The Scottish football season is finally over and although it was another clean sweep for…
Celtic may have just won another treble of domestic trophies and find themselves in an unprecedented level of comfort atop of Scottish football, but this summer transfer window could prove to be a tumultuous one.
Players have been linked with big-money moves down south, every exciting, young prospect has been seemingly scouted by the Scottish champions and even Brendan Rodgers finds himself at the centre of transfer rumours more often than not. Yet there is one cloud of mystery hanging over Celtic Park that deserves sober consideration.
I am of course referring to the future of Stuart Armstrong. At the end of this month the 26-year old’s contract will enter in to its final year and unless Peter Lawwell makes a surprising change of policy and allows the midfielder to run down his contract, we’ll most likely be seeing the Scottish international depart Glasgow this summer.
But before we huddle around YouTube clips of Armstrong’s best moment for Celtic, sniffling and struggling to hold back tears while we quietly mumble that frustratingly-catchy song Celtic fans routinely sing about him, we have to get to the bottom of something: will Rodgers side actually miss him?
In 144 games for Celtic, Armstrong has 28 goals and 25 assists and over the course of his three years at the club he has proven to be a consistent performer in midfield for both Ronny Deila and now Brendan Rodgers.
When we break those numbers down over each season and compare Armstrong’s average goals and assists per game to that of Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor – his two competitors for that No.10 spot – we get a graphic like the one above.
As we can see, Armstrong’s first full season at the club saw him pick up a relatively impressive 0.44 goals and assists per game. Those figures were below McGregor and Rogic’s 0.48 and 0.61 respectively, but the former Dundee United star soon overtook both in the following season and despite playing a bit-part role in the 2017/18 campaign still averaged a better tally than both.
That may surprise some Celtic fans. Armstrong probably had his best season in the green and white hoops in the 2016/17 campaign, but few Celtic Park regulars would suggest that he was more frequent in front of goal or at setting up his teammates than either Rogic or McGregor this time around. Yet as we can see, the Inverness-born talent overcame both.
The most probably reason for this contrast in the numbers and the perceived performances of all three players over the course of the last 10 months is because we’re talking about the campaign as a whole. When we narrow it down to the more important games we find something more akin with popular opinion.
Indeed, when we break Celtic’s season in to “big games” and “smaller games” we can then figure out which of these three players performed the best when the limelight shone brightest. The graphic above shows exactly that.
As we can see, Armstrong has always amassed the majority of his goals or assists in “lesser” Celtic games – i.e league matches against clubs outside of the top four or domestic cup matches before the semi finals. And although his big-game goals and assists jumped from 9% to 29% of his total, that figure then slumped down to just over 18% in the 2017/18 campaign.
In contrast, Rogic and McGregor have always found a larger chunk of their goals coming in matches against the likes of Aberdeen or Rangers or indeed in cup finals and European competition. This season saw 55% of McGregor’s goals come in these “big games”, while Rogic racked up an impressive 53% of his in games that truly matter to Celtic fans and their manager.
When we narrow in on European games it becomes apparent that although Armstrong may be a more consistent goalscorer or playmaker over the course of an entire season for Celtic, he tends to go hiding in the bigger games.
In over 2000 minutes of football for Celtic in the Europa League and Champions League Armstrong has just two goals and two assists to his name. And not a single one of those have come in two campaigns throughout the Champions League group stages for Rodgers’ side.
When we compare Armstrong’s total G+A per 90 to McGregor and Rogics’ we get something like the graph above. Which, again, has both of Celtic’s other attacking midfielders averaging far better performances in European football.
In fact, according to the data, McGregor is twice as likely to either score or create a goal in European football than Armstrong. And Rogic isn’t far behind him. If each Celtic player hopes to be defined by what they can do against the very best players in the world then Armstrong has been quite disappointing in this regard. And in many ways completely overtaken by not only Rogic but McGregor too.
Of course, Armstrong could still stay put this summer. Although rumours have been aplenty, nothing concrete has stuck as of yet and despite his contract situation there doesn’t seem to be too much impetus to punt the former Dundee United star over the next few months.
However, Rodgers has undoubtedly turned his attention towards Rogic and McGregor and with the latter recently signing a new deal until 2023 it’s clear that Armstrong isn’t the first name on his manager’s team sheet every week. And as we can see from the data labelled above there’s plenty of reason why that would be the case.