It’s always good news when a young, talented player signs a new deal with a…
Celtic made hard work of it at times but they got what they deserved in the end; victory over Rosenborg in their Europa League group opener. The Hoops dominated possession and rarely looked troubled, but again lacked a cutting edge. Leigh Griffiths was the hero who scored the winner on the night, but it was someone at the other end of the pitch that seriously impressed.
To say Celtic’s defensive problems have been well-documented this season would be an understatement. From the Dedryck Boyata saga to the poor performances from Jack Hendry and Jozo Simunovic against AEK Athens, it’s been a rocky start to the campaign for the Parkhead side’s backline. However, things might just be looking up in that regard now.
Not only has Boyata remained in the East End of Glasgow, but Celtic may have found an excellent partner for him in the form of young Croatian Filip Benkovic. The on-loan Leicester defender had a commanding performance at the back and looked like the kind of player Celtic have been missing.
Fans and pundits were seriously impressed by the young stopper and it’s not hard to see why. When you take a closer look at his numbers from Thursday night’s match it gives you a clearer idea of just how impressive his debut was.
Celtic, as they will be domestically, were on the front foot for the most of the game against their Norwegian opponents. Therefore it’s important that their defenders can be called upon when needed even if they go large parts of games untested. If Benknovic is able to perform at this level in Europe then Celtic fans will be hoping he can cruise games domestically.
To give you an idea of just how commanding the young Croation was we’ve looked at a number of defensive metrics. The first is defensive duels, in which Benkovic took part in nine – only Scott Brown was part of more (11). However, he has a better success rate than Brown and his defensive partner Boyata. He won seven, or 78%, of these battles on his debut – not too bad at all.
The 21-year-old was also reliable in the air. He won all six aerial duels he partook in highlighting just how much dominant he can be in the air. Boyata also was in six aerial duels but didn’t have as good as success rate. He also made more clearances (3) than the other teammates that we compared him to. It’s important to note that all of them also had good games. Brown was at his battling best and Boyata looked calm and composed at the back. Similarly, Tierney was devastating on the left-hand side and Ntcham was his usual powerful self.
What was perhaps just as impressive as his defensive display was Benkovic’s distribution. We’ve previously praised Kristoffer Ajer for being a centre-back who’s comfortable with the ball at his feet, but it looks like Benkovic could be just as good. He looked composed when on the ball and his passing was accurate and effective. Sure it’s just one game, but the youngster looks like he can really play.
The on-loan Leicester City defender made 79 passes on his debut and 96% of those successfully reached a teammate. For some context, his passing accuracy was better than Scott Brown’s as well as Boyata, Tierney and Ntcham’s. Moreover, 31 of these were forward passes and 94% were accurate. Those are seriously impressive stats and the kind of passing ability that Brendan Rodgers wants from his centre-backs.
The table also shows his long passes. Only Kieran Tierney (9) played more than him (8), but again his accuracy was higher at 88%. Scott Brown had a higher long pass accuracy as all the captain’s long passes on the night found their required target. You get the picture, Benkovic is a defender that could be just as good at passing the ball as he is at doing the dirty defensive work.
If the 21-year-old is able to perform like this on a regular basis then Celtic will have found a real gem. He could potentially be the solution to what’s been a problem position at Parkhead for a considerable amount of time. The Hoops are overwhelming favourites to win another domestic treble, but with someone like Benkvoic in their ranks, they could become even harder to beat.