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Here we are again. While Rosenborg had us worried after their first leg loss in Iceland, their dramatic victory at the Lerkendal on Wednesday means yet again Rosenborg have Scottish Champions Celtic FC in between themselves and progressing to the next round of Champions League Qualifying, just as they did last season.
Just like last season, Celtic are coming into the fixture on the back of a season where they won all three domestic trophies they competed for in Scotland, the second season they have done so. Unlike the previous season, Celtic actually lost a match in Scotland last season. Four of them, in fact. Despite no longer being “invincible”, Celtic still finished 9 points ahead of second place Aberdeen and won both the Scottish Cup and League Cup.
After moving past Rosenborg in qualifying last season, Celtic were able to qualify for the Champions League group stages. They were the recipients of a tough draw with PSG, Bayern Munich and Anderlecht. The Hoops only got one win in group play, but it was enough to parachute into the knockout round of the Europa League. Celtic also met RBK Europa League group stage foe Zenit St. Petersburg, where they defeated the Russian club 1-0 at Celtic Park but were defeated in St. Petersburg 3-0 and exited Europe.
Much of the same squad that drew with Rosenborg 0-0 at Celtic Park and won at the Lerkendal 1-0 in the last qualifying campaign is back at Celtic this time around. The only squad players for Celtic that got much playing time that have left in the off-season are Danish centerback Erik Sviatchenko to FC Midtjylland and midfielder Stuart Armstrong to Southampton. The Bhoys have signed two players in the off-season they had on loan at the club last season in keeper Scott Bain and French striker Odsonne Eduoard. Eduoard was bought for Celtic’s club record transfer fee, but more on him later.
So now that we have caught up with what our Glaswegian pen pals have been up to since we last met, what can we expect from them on the pitch over these two legs? Lets first look at what Rosenborg might be able to exploit against the Scottish champions.
While winning six trophies in two years is incredibly impressive, every team is not without their flaws. Most watching Celtic each week would agree that weakness is found in the Bhoys backline. Now compared to the rest of the Scottish Premiership, Celtic had the best defensive metrics in the league and three members of the Celtic defense are coming back from the World Cup (with Dedryk Boyata coming back to Parkhead with a 3rd place medal). This is not incredibly surprising since they won every trophy possible last season. However, when we compare their defensive metrics last season to the same metrics from the “invincible” Celtic squad of 2015-2016 season, we see a step back.
Last season, Celtic conceded 25 goals in league play. They actually conceded 6 more goals in the 2015-16 season, but as we know, goals are not the best way to measure a team’s performance. The Bhoys last season conceded an xG of 31.59 or 0.83 per game. In their Invincible season, Celtic conceded an xG of 28.37 or 0.73 per game. Other defensive metrics concur that there was a step-back by the Celtic backline last season, with the Hoops averaged conceding 6.71 chances per game while they averaged conceding 6.24 chances per game in 15/16.
If we were to get even more granular in discussing the issues with the Celtic defense, the right side of the pitch is a particularly vulnerable area. This may be surprising with former RBK fullback Mikael Lustig returning from a World Cup run with Sweden, but the right side of the Celtic defense was the area that their SPFL Premiership opponents looked to exploit the most. Of all the key passes Celtic conceded last season, 21.4% of them originated from the right wing which was the highest total of any club in Scotland’s top flight. 29.9% of the xG Celtic conceded in the Premiership originated from a key pass on the right wing, again the highest chunk conceded of any club in the SPFL. Scottish teams saw an opportunity to exploit the right wing of Celtic’s backline. This is an opportunity that a healthy Pål André Helland must like the look of.
While the right side of the Celtic defense is an opportunity for Rosenborg to exploit, there are plenty of areas of Celtic that the Trondheim club will need be worried about. Perhaps the area that RBK should most take note of is the surplus of talent that Celtic has at the striker position. In last season’s Champions League qualifier, Celtic had to start winger James Forrest up top as a “false nine”, as no true strikers were healthy. Though Moussa Dembele left their 2nd leg of their first round of qualifying with a tight hamstring, they likely will have a full compliment of strikers to take on Rosenborg.
It is hard to consider a year where a striker averaged 0.50 goals per 90 minutes, 0.55 xG per 90, 0.44 assists per 90, and 0.19 xA per 90 to be a step back, but many think Moussa Dembele did not quite reach the heights he did last season as he did in 2015/16. Despite missing part of the season due to injury, the highly touted French striker put forth the impressive stats for the second year running. Dembele has constantly been linked with a move to a bigger league in his time at Celtic, but it appears that he will still be in green and white hoops for Rosenborg’s match-up with Celtic.
As we see in his shot map above, Dembele excels at using his strength and speed to help get high quality shots centrally and near the goal. With Rosenborg’s frailty at centerback, whoever is replacing Kåre Ingebrigtsen will need to find a way to stop Dembele from getting into those dangerous shooting positions. A talented young striker like Moussa Dembele is enough to keep a manager up at night, but Celtic are in the envious position of having two.
In January, Odsonne Edouard joined Celtic from PSG on loan. At the time of the move there were reports that Celtic had an option to buy on the loan agreement, but it would require a transfer fee larger than any fee that Celtic had paid previously. Edouard then went out and showed he was worth that large outlay for the Hoops. He lead Celtic in goals total and per 90 in SPFL play at 9 and 0.76, despite only lining up for the Parkhead side half the season. He had an xG total of 6.83 and per 90 of 0.58, which were 13th and 3rd respectively in the SPFL. Similarly to Dembele, Odsonne Edouard is able to repeatedly get quality shots in dangerous positions, averaging 0.20 xG per shot . He also got 64% of his shots in the danger zone. Both Odsonne Edouard and Moussa Dembele are potent goal threats Rosenborg will have to plan for.
Typically last season, Celtic only lined up with one out and out striker, meaning either Dembele or Edouard would be on the pitch. However, in their first round of Champions League qualifying against Alashkert and some friendlies they have played, they deployed both of the French strikers in a 3-1-4-2. Rather than two true strikers though, Edouard has appeared to almost be an attacking play maker. The 19 year old helped create for Celtic, as well as getting on the score sheet in the first leg.
We previously discussed the possibility of Rosenborg exploiting the right side of the Celtic defense as their Scottish opponents did last season, they likely will find the left side of the pitch locked down by talented Scottish left back Kieran Tierney. With Tierney playing a prominent role on the left side, Celtic allowed the second fewest key passes from the left wing last season and easily the lowest xG originating from key passes on the left wing in the Scottish Premiership. Only 11.8% of the xG Celtic conceded in league play last season came from passes from that left wing, again the lowest in the league. Teams were just not able to operate on the wing with Kieran Tierney on it.
Along with his defense prowess, Tierney was an important part of the Celtic attack. He was 5th in xA total at 6.16 and 0.21 per 90. He completed 44 key passes in SPFL play, which was 8th in the entire league. His combined playmaking abilities and defensive strength have made Tierney one of Celtic’s most important players and has attracted some suitors from some of the biggest leagues in the world. The boyhood Celtic supporter was linked with numerous EPL, Bundesliga, and Serie A clubs but he remains in the green and white hoops of Celtic.
In Norway, he is known as R.O.N.N.Y., but in Scotland he is known as B.U.R.L.E.Y. Regardless of his name, we can use our football projection model to give us probabilities on the upcoming Rosenborg Celtic Champions League qualifier. At Celtic Park, R.O.N.N.Y./B.U.R.L.E.Y. see Celtic with a 50.29% chance of winning, RBK with a 22.11% chance of winning and a 27.60% chance of it being a draw. At the Lerkendal, Rosenborg have a 34.85% of winning, Celtic a 38.57% of winning, and a 26.58% of a draw. The results with the highest probability of happening in each leg is 1-0 Celtic in Glasgow and 1-1 in Trondheim. This result would see Celtic progress to the next round of qualifying.
Last season when I previewed this fixture, I hopped on my soapbox discussing how both clubs need to embrace any method that can help them identify an inefficiency to help bridge the gap between themselves and clubs in the “big four” leagues and I am going to take this time to do it again. Both Rosenborg and Celtic are clubs that deserve the reverence they receive in their home countries based on their accomplishments on the pitch. They deserve better than having to play 4 qualifiers to try and qualify for the group stages of the Champions League. And yet, here we are. They can only travel the route put in front of them, and to do that they need be setting the trends in new advancements in football, not following them.
It is hard to guess what is going behind closed doors at clubs, but it seems like Rosenborg and Celtic are starting to take divergent paths in the European football scene. Despite the similarities the clubs share such as “being a big fish in a small pond” having more resources than their domestic opponents, Celtic at least in terms of recruitment seem to be adjusting to the realities of modern football better. With a recruitment plan of bringing the best domestic young talent in Scotland and providing talented youngsters outside Scotland a platform to show their talent in hopes of moving to a bigger and more lucrative league has seen Celtic reap the rewards of two straight Champions League group stage appearances.
Rosenborg of course have not been in the group stages of Europe’s big table since 2008. Many have questioned the recruitment policy of Rosenborg since then. While the likes of Niklas Bendtner are fun to have line up in your starting XI, he certainly will not help you build for the future. It seems Rosenborg has tried to move towards identifying young talent, buying the likes of Samuel Adegbenro, Anders Trondsen, and Morten Konradsen from Eliteserien and Jonathan Levi from Sweden. However, they need to “hit” more on these types of moves, selling them after a successful stint in Norway, earning themselves big transfer fees and a reputation of a club that can develop talent.
Much of both Celtic and Rosenborg’s financial strength off the pitch and ability to compete with richer clubs on it hinges on European progress. While both clubs have an extra round to progress through starting this season, there is the silver lining of less emphasis being placed on a league coefficient and more on a individual club’s UEFA coefficent. Both Rosenborg and Celtic would probably prefer not to see each other in their Champions League qualifying campaign until later, but there is no doubt this is a crucial tie early on in their path to try and sit among the biggest names in the game in Europe.
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.