Check out the preview of Rosenborg from a Celtic perspective at our sister site, The Backpass Rule.
When the Champions League third qualifying round occurred, there was one fixture pulled out of the bowl that was of particular interest personally. The good folks at Stratagem that have been providing us with the raw data we have been using this season analyzing the Eliteserien have also providing us with data from other leagues around Europe. We were hoping that we could use that data to provide some statistical insight about a possible European opponent that a Norwegian club in Europe might draw. The first few fixtures did not provide such an opportunity, but then Rosenborg got Celtic FC from Glasgow, Scotland. Given that I started tracking and analyzing football stats because I could not find any advanced stats for Scottish Football and the SPFL, this was a special draw for me.
Celtic have had some Norwegian connections over the years with a few former Norwegian players and currently have Kristoffer Ajer on their books, though Ajer spent last year on loan to SPFL Premiership club Kilmarnock. Most reports were positive about Ajer’s time on loan at Killie. Furthermore, Ajer has a chance to be in the squad Wednesday with Celtic missing normal first choice center back Dedryck Boyata due to a knee injury. Of course, Ronny Deila was the manager for Celtic, where he won the league twice and the League Cup once. However, most Celtic supporters saw Deila’s time as a disappointment due to failures in Europe (including two defeats to Molde in the Europa League). At the end of the 2015/2016 Ronny Deila resigned from Celtic and the Hoops appointed former Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers to replace him.
With Rodgers at the helm, Celtic won the treble of the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup, and Scottish League Cup. In fact, Celtic did not lose a domestic game in Scotland, only drawing to rival Rangers once (while also beating them 5-1, 2-1, 5-1 in the League, 1-0 in the League Cup Semi-final, and 2-0 in the Scottish Cup Semi-final), Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and Ross County. Celtic beat second place Aberdeen in both the final of the Scottish League Cup and Scottish Cup and finished 30 points ahead of the Dons in the league table.
With such dominance in Scotland, it is no surprise that Celtic had very impressive advanced stats last season. Tracking the stats on my Scottish Football site The Backpass Rule, they had an expected goals of 96.78 highest in the league, an expected goals against of 31.19 lowest in the league, and an expected goal difference of 66.49 also highest in the league. Their expected goal ratio, or their expected goals for divided by expected goals for and against of 0.76, yet again the highest in the SPFL. They had a TSR, or Total Shot Ratio, of 0.73, meaning they took 73% of the total shots taken in their games, while their opponents only had 27% of the shots. They had the same 0.73 rate for TSoR, or Total Shots on Target Ratio, which is the same as the above metric except for shots on target. They were dominant in every traditional and advanced metric we have for Scottish Football, and their results reflected it.
One of Celtic’s best players last season was Englishman Scott Sinclair. Sinclair won the Scottish Player Association Player of the Year award and was 4th in the SPFL in expected assists with 9.82, 2nd in expected goals with 12.96, and 6th in expected secondary assists with 2.64. He lead the league in xGAS at 25.42, or expected goals, assists, and secondary assists combined. He was crucial to Celtic’s attack in the SPFL last season, scoring 21 goals and creating 8 assists in the league last season, contributing to 27% of Celtic’s league goals last season.
Sinclair’s pace on the wing, along with either the speedy James Forrest (xG 6.04, xA 4.0, xSA 1.8) or new signing from Aberdeen Jonny Hayes (xG 6.24, xA 10.6 highest in the league, xSA 3.2) will cause trouble for the slower Rosenborg fullbacks. They will need to find a way to limit and restrict Sinclair and whoever Celtic has on the other wing, or it will be very difficult for Rosenborg to advance to the playoff round of the Champions League Qualifiers.
If the speed and attacking power of Scott Sinclair were not enough for Kare Ingebrigtsen to worry about, there is also Celtic’s superstar striker Moussa Dembele. The young Frenchman was a revelation for the Bhoys last season, scoring 17 goals and notching 8 assists in the league. Despite picking up an injury and not playing after mid-April, Dembele led the SPFL in expected goals with 14.46. He averaged 0.69 xG per 90 and 0.18 xG per shot, which means he is getting high quality shots when he shoots. All but one of his league goals came from within the “danger zone” centrally inside the box. He is able to use his strength and speed to get into high quality shooting positions. He did so both in the league last season and in Celtic’s matches in the Champions League, scoring both against Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach in the group stages.
With Sinclair and either Forrest or Hayes on the wing and Dembele at striker, Celtic will have a blazing quick three pronged attack that will be tough for Rosenborg to keep quiet. Last season Celtic thrived on their pace and using space on their attack. They could use that pace to counter-press teams in their own half to quickly win the ball back when they lose it, even doing the same in matches against Manchester City in the Champions League. They will be looking to do the same Wednesday at Celtic Park against Rosenborg. Rosenborg will need to counteract that speed somehow. Their best bet might be to try and keep it tight in the back, counter attack, and try to be within striking distance heading back to Trondheim. However, this is not a game plan that would play to Rosenborg’s strengths.
As previously mentioned, Celtic will be shorthanded in the back. After being thought to be on his way out, Dedryck Boyata took his chance in his first start in the middle of the season and put in a solid performance. He established himself in the Celtic starting XI from then on as a very capable center back and his absence will be a big miss for Celtic for this fixture. Celtic have not signed any other center backs in the summer transfer season as of yet, so they will likely put Jozo Simunovic and Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko in the back. Simunovic was on his way to Torino this time last year after he missed much of the year before due to injury, but he failed his medical and returned to Celtic. Once healthy, Simunovic proved to be a solid defender and provided one of the best tackles in Europe in a derby match against Rangers striker Kenny Miller.
Sviatchenko however, has found himself the odd man out when both Boyata and Simunovic are healthy. He sometimes has suspect positioning and does not have the same pace that Simunovic and Boyata do. With Boyata out, it will likely be the Dane Sviatchenko in back for Celtic. He is someone Rosenborg should look to exploit over the fixture. Letting Niklas Bendtner get physical with Sviatchenko could be a strategy that works. Fredrik Midtsjo is someone that could also force Sviatchenko into mistakes if he gets the opportunity.
The likely starting fullbacks for Celtic will be Swede and former Rosenborg player Mikael Lustig and young Scotland international left back Kieran Tierney. Lustig has lost a step or two since his Rosenborg days, but is still very capable on the attack. Meanwhile, the 20 year old Tierney seems like he is on the verge of stardom. Tierney is both a great on ball one on one defender and an incredibly gifted passer.
Often times last season, and possibly Wednesday to help mitigate the injury issues Celtic face in their defense (In addition to Boyata, right back Christian Gamboa injured himself as well while he was on international duty with Costa Rica), Celtic deployed a back three. Tierney would be the link between the back, helping to defend and then being a crucial in the attacking half for Celtic. He was a workhorse in those situations covering seemingly the entire field. He had 8 assists in the league, 7.66 xA (0.31 per 90), 1.48 Key Passes per 90, and 2.17 xSA (0.09 per 90). Tierney is the best defender Celtic have and an important cog in their attack. Rosenborg would be wise to avoid his side when attacking and make sure to mark him when he has the ball.
Behind Tierney and the rest of the defense will be Scottish keeper Craig Gordon. Before Celtic, Gordon was bought by Sunderland from SPFL Club Hearts for £9,000,000. However, Gordon’s time in England was frustrating, as it was marred by constant injury. He was signed on a free by Ronny Deila for Celtic and he has been vital for Celtic since then.
In all of his seasons for Celtic, Gordon has finished with good stats. In 2015/2016, he had the highest Saves Above Expected in the league at 2.72 and Keeper Rating of 103.61 (stats I discuss here ). Last season, he had the 4th best Saves Above Expected of 2.97, Keeper Rating of 104.50, as well as the third best Goals Against minus Expected Goals Against of -2.97. Despite finishing behind a few keepers in the league, Gordon’s stats actually improved slightly last season. Last season, Gordon was actually brought to the bench by Brendan Rodgers in favor of Dorus de Vries. Rodgers claimed it was due to de Vries’ abilities to distribute the ball. However, after two shaky starts by de Vries, Craig Gordon was restored to the starting spot and never let it go.
Celtic was probably the toughest available opponent for Rosenborg in the draw. The two clubs are similar in that they are the “big fish in a small pond” football wise. Neither Scottish nor Norwegian football can compete financially with the billions of leagues like the EPL. However, it seems Celtic are the stronger of the two sides with Rosenborg as the underdog to progress. The Trondheim club does have a slight advantage being midway through their season, while Celtic has only played two competitive matches against Linfield of Northern Ireland in the previous round of Champions League Qualifying (which had plenty of controversy surrounding it).
Clubs like Celtic and Rosenborg need to look for any inefficiency or advantage they can find over the giants of European football in recruitment, analysis, and running their clubs. It seems the opportunity to use analytics to get an advantage is gone for these clubs, as the giant clubs now have analytics departments. The Rosenborg’s and Celtic’s of the world need to find the next advantage. Celtic have improved in the year since Ronny Deila left and they have done well in recruitment and shown great improvements since Brendan Rodgers has taken over. Meanwhile, Rosenborg have seemingly taken a step back so far this season in the Eliteserien. While top of the table, the dominating Rosenborg that most think of when they think of Norwegian football has yet to be seen. Perhaps Rosenborg can look to Celtic last season as a model forward, but they will need to be at their absolute best to progress past them to the next round of the Champions League qualifiers.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.