 20 opponents per 90 minutes would be considered high and Christopher Jullien a standout. Nowadays the manager expects 30-40 players packed per 90m from this position.

Credit to Liam Scales for achieving near 50 players packed per 90 minutes, although his accuracy rate could be better. Cameron Carter-Vickers pass pack rate has declined from his first season under Postecoglou. Was he overly relied upon in that first season? Or are there other reasons – this season could be injury-related in terms of reducing his risk-taking on the ball?

Carl Starfelt adapted well to the demands of this style of play. You can see, for example, how Kristoffer Ajer’s accuracy rate decreased as he was taking more players out of the game with his passing. Another outlier is Shane Duffy who, like Laxalt, was a misshapen part of that terrible campaign.

Holding midfielders

I’ve split this cadre out from the number eights due to the specificity of the role.

In years gone by, the holding or deeper midfielder would have collected the ball from the centre-backs who, other than long balls, would have played nothing but the simplest forward passes.

We can see how far more expansive Callum McGregor has been than his predecessor Scott Brown, who had other strengths. What is also true is that McGregor’s pass-pack rate has been declining over the last four seasons although his accuracy has improved suggesting less risk from the captain. We can also see how once Brown retired and McGregor took over the fulcrum mantle how unshackled he became.

Slight melancholy in the outlier of Nir Bitton whom Postecoglou played back in his natural centre midfielder berth in the 2021-22 season, and whose data in this regard hits the perfect balance between accuracy and taking opponents out of the game.

Central midfield

Finally, the central midfielders are the last role where there is a heavy responsibility to break lines and get the ball to the attackers.

Only Matt O’Riley of the current season’s number eights has sufficient minutes to qualify (900). His pass-pack rate has declined over last season as his goal-threat stats have increased.

Of the current players, both David Turnbull and Reo Hatate have slightly higher pass-pack rates than O’Riley, although Turnbull’s accuracy is superior. It seems this position is less sensitive to team style as it has always been the midfielder’s job to be creative. Therefore, this view for this position reflects, to a greater extent, inmate talent in these metrics over managerial tactical variance.

Olivier Ntcham always stood out by this measure and is arguably the most effective pack passer that Celtic have had since these metrics were captured. Aaron Mooy was effective last season, but I only had one season of Stuart Armstrong to capture.

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Tom Rogic has a little island all to himself which suggests that he was more a classic number ten rather than an all-around central midfielder. It is noticeable when Postecoglou deployed him more like a number eight in the 2021-22 season, he did pack more opponents, but his accuracy declined.


The dual purpose of this article was to inform as to how the current players are performing in the vital world of pack passing. Most have seen a decline in this over last season. I believe this is down to a slightly more direct style and adjusting to playing ahead of different wide players.

The other purpose is to highlight the importance of context. Specifically separating players from the system and recognising that not all roles are truly the same.