Last week the top two teams in the SPFL Premiership, Celtic and Aberdeen, both dropped points. While refereeing decisions caused debate in both of the matches, I found it interesting that the star men for both clubs this season were either missing or ineffective for their clubs. Adam Rooney missed Aberdeen’s 1-1 draw against St. Johnstone and could miss the next six weeks with a thigh injury. While Leigh Griffiths scored from the spot in Celtic’s 1-1 draw against Hamilton, he also had another penalty saved and was held mostly in check by the Hamilton defense, recording 2 shots where he has averaged 4.99 per 90 minutes this season, 1 shot on target where he averaged 2.86 per 90, and had an xG total of 0.10 where he averaged 0.72 per 90 thus far. While both Celtic and Aberdeen have pulled themselves away from the rest of the pack in the SPFL Premiership this season, both have been heavily reliant on their respective star striker. Celtic had a short stretch without Griffiths and Aberdeen now face an extended amount of time without Rooney, now seems like a good time to look at just what each have meant to their respective clubs.
First let’s look at Celtic’s Goals over Expected Goals for every player thus far in the season (sidetone: I’ve removed some fringe players from the graph just for clarity’s sake. Do you care where Tyler Blackett falls on the graph? Me neither.)
Most of the team is bunched up in the bottom left corner and then we get to…OH GOD LOOK AT LEIGH GRIFFITHS. Griffiths position on the graph looks like the cover to Kanye West’s “Graduation”, flying off the graph compared to the rest of his team. This is no surprise with Griffiths great play, but perhaps the alarming thing for Celtic supporters is the fact that no other Celtic players are even in the same area code as Griffiths. Clearly Griffiths is carrying the load when it comes to goals and scoring chances, having such a much larger expected goals total than anyone else on his team. Griffiths has missed a few matches this season, but for the most part has enjoyed a clean bill of health this season and Celtic are better off for it, as this graph shows they are so heavily reliant of the striker with no one else contributing nearly as much as Griffiths.
Next, let us look at the same graph with the Aberdeen team for this season.
Altogether, a very similar tale to the same graph with Celtic. Niall McGinn might be overachieving a bit scoring 7 goals with an xG of 3.4 for the season, but Adam Rooney has a Griffiths like Yeezy spot on the graph, performing far and away above the rest of his club when it comes to goals and expected goals. With Rooney possibly missing the next six weeks due to injury, it could be tough for Aberdeen to sustain their title challenge without Rooney’s contribution. They will require someone to fill the metaphorical big shoes of Rooney, but might they have some hope for a replacement?
When we look at Aberdeen’s Goals per 90 minutes over Expected Goals per 90 minutes, we actually see someone in the vicinity of Rooney. Milton Keyes loanee Simon Church was sent to Aberdeen for the rest of the season and has done well in his 4 matches with the Dons of Aberdeen so far, scoring 2 goals for a 0.55 goals per 90 minutes and an xG of 0.57 per 90 minutes. While these numbers have come in very limited time for Church, these are very good numbers thus far and Church will need to continue his good form if Aberdeen are to stay in the title hunt.
Looking at the Goals per 90/xG per 90 for Celtic there doesn’t seem to be anyone like Church with Aberdeen for Celtic who could fill in for Griffiths without much of a drop-off. The closest to Griffiths on this graph is Nadir Ciftci and he is busy on loan in Turkey getting sent off 30 minutes into a substitute appearance. With Ronny Deila’s oft debated one striker formation, if Leigh Griffiths is struggling the onus falls on the attacking midfielders on the shoulder the burden for the Celtic attack and this season they have struggled to do so. Kris Commons has the 2nd highest xG per 90 at the club, but has under-performed in goal scoring based on his xG numbers. Gary Mackay-Stevens and Stuart Armstrong look like shadows of the players that were at Dundee United and even the players who were at Celtic last season and scoring against the likes of Inter Milan. “Contract rebel” James Forrest is performing worse than both Mackay-Stevens and Armstrong in both xG and goals per 90, which makes you wonder what he thinks he will be able to earn for a contract outside of Celtic. Last year’s player of the year Stefan Johansen also looks nothing like the player who was voted the best in the SPFL last season, and his meager xG and goal numbers reflect that. With all of these players struggling, Ronny Deila brought in some new attacking midfielders in Ryan Christie and Scott Allan permanently and Patrick Roberts on a eighteen month loan from Manchester City and much of the Celtic support are eager to see what these players can do. With their colleagues in midfield struggling this season, the pressure is on these new arrivals to perform for Celtic. The Bhoys have relied on Leigh Griffiths to bring them success, but as last Friday night against Hamilton showed, they will need other players to contribute if Griffiths is either missing or having a rare game struggling.
Finally, lets take a look at the Goals per 90 minutes compared to shots per 90 for both teams. As is the “Real Football Man” Cliche goes, “you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket.” These graphs looking at both clubs’ shots compared to goals tells a story mostly the same as the other graphs we have looked at so far. Griffiths and Rooney are heavily relied upon for much of attack for both Celtic and Aberdeen, with Simon Church looking respectable in his short time in Aberdeen. It will be interesting to see if either club can find another player who can help shoulder the load on attack for the rest of the season, especially for Aberdeen as they face an extended period of time without Adam Rooney.