Brendan Rodgers has tinkered tactically at the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign. This has enabled Celtic to remain top of the Scottish Premiership, albeit on the same number of points as Aberdeen, while reaching the Champions League group stages, where they are well-placed to finish third, at least, and stay in Europe beyond Christmas.
The pre-season targets look on course to be fulfilled, though there is uncertainty regarding what constitutes the Scottish champions’ best setup. They have experimented with three- and four-man defensive lines; lone strikers and two-man attacking partnerships; wing-backs and full-backs.
They have also alternated the number of central midfielders chosen, as well as the personnel to fill each role. Club captain Scott Brown is as influential as ever, though the presence of talented Scottish creators Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor, new signing Olivier Ntcham, and the more defensive duo of Eboue Kouassi and Nir Bitton ensures Rodgers has multiple different options in this area.
The question is: What is Celtic’s best midfield line-up?
Armstrong has grown as a player since Rodgers arrived, taking on a role of real importance and developing into a more consistent force. His quick feet, touch and intelligence are vital to the side and, when he is on form, he is arguably the best player in the Scottish Premiership.
Based on the data available, he is also the most effective offensive player in Celtic’s midfield. None of his team-mates have a better success rate in attacking duels than his 83 per cent, while his 4.4 dribbles per game are also higher than any of his colleagues.
In addition, Armstrong makes an average of 0.7 key passes and 0.7 through passes per game. These numbers combined make him his team’s most frequent contributor when it comes to penetrative and chance-making passes.
The only player to come near to him in each of these categories is McGregor. The 24-year-old, who was called up by Scotland for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers, makes 3.5 dribbles per game, 84 per cent of which are successful, while also playing 0.9 through balls on average.
Ntcham is more involved than Brown in an attacking sense, but the Celtic captain is his team’s most effective defensive midfielder. He wins 62 per cent of his five defensive duels per game, while he also makes more interceptions – seven per game – than any of his team-mates.
Bitton is perhaps the next best option in a holding role, as he averages the second-most interceptions per game – 5.5 – while also winning 50 per cent of his 4.2 defensive duels per game.
The data collected suggests that, were Rodgers to go for a midfield duo, Brown and Armstrong are his most sensible combination. But, should the Celtic boss opt for a trident, McGregor should be introduced.