Celtic have struggled for goals in recent months. Since Neil Lennon returned on an interim basis, they have found the net just eight times in as many games. Yet, while the manager has been blamed for this in some quarters, it’s worth considering the lack of quality strike options he has available to him.
This issue perhaps explains why the club have recently been linked to Silas Wamangituka.
The reigning Scottish champions’ attacking hopes are currently pinned on Odsonne Edouard. Leigh Griffiths has been given time away from the game to deal with personal problems, while January signing Vakoun Issouf Bayo played just one minute before succumbing to injury.
This lack of viable candidates has led to wingers Mikey Johnston, Oliver Burke and Timothy Weah being used as makeshift strikers. But neither of the three have looked entirely comfortable leading the line, and the latter two will leave when their loan deals expire at the end of the season.
Edouard may soon be joined by another youngster who first made his name in France, however, if recent reports are to be believed. Silas, a 19-year-old Congolese forward plying his trade in the French second tier with Paris FC, has been linked with a £5million move to Celtic this summer.
There is likely to be competition for the player’s signature, with Liverpool, Arsenal, Barcelona, Fiorentina and Hamburg among the teams said to be keeping tabs on him. Furthermore, the youngster’s agent has tried to cool speculation.
“There is a lot of talk around him but we do not care about that,” Olivier Belesi said. “There are big clubs interested but we manage all of this quietly, without pressure. Silas has the potential and the qualities to go higher and that is why we will make no mistake with the project we propose. We keep Silas focused on the field.”
One of the first things modern scouts will do when analysing potential additions is look at a player’s statistics. So in order to consider whether Silas would be a worthwhile signing for Celtic, we have to assess his numbers. The best way to do this is to compare them to those of other strikers playing for stylistically similar clubs at the same level.
Paris FC average 50 per cent of possession in Ligue 2. Three other clubs average a similar amount – Ajaccio, Auxerre and Sochaux. Their main strikers are, respectively, Ghislain Gimbert, Remy Dugimont and Abdoulaye Sane. So, how does Silas compare to them?
Firstly, there is little discrepancy between the 19-year-old’s expected goals (0.37) and his actual goals (0.39) per 90 minutes. He is in fact slightly over-performing, so it looks like he tends to finish the chances that come his way.
🚀 La fusée Silas Wamangituka a encore frappé ! Un rush de 50 mètres et un but qui donne la victoire au Paris FC sur le terrain de Troyes 😍
Posted by Paris FC on Saturday, February 9, 2019
Beyond that, Silas’ overall output is good. He completes 2.58 dribbles and 1.33 progressive runs per 90 – of the three strikers chosen for comparison, only Sane comes remotely close in both of these areas.
The Sochaux hitman does, however, best the Celtic target when it comes to shot assists. So too does Dugimont, though there is only a 0.04 per 90 difference.
These numbers indicate that Silas is not only a good finisher, but that he is willing and able to take on his opposite man and regularly looks to make forward runs off the ball. The data also suggest that he sets up teammates on a relatively frequent basis, if not as often as his peers.
Today’s striker is still reliant on beating men, making runs and scoring goals, though they are also expected to provide defensively. Pressing is a key element in most tactical approaches, and this starts with the frontmen.
With the above in mind, Silas’ defensive numbers are encouraging.
He wins far more defensive duels than any of the other three aforementioned Ligue 2 strikers, while he also recovers the ball more often. And, when it comes to interceptions, only Gimbert makes more per 90.
Silas’ stats, compared to other strikers playing for similar teams at the same level, are highly promising – even more so when considering he is, at 19 years of age, much younger than the other strikers mentioned here.
But does the data match the eye test? In short: yes.
Most of Silas’ nine league goals this term have come as a consequence of his composure. When presented with a chance to shoot he doesn’t panic or opt for power; rather, he bides his time and places his shots.
The teenager also appears a confident dribbler with a decent turn of pace. He likes to run at defenders when an opportunity arises, while he also looks to get in behind opposition back lines.
As seen below, he identifies space opening in the channel between the centre-backs, asks for a long ball from his teammate, then gets on the end of it.
Silas isn’t exceptional in the air considering his 6ft 2in frame, but he is comfortable playing with his back to goal. His touch is generally clean, allowing him to control passes to feet even when under direct pressure.
And even if he can’t secure the ball immediately, he uses his body extremely well to hold off aggressive markers before finding teammates with simple lay-offs. This particular characteristic would help him deal with the physical man-marking seen in the Scottish Premiership.
He is also intelligent when it comes to progressing attacking moves. Most of the time his link play consists of receiving, passing short, then running in behind to get on the end of the move. But when a good run is made off of him, he is capable of playing more incisive passes, as shown below.
Silas’ defensive numbers also make sense when watching him play. He is heavily involved in pressing from the front, often closing down the ball-player to reduce his time and space available to pick a pass out from the back.
The prospect continues to apply pressure to the ball even when it has bypassed him, which is a good sign. He doesn’t switch off, but remains engaged and willing to work, pressing backwards or sideways.
Below he shows his awareness in this aspect of the game. He doesn’t just close down the ball-playing opponent, but angles his run so as to cover shadow the opponent behind him. In this way he simultaneously closes the ball whilst also cutting off an otherwise viable forward passing lane.
Celtic have a habit of taking talented young strikers and developing them into well-rounded finishers. In recent years they have accomplished this with both Edouard and Moussa Dembele, who can now be found rattling in the goals for Lyon in one of Europe’s best leagues.
Silas could well be the next forward to progress at Parkhead. Not only does he fit the club’s transfer policy but his calmness in front of goal, ability to get at and behind defences, and quality holding and linking up suggest he would suit their style of play.