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Callum McGregor: Ace In Rodgers’ Celtic Pack

 • by Sam McGuire
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Brendan Rodgers’ unbeaten streak in the Scottish Premier League is still alive after Callum McGregor’s double against Hibernian helped Celtic come from behind to pick up a point.

It’s the second time this season that the 24-year-old has stepped up and delivered for the Bhoys, with the rest of the team struggling to hit top form in certain matches. He scored the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with St Johnstone at the end of August to salvage a draw.

These might not be considered big games but to have the mentality, and the personality, to put in a performance when others are flagging is something that shouldn’t be overlooked or taken for granted.

McGregor may not be a household name but he’s an integral member of Rodgers’ squad. Gordan Strachan has finally acknowledged just how much of an asset he can be and has named the versatile midfielder in the latest Scotland squad after the player’s club team-mates Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong dropped out with injuries.

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His form warrants the call-up and the team will be all the better due to his involvement.

Celtic keeper Craig Gordon insisted McGregor couldn’t have done anything more in his bid to force his way into Strachan’s plans. 

Gordon, who will earn his 50th cap against Slovakia on Thursday, was asked if there was anything more McGregor could have done to impress the Scotland manager: “I don’t think he could have – his finishes against Hibs were brilliant.

“He was so calm to stick them away and every time he is called upon he is so reliable. He’s a really good footballer and never complains even if he doesn’t start every game. If he’s coming off the bench he comes in, creates goals and scores.”

It’s been somewhat of a fairytale 12 months for the Celtic youth graduate who recently signed a new four-year deal with his boyhood club. Under the watchful eye of Rodgers, McGregor has matured into the sort of player every manager dreams of having at his disposal.

He’s a versatile midfielder who can do a number of jobs and impacts the defence as much as he does the attack. He can play with either foot and he’s energetic, but  it’s his spatial awareness and the timing of his runs which gives him that something special.

By trade he’s an attack-minded centre-midfielder who likes to drive forward both with and without the ball; he can break the defensive lines and is always looking to play on the blindside of the opposition.

McGregor shares traits with Frank Lampard and Dele Alli. However, he’s got the unpredictability factor due to the fact he can use either foot and he’s unnervingly calm when he gets into the penalty area.

McGregor makes it look easy

More often than not, when a player makes something look easy it’s overlooked and almost taken for granted. McGregor’s goals always seem to have that feel about them and it’s because he makes it look effortless. It happened for both goals against Hibernian.

You see McGregor circled in the above picture. He’s in a central midfield position as Celtic look to build from the back like they so regularly do.

The ball is worked to the Celtic left and played down the line. As soon as this happens McGregor is on his bike and looking to attack the space. Many midfielders in this scenario are just looking to support the attack but the Celtic man is looking to become a goal threat.

Despite the away side having seven players within 20 yards of him he’s able to pick the ball up with a fair bit of space considering the situation he’s in. He then puts the ball on to his left foot and drills an early shot past the keeper. It looks easy, and it is, but only because of his incisive movement during the build up phase.

His second on Saturday looked even easier. But once again it’s because of McGregor as a player. As the ball comes in you see the midfielder circled on the edge of the box. You see from his shape he’s primed to attack the space in the penalty area if the opportunity presents itself. Many who pitch up in that area of the pitch these days are there to recycle possession and keep the pressure on.

Because McGregor is on his toes as the ball comes in he’s the first to react to the ball bouncing loose in the area, despite others being closer to the ball. He calmly strokes home and Celtic are level.

So far this campaign he’s scored five goals and has two assists to his name in just 494 minutes worth of Scottish Premier League action, meaning he’s currently involved in a goal every 70 minutes. He’s not going to be a regular starter for Rodgers but to have someone of his quality coming off the bench is a big bonus.

McGregor is a match winner and a game changer; and he’s finally getting the credit he deserves for it.

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