If one thing has stood out during this World Cup it has been the speed…
Although Scott Brown was ultimately awarded last season’s player of the year award for the manner in which he led Celtic to another treble-winning clean sweep, the 2017/18 campaign was also the moment in which James Forrest finally became the player every Celtic fan had hoped he would one day become.
Once an inconsistent, one-trick winger for Ronny Deila, Forrest quickly and coherently transformed in to a modern wide forward under Brendan Rodgers and over the course of 58 games he picked up no less than 17 goals and 10 assists. Celtic’s own youngster had not only came of age but was keeping Manchester City starlet, Patrick Roberts, out of the side and ultimately claimed the position as his own.
Alas, any pundits or punters that remained slightly skeptical of the 27-year-old forward would have chalked up the extended run of form as no more than a useful player taking advantage of playing up front for a dominating team. Forrest’s form would diminish and by next season he’ll be back on the bench. However that hasn’t happened. In fact, he may be playing even better this season.
Despite Celtic’s inconsistent form so far this season, Forrest has remained resolute in providing an all-round attacking threat from the right wing. The Celtic forward’s greatest asset is his ability to score and assist in equal measure and when we took a look at his averages in the 2018/19 season so far we can see that they not only hold up to last season’s superb form but even surpass it in some measures.
As we can see in the graph above, Forrest averaged 0.23 goals per 90 minutes last season and although that has dropped slightly to 0.2 it’s a negligible fall off and still shows the forward is very much on top of his goal scoring responsibilities.
What’s perhaps more important to note is that the Celtic forward’s rate of creating assists has shot up from 0.14 assists per 90 minutes to 0.39. Or, in other words, he’s currently setting up assists for his teammates at three times the rate he was doing it last season.
If you can recall most of Celtic’s games so far this season that makes a reasonable amount of sense. Not only did Forrest bag two assists in the opening game of the season against Alashkert but he also got one in the 3-1 win over Rosenborg and, of course, threaded the final pass for Olivier Ntcham’s goal against Rangers on Sunday. So not only is Forrest picking up an impressive amount of assists, but he’s also doing it in some of Celtic’s biggest and most pivotal games too.
So what part of Forrest’s game has improved to see this sudden jump in assists? When we dive a little deeper in to his stats we can pretty accurately underline a few metrics that should explain why the Celtic winger is proving to useful so his teammates thus far.
A winger’s primary function on the pitch is to fling crosses in to the box and as we can see from the graph above Forrest’s rate of crosses per 90 minutes has jumped up from 2.9 to 3.51. Although the accuracy of those crosses has fallen slightly from 29% to 25%, the sheer quantity of balls in to the box for Celtic’s strikers should far outweigh a slight drop off in accuracy.
When we look at Forrest’s passes in to the box we can also see a notable rise here too. Last season the winger averaged around 2.65 passes in to the opposing box per 90 minutes, which has seen a 40% increase to 3.71 over the same time period. In this metric we’ve also seen Forrest improve his accuracy of passing from 55.8% to 63.1%, suggesting that not only is Forrest making more passes in to the box to his teammates but a higher rate of them are actually finding them too.
Although it’s not directly related to the above stats, it’s also perhaps worth noting that the amount of take ons Forrest attempts this season has dropped slightly from 7.85 to 6.53 per 90 minutes, which may suggest that the winger has stopped trying to beat the very last man to fling in a cross from the byline and started picking out smarter passes in to the box before an opposing defender can make a challenge.
Essentially, Celtic’s evergreen winger has continued to build upon a superb stand-out season with an increased emphasis on accurate passing to his teammates in the final third. And with two goals and four assists to his name in just 12 games for his club already this season, it seems as though we should prepare for another stellar campaign from the Scotland international.