Before Celtic's 2-0 Scottish Cup victory against St Mirren, Brendan Rodgers indicated Greg Taylor may be available for the forthcoming league tie at home to Kilmarnock.

Since the Scotland left-back has been out injured, Argentinian Alexandro Bernabei has covered his position on the left of the defence. The back line has seen no end of disruption with Alistair Johnston the latest to fall to injury. Anthony Ralston is now covering whilst Stephen Welsh deputises the stricken Cameron Carter-Vickers alongside the permanent stand in Liam Scales. It would be tempting for Taylor to immediately return given the need for experience in the back line.

However, is it as simple as that?

Bernabei vs St Mirren

In many respects, Bernabei’s performance against the Buddies was atypical of his contributions.

The good

Firstly, let us consider the positives.

One thing you always get with Bernabei is sheer busyness. He is involved. No one had more challenges and interceptions than his 17. He also jointly led the team with 18 recoveries, this speaks to his positioning and anticipation as well as raw speed over the ground. He led the team in winning the ball back in his own defensive third, something he achieved four times. He has a tenacity in the tackle and the speed to match most wingers.

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He created two chances and two secondary assists as well as delivering one successful cross. His secondary assist xA was 0.56, the highest in the team. There were a couple of thrilling bursts with the ball and his pack dribble score of 14 also led the team. His movement and positioning off the ball led to him taking out 15 opponents by receiving forward passes from others. That was the second highest, but his overall packing receive score of 70 was the top score on the day.

He was one of three players to reach 100 for packing score overall, behind the midfield pair of Callum McGregor (143) and Matt O’Riley (146).

The bad

Again, atypically, there was the other side to his game.

Of the 17 challenges and interceptions, seven were unsuccessful, the highest in the team. He was packed (bypassed with forward passes) nine times, one more than any of the other defenders. He was responsible for a team-leading six pack turnovers meaning when he lost the ball, on six occasions he put his teammates wrong side of the ball for defending.

Whilst he led the team with four defensive third win backs, he also headed the charts in losing the ball five times in his defensive third of the field. Bernabei lost possession a total of nine times, five more than any other Celtic player.

The ugly

Bernabei did well to break away from a St Mirren attacker in the second half only to be tugged back. Referee David Dickinson decided to ignore that and in doing so the Argentine lost the ball. As Marcus Fraser recovered, Bernabei jumped in two-footed to concede a free kick in a dangerous crossing position whilst also picking up a yellow card. Given both his feet landed behind the ball, he was a fraction away from a red card and a potentially game-changing moment in the cup tie.

This rashness was something identified from his earlier career back home.


Bernabei is a fascinating player. As seen above, nearly all his activities are at the margins – either the best in the team or the worst. He doesn’t seem to do “average”.

On the one hand, he offers considerable pace. Possessing a low centre of gravity, he progresses the ball well. The two bursts in the second half were typical Bernabei. Explosive pace and good control to run past several opponents and then both times he gave the ball away. Like Taylor, he offers little in the air but possesses a good recovery pace. Which is just as well as he is often out of position.

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The biggest issue he has is turnovers. He often fails to complete simple passes. This season he had the lowest pass completion percentage at 83 of any defender. He also “leads” the team in pack turnovers with 4.95 – the next highest is Reo Hatate with 3.93. He takes out over 21 of his players on average when losing possession. However, his pack recovery rate of 2.03 is also the highest of any defender.

How does he compare to Taylor?

Here are their radars from last season when Bernabei had over ten league games worth of minutes.

Bernabei is significantly more effective in pressing the opposition averaging around eight pressures more per 90 minutes. But also coughs up double the number of turnovers Taylor loses. The Argentine has a higher volume of defensive activity and surprisingly a higher passing On Ball Value (OBV) using Statsbomb’s specialist metric. You then must balance out that his foul rate is more than double Taylor’s and that his defensive action OBV is a dismal -0.16, putting him at the bottom of all defenders in the league.


There is something there with Bernabei. I am just not convinced it is a solid defender.

He seems to be a frustrated winger. His weaknesses as regards positioning and turnover propensity should dictate a role as far away from his own goal as possible. His pace and tenacity not to mention pressure skills all suggest an effective winger, especially off the ball. Whether he has sufficient creative capability for that role is open to question.

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Given Celtic’s current defensive frailties and personnel changes, the more reliable and solid Taylor will likely be reinstated. Although Bernabei is more likely to be able to cover the less-than-dominant aerial challenge outcomes of Scales and Welsh.

On balance, the team needs solidity and Bernabei introduces chaos all over the field. But will we see him as an attacking winger in the future?