After coasting through their first Champions League qualifier, Celtic have begun the new campaign in…
It’s going to take something special to stop Celtic’s domestic dominance continuing this season. That said, if they want to continue to improve and move forward as a team they must add some quality players. There are certain areas of this team that need to be strengthened, but left-back isn’t one of them. The Hoops need signings that will better this team, and in all honesty, Emilio Izaguirre, at this stage, doesn’t improve Celtic.
Brendan Rodgers seemingly hit out at Peter Lawwell this week when he said Celtic will regress unless they make some quality signings. The acquisition of Odsonne Edouard appears to be a great bit of business. However, apart from that, the Parkhead side have been very quiet in the transfer window. So long as Celtic continue their domestic dominance and qualifying for the Champions League then everything will be hunky dory.
Conversely, that’s the problem, a 1-1 draw with AEK Athens exposed some of the frailties in this Celtic squad, namely their backline. Both Jack Hendry and Kristoffer Ajer have great potential, but they could do with a more experienced head in their squad. Moreover, Celtic have been crying out for a right-back and also a replacement for Stuart Armstrong who left for Southampton earlier in the window.
Celtic suffered another blow just before their kick-off against the Greek champions when transfer target John McGinn signed for Aston Villa. Celtic had three bids rejected and in the end, were made to pay for never meeting Hibs’ valuation of the Scotland midfielder. The Hoops have a guaranteed first choice in Kieran Tierney at left-back, but also have an able deputy in a now fit Jonny Hayes, do they really need Izaguirre?
Let’s start by saying that in his prime Izaguirre was an excellent player for Celtic. He was an excellent crosser of the ball and was always an attacking threat. There’s a reason he won multiple player of the year awards and was, and still is, a fan favourite in the East End of Glasgow. However, at 32-years-old you have to ask why he is being brought back to Parkhead?
For those of you screaming at the screen that it’s purely for cover, then yes fair enough he’ll provide cover. Furthermore, it’s a hassle-free transfer as the Honduran international is a free agent and the club know exactly what they are getting with him. However, is he really better than the cover Celtic already have? Moreover, would their efforts in the transfer window be better focused elsewhere?
Sure, you could argue perhaps added competition for places and squad depth is important. On the other hand, competition isn’t really that much of a factor seeing as Tierney will start unless he is rested or injured. When it comes to that Celtic have a now fully fit Hayes who can step in.
We took Izaguirre’s numbers from his last full season at Celtic which was in 2016/17. Similarly, Jonny Hayes and Kieran Tierney’s numbers are from last season. Hayes is more of a winger than an out-and-out full-back. Therefore you’d think Izaguirre’s strengths would lie in the defensive side of his game. He does come out on top in the number of aerial duels he wins (62.20%) but Hayes actually took part in more headed battles per 90 (3.80 compared to Izaguirre’s 2.70). When it comes to defensive duels Hayes comes out on top with 26.72 per 90 and he also wins a higher percentage of these than both Tierney and Izaguirre.
Interceptions are the other metric we focused on and here Tierney came out on top (4.38) over Izaguirre (3.82) and Hayes (3.66). Looking briefly at these numbers it’s apparent that Izaguirre performs better in some defensive metrics but not all, and wouldn’t be adding significantly more in the defensive third than Jonny Hayes would at this stage.
What the graph above shows us is that Izaguirre is significantly less of an attacking threat than both Hayes and Tierney. Of course, it could be argued that Izaguirre was used in a more defensive role, but the signs are there that the Honduran isn’t as much of a threat in the final third as he once was.
Last season he was playing in Saudi Arabia’s top division for Al-Fayha and despite playing 24 times never scored or provided an assist in a league match. When looking at the above graph we can see in 2016/17 he provided one assist and scored no goals. Hayes also only managed one assist and goal last season but he played around 300 minutes less than the Honduran. Moreover, looking at his expected goals per 90 (xG/90) it’s unlikely Izaguirre would be getting himself into scoring opportunities. Not that this is a vital attribute for a left-back but it’s something Tierney and Hayes are more likely to do which is important in the formation Rodgers plays.
The other reason Izaguirre might not be the smartest of signings is the system Rodgers is employing this season. It appears that the Celtic boss is keen to play either a 3-4-2-1 or 3-1-4-2 with two attacking wing-backs; roles which Kieran Tierney and James Forrest look tailor-made for. You can’t help but think this system also suits Hayes’ style of play. He can play left-back but he’s much more effective as a winger and definitely poses a threat going forward.
Again it should be noted that Hayes does play on the wing so it can be argued his attacking stats may be slightly inflated compared to that of Izaguirre and Tierney. What’s interesting is Izaguirre has the lowest number of crosses and dribbles per 90 minutes but has the highest accuracy and success rate. For example, the Honduran only plays 4.29 crosses/90 compared to Hayes 5.34 but his accuracy is almost double the former Aberdeen man’s.
Conversely, Izaguirre might have a slighlty higher dribbling success rate than Hayes, but he actually performs less than half the one-on-one dribbles the Irishman does on average per match. Again, this is another example of Hayes being more of an apparent threat going forward.
The bottom line is, if he’s fit Tierney will be starting all European games. This is when it’s more likely Celtic will revert to a flat back four. You then have to ask is Izaguirre good enough to cover at that level? Hayes is more than capable of slotting into Rodgers’ side in domestic games when the Scotland international needs a rest. He showed that in the first game of the season Livingston where he put in a good performance and also provided an excellent assist for Tom Rogic’s goal.
Izaguirre wouldn’t be a bad player for Celtic he just won’t improve them. Brendan Rodgers has expressed his concerns about going backwards, then why look to the past in the transfer market? Unless it’s someone who has left and coming back in their prime or a better player then surely Celtic should be looking elsewhere? Perhaps the nostalgia factor makes the move more appealing but Celtic should be looking to add players that will bolster their chances in Europe and make them even more formidable than last season domestically. Izaguirre does not do that.