Odsonne Edouard’s record signing for Celtic is undoubtedly a landmark moment in Brendan Rodgers’ tenure…
On Thursday Celtic kick off their Europa League campaign against a familiar foe in Norwegian side Rosenborg. Brendan Rodgers and his team will be well aware of the fact that anything less than a comprehensive performance could scupper their task of qualifying from a tricky group before it has even truly started.
Despite progressing past them in the Champions League qualifiers with relative ease just a few months ago, Celtic will surely be well aware of Rosenborg’s current form. Rini Coolen’s side have won eight of their last nine games and unlike their hosts on Thursday, will be flying high on confidence.
Alas, the pressure will be entirely focused on the Scottish champions. For Rosenborg, this is just another away game in Europe that they will attempt to snatch a point from, but for Celtic this is arguably their only real “must win” game from the group. And anything other than three points from this match will be deemed a failure.
Indeed, Celtic’s start to the season has been catastrophically meh and Thursday’s clash will be an opportunity to right a few of those wrongs. And, perhaps just as importantly, it can offer some hope to fans that Rodgers’ side isn’t currently paralysed by a rather unproductive transfer window.
After selling Moussa Dembele in the dying moments of the window without any replacement lined up, Celtic will have to prove that they have enough firepower to go into these European games and really compete with teams as good as them if not better.
So far this season Celtic have averaged 1.83 goals per European game, which is a notable drop from 2.5 per game in last season’s qualifying round for the Champions League. And when we look at the strikers left at the club we can begin to see why.
Despite seemingly being part of Rodgers’ plans at the start of the season with substitute appearances and two starts against Rosenborg, Scott Sinclair could only muster one goal and two assists from seven games. He has since returned to his regular spot on the bench for Celtic in the league campaign.
Leigh Griffiths deserves the benefit of the doubt after a knee injury ruled him out at the start of the season, yet the Scotland international has only scored two goals this season from 10 appearances. And one of those goals came in the League Cup against Partick Thistle.
Odsonne Edouard, the natural heir to Dembele’s thrown, has contrastingly looked impressive in European games. In just five European ties he’s already notched up three goals and an assist, suggesting he should be raring to go for the coming clash against Rosenborg. However, the French striker has already missed fives games this season with niggling injuries and hasn’t looked anywhere near as sharp in domestic competition, where he has been subbed off in three out of four appearances and only managed to score one goal to date.
What’s perhaps most worrying for Rodgers is that the current dry spell up front doesn’t seem to be coming from a lack of service from midfield. Celtic’s goals per game in the Premiership this season may have dropped dramatically from 1.84 to 0.94 but when we look at the team’s creative stats they don’t seem to be diminishing in any notable fashion at all.
Last season Celtic were averaging 22.42 touches of the ball in the opposing box per game, yet this season that has actually increased to 23.77. Similarly, the club’s average key passes per match has increased from last season’s 2.59 per game to 3.77 this time around. Although the amount of deep completed passes per game may have fallen slightly from 12.45 per match to 11.7, it’s hardly enough to suggest that Celtic’s strikers have nothing to work with.
Indeed, Celtic’s midfield seems to be ticking along with the same urgency and precision as last season’s side yet the strikers seem to be struggling to simply convert as many chances. And although we’re specifically talking about the Premiership here it does seem to be converting over to European ties too.
On Thursday Celtic will have to show that they mean business in this season’s Europa League. The best way of doing that is by proving that the goalscorers left at the club after Dembele’s departure are ready to step up to the plate.