Celtic made hard work of it at times but they got what they deserved in…
Losing is hard no matter the context. However, losing is more difficult to take when you are used to winning on a regular basis. That’s the predicament Brendan Rodgers’s Celtic currently find themselves in as well as the Parkhead support. The Northern Irishman has gifted the club wins and trophies galore, but for the first time, he seems to be experiencing a real stumbling block.
Of course, this is down to a multitude of factors and is far from being black and white. Celtic have lost key players like Moussa Dembele and Stuart Armstrong. Moreover, Rangers and Hearts have both strengthened significantly in the summer. Similarly, after winning successive trebles it must be hard for some to continuously motivate themselves. Whether you agree with the latter or not, it’s difficult to argue that some players in green and white just haven’t been doing enough; Scott Sinclair is one of them.
The 29-year-old ran riot in his debut season in the Premiership scoring a whopping 21 goals and providing 8 assists. Performances have slipped in subsequent seasons and the winger has looked like a shadow of the player he was during that campaign. Perhaps it’s slightly harsh to single out one player, but Sinclair really does act as a microcosm of the current issues Celtic are facing. Just how much has his performance level dropped? Let’s take a closer look.
The Hoops are crying out for the Sinclair of 2016/17 to turn up week in and week out. They’re lacking that cutting edge which has come to define them in the past couple of seasons under Rodgers. The Parkhead side have failed to score in a third of their league matches already this term. Sure you can look to the departing Dembele as one reason, but Celtic have goalscorers throughout their side.
Sinclair’s drop in level is apparent when looking at simple metrics such as goals scored. Back in 2016/17, he was averaging 0.55 goals per 90 minutes which dropped last season (0.39) and has continued to plummet to 0.15 this campaign. What’s more concerning is his expected goals per 90 (xG). Although his xG is higher than his actual goals scored it’s significantly lower than it has been in the past.
This season Sinclair’s xG is 0.27 which is lower than last term (0.39) and the season before (0.61). What does this tell us? Well, not only is he not scoring as much he’s also getting himself in fewer positions where he’d be expected to score. He’s also taking fewer shots on average (2.51) than he was in 2016/17 (2.87). Although for what it’s worth more of his attempts have been on target this season.
Another slight positive is he is partaking in more dribbles per 90 minutes this campaign (6.59). Conversely, his success rate has dropped to 69% from 73.2% in 2016/17 and 74.5% last season. In essence, some of Sinclair’s stats haven’t fluctuated much. Some, like shots and dribbles, haven’t particularly dipped, however, his end product continues to diminish and that’s a real problem. Moreover, the latter is only compounded when we take a closer look at some other aspects of the winger’s performance.
The graph above actually shows that, per 90, Sinclair is averaging more assists this season (0.44) than the previous two campaigns. However, it’s important to point out all three of his assists so far this term have come against lower league opposition in the League Cup or in European qualifiers. He’s also played significantly less game time this season which may slightly inflate his figures. The bottom line is, no assists in six Premiership games for a winger isn’t great.
That said, his expected assists per 90 (xA) is just below the level it was in 2016/17. This highlights that some of Sinclair’s actual assists were down to the striker taking the goal well rather than it being laid on a plate for them by the 29-year-old. In addition to this, when you look at his xA in the previous seasons it’s higher than his actual number of assists meaning he could have had more if strikers had finished the chances he created for them.
Furthermore, on average Sinclair isn’t matching the number of shot assists or key passes he did in his debut season (1.99). Although to be fair to him he’s playing more crosses per 90 this term than he has before. His accuracy (46.4%) is also much better than the last campaign (28.7%).
Sinclair’s numbers show his declining form and are also a symbol of Celtic’s overall drop in performance. He’s less of a goal threat and his final product is lacking which sums up the Parkhead side’s current situation.
The short answer is, no. Looking at his career trajectory Sinclair has bounced around from club to club and although he’s had good seasons at Aston Villa and Swansea he never did it consistently over a number of seasons. Sure, he was an important player for Swansea in their promotion season to the Premier League in 2010/11. He then went on to have a good 2011/12 campaign for the Welsh club, but aside from that, there’s been little to show he can be relied upon to perform at the top of his game consistently.
He’s had numerous seasons where he’s played little first-team football. When he has played he’s shown he can’t be relied upon to lead from the front. In his first season at Celtic he set the bar high. However, when you are signed for millions of pounds by a Premiership club you’re expected to be someone who can pull it out of the bag on a regular basis.
Perhaps Sinclair just isn’t that sort of player? He’s never had three seasons at one club where his level of performance has such a huge effect on the team. Of course, there are other players in this Celtic squad who are underperforming. However, Sinclair has shown us he can romp the Premiership and has the ability to be a game-changing player. That ability seems to have been continuously diminishing ever since the 2016/17 season ended.
Rodgers needs to change something and perhaps Sinclair is one of those who needs to be dropped. Why not give Lewis Morgan a chance? Mikey Johnston has looked lively on the right-hand side so it’s certainly worth a try. Celtic look fresh out of ideas and attacking impetus so what’s the worst that can happen?
Players react best when they know they’ve got genuine competition. Celtic only have to look across Glasgow to see how Steven Gerrard’s squad rotation is proving beneficial. Alfredo Morelos and Kyle Lafferty both look hungry and pose a significant goal threat whenever they are called upon. Similarly, young Ryan Kent and Glen Middleton both look very dangerous and are the kind of tricky wingers that any manager would like to have in their side.
Don’t for a second think I’m suggesting Rangers have a better squad or that Celtic won’t win the league, I’m not. Celtic’s defence, despite losing a last minute goal at Rugby Park, looks significantly improved. A fit Filip Benkovic will make a huge difference to the backline. By the same token, when Odsonne Edouard can rediscover his form then he might pull others up around him. Although currently, Leigh Griffiths is Celtic’s only real goal threat.
In essence, Sinclair symbolises his club’s current struggles. And sure, he isn’t the only one but it’s most frustrating given we know what he can do. Perhaps it’s time we all realise that his inconsistency isn’t really surprising.