Let's just be frank; Hibs have been excellent this season. Similarly, Hibs' midfield has been…
Celtic’s 1-1 draw with FK Suduva was one of the worst performances we’ve seen from the Glasgow side since Brendan Rodgers arrived in Scotland. However, while the coach berated his defensive line – suggesting they lacked “pride” – in the post-match press conference, Rodgers would surely have taken issue with his team’s behaviour up the other end of the pitch too.
While the Scottish champions dominated possession throughout the match, Thursday night’s clash was a game in which Celtic seemed to not only struggle to come to terms with a bumpy, unforgiving surface but also looked at odds with the manner in which they’re supposed to attack the opposing team in unison.
Scott Brown slowed transitions and counter attacks down to a snail’s pace, Moussa Dembele roamed the pitch in search of any kind of service and aside from the lively Mikey Johnston on the left wing, Celtic’s attacking players looked tepid if not downright terrified of taking on their man in fear of losing the ball. The team’s defence may be stealing the headlines and column inches at the moment, but this attacking line also looks far from spectacular.
Rodgers certainly deserves credit for throwing a new factor like Johnston in to the mix to try and shake things up, but while the 19-year old undoubtedly looks like an exciting, young talent it does raise questions over the purpose of players like Ryan Christie and perhaps more pertinently Scott Allan in this squad. If the Celtic manager is willing to turn to an unproven player from the youth academy, why won’t he use slightly older players that have proved themselves in the Scottish Premiership?
Allan has long since been a point of contention for many Celtic fans. There’s no secret that the Glasgow-born talent has always been a Rangers supporter and would have relished the opportunity of joining the club before Celtic swooped in for his services in 2015. Unwanted by Ronny Deila at the time, Allan never got an opportunity to prove his worth to a skeptical support and since then the attacking midfielder has found himself in the reserves or out loan with very little sympathy from the Celtic support.
However, there’s no denying that the player wasting time on Celtic’s bench could undoubtedly bring something to this team. And when we take a look at his stats over the past 12 months of Scottish football we can clearly see a player that may be able to fill a few holes in this troubled Celtic attack.
Last season Allan spent half of the Premiership campaign at Dundee and the other half at Hibernian. Considering that neither of these teams are as good as Celtic, it would stand to reason that the 26-year old would have struggled to create as many chances for either team as he would if he were lodged in the middle of Rodgers’ all-conquering side. However, quite the opposite happened to be the case.
Despite the relative limitations of Simon Murray, Anthony Stokes and Marcus Haber, Allan averaged an incredible 0.35 assists per 90 minutes. The highest any regular Celtic player could manage last season was James Forrest with 0.19 assist per 90 minutes. Indeed, as we can see in the graph above, Allan also enjoyed a much higher xA (expected assists) average of 0.3, while blowing his Celtic counterparts out of the water with no less than roughly 2.97 through passes per game. And his key passes (the pass that leads to a teammate’s shot) per 90 minutes stands at an impressie 0.82, which is over twice Tom Rogic’s average from last season.
That’s not to say that Allan is a better playmaker than Celtic’s current crop of attacking midfielders. There’s no doubt that at Dundee and Hibs the player was allowed to be the focal point around which Neil McCann and then Neil Lennon built their attacking arsenal around. But there’s also no reason to suggest that Allan couldn’t produce similar numbers for Celtic.
Celtic already have plenty of goalscorers in the team – they have three, outstanding strikers on top of very direct, midfielders like Forrest, Rogic and Scott Sinclair – but when it comes to playmakers that can weave between the lines and put chances in front of the aforementioned goalscorers they’re limited to Callum McGregor and perhaps Olivier Ntcham. After that it becomes a little bleak.
What furthers the case for Allan’s inclusion in Rodgers’ side is the holes he can fill in this team. Sure, Allan would rightfully be on the bench if he was solely used as a No.10 through the middle of the park, but as we can see from his heat map from last season he actually tends to drift out left and play as something of an inside forward.
It’s here that Rodgers could undoubtedly use some fresh blood. While Sinclair has looked useful in bursts – notably against Championship side Partick Thistle – there’s no doubt that Rodgers needs cover and a genuine alternative to the English forward. And if he isn’t interested in playing Lewis Morgan – which certainly seems to be the case – then the Celtic manager should seriously consider sticking an advanced playmaker like Allan in to the role.
Similarly, Rodgers still hasn’t found a replacement to Stuart Armstrong. Allan may not be the perfect, like-for-like alternative to the Southampton midfielder, but he can play in the centre of out left like Armstrong once did. At least in the numerous, domestic competitions that Celtic will have to contend with, whilst chasing European glory.
With one week left to go in the transfer window we may well see Allan depart from Celtic and continue his career elsewhere, but if the Scottish midfielder is set to remain in Glasgow, Rodgers surely has a duty to take advantage of the considerable talent that seems to be doing little else besides putting out the training cones at Lennoxtown each and every week. The Scottish champions need an injection of new ideas and fresh solutions to their stagnant attacking line and Allan may be able to offer exactly that.