It’s hard to believe that its been almost two years since Fraser Forster, currently on a run of 6 successive Premier League shut outs with Southampton, commanded a Celtic defence which never conceded a goal for a Scottish league record of 1,256 minutes (just shy of 14 matches). It was nothing short of an unbelievable achievement for the Hoops’ keeper and the Celtic team as whole. Indeed, the impeccable run played an instrumental role in ensuring transfers for Forster and Virgil van Dijk, netting Celtic an estimated £23million in transfer fees for the two stars.
However, the 2015-16 season has, shall we say, turned out markedly different from that 2013-14 season. The achievement of reaching the Champions League Group Stages has been a far cry away from the current Celtic squad, and our stranglehold on the title has been weakened by the challenge of a consistent Aberdeen team. Of course, such troubles have been well documented across various Celtic blogs, media outlets, twitter, pubs and the rest. Why, though, has this season been so miserably awful?
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the age old adage ‘don’t furnish the house without building the foundation.’ At face value it has an obvious literal meaning, but is applied across various parts of life as a building block for success. No more is it more relevant than in the football business, where title challenges and cup runs are built upon a sturdy back line. However, it seems as though the Celtic charge this season has been built upon thin air. What its been furnished with, on the other hand, is a debate for another day.
Yes, to put it abruptly, our defence has been pish all season. From the perpetual conceding of goals from set pieces to individual errors, this season has gone from bad to worse in defensive terms. But what are the stats behind it all?
As a team, it perhaps comes as no surprise to hear that we have only kept 16 clean sheets from 42 games this season, meaning we have conceded at least one goal in 61.9% of games this season. Craig Gordon has kept 14 of these clean sheets, while back up Logan Bailly has 2 shut outs from 2 with decent performances in the Scottish Cup. The season Forster broke the record for successive clean sheets, he kept 27 for the whole season. If Gordon were to match that, he would need 13 clean sheets from a possible 16 remaining fixtures (providing we get to the Scottish Cup final). In other words, he’d more than likely have to beat that record of successive clean sheets previously mentioned to match Forster’s personal record.
To add further insult to injury, we have conceded 42 goals in total, meaning we concede, on average, 1 goal every game. No team, no matter how good they are, can achieve success across the board when they need to score on average two goals every game to win. Just for comparison, we have already conceded more goals than Martin O’Neill’s side during the entire 2000-01 Treble Winning Season (41) and we still have potentially a further 16 games to play. We have also conceded more goals than we did in 61 games under Ronny last season (40), in spite of playing 19 fewer games, suggesting the regression under the current Hoops boss.
Moreover, a large portion of these goals have been conceded directly from set pieces. A total of 16 goals, or 38% of the total amount of goals we have conceded this season have been from a set piece. This has been largely down to the perceived failure of zonal marking from corners and free kicks, with goals against Malmo and Fenerbahce causing particular anguish amongst frustrated fans. Actually, if these defensive errors were eradicated completely in qualifying, Celtic would have progressed for the Champions League Group Stages. Had they been eliminated in the Europa League, we would have been 5 points better off and advanced to the Last 32 of the competition. Had they been eliminated in domestic competitions, we’d be 7 points better off. The fact of the matter is, if the coaching staff could organise the team to defend set pieces, our season would look a lot brighter.
Now we’ve looked at the team performance, it will perhaps be beneficial to analyse individual performances.
One thing’s for certain, there seems to be almost universal opinion at Parkhead that Efe Ambrose isn’t good enough to play for this club. Therefore, it will surprise many to be told that we’re actually a better team with him on the park.
Yeah, you just read it. Celtic have kept a clean sheet in 50% of games in which Ambrose has started and only 29% of the matches he hasn’t, a greater percentage than any other player. The Nigerian has, albeit, only made 18 starts in all competitions, but it appears we statistically have a better chance of keeping a clean sheet while he is on the park (wow).
In spite of Efe’s slightly superior stats, none of those presented in the table above have been acceptable.
The stats behind £4million man Jozo Simunovic are worrying, with a clean sheet in only 29% of games indicating he’s maybe not worth the cash we stumped for him. However, he is one of only two defenders to concede less than a goal a game when when playing, with Izaguirre being the other with only 17 goals conceded from 20 starts.
Perhaps most concerning is the form of Mikael Lustig. The Swede has been one of our star performers over the past few seasons, but injuries seem to have taken their toll and it appears the right back has lost a yard of pace. His poor form is further bleakened by some shocking stats, with 35 goals conceded in the 31 games he has played. In the 11 games he hasn’t participated in, we have conceded only 7 and have kept 6 clean sheets. Further, a clean sheet record of only 32% in the matches Lustig has played in indicate his time at Parkhead might be nearing its end. Questions must be asked over the sale of Adam Matthews last summer to Sunderland…
Of course, a few defenders have been excluded from the list due to a lack of appearances (Janko, Blackett, Mulgrew, Sviatchenko).
To most, the majority of these statistics will not come as a shock. The defensive frailties of the team have been apparent for the whole season. Sure, we have been scoring a decent amount, but no good team has ever depended solely on one player scoring every week to compensate for a shaky defence. Without Leigh Griffiths goals this season (30), one wonders where me might be.
In short, our abysmal season has been damaged as a direct result of a lack of defensive organisation. With seemingly no clear communication between the goalkeeper and the defence, or more worryingly the management staff and the team, it is unclear when or if someone will be able to save the Sinking Ship that is the Celtic defence. One thing is for sure; someone better save it quick or risk another embarrassing season for the club. Who that man will be, we can only guess.