Celtic Have Found a Midfield Maestro in Olivier Ntcham

In their last match up against city rivals Rangers, Celtic saw two Frenchmen end up on the scoresheet in their pivotal 3-2 victory. Yet it was neither Moussa Dembele nor Odsonne Edouard that ended up with Man of the Match honors, but rather countryman Oliver Ntcham that was chosen. Ntcham put forth an assured performance in the middle of the park for the Bhoys, something that Celtic supporters have grown accustomed to from the French midfielder in his first season in green and white.

If we look at Ntcham’s goal contributions in SPFL play so far, we see that he has scored 5 league goals this season. Of those goals, 3 have come from outside the 18 yard box and he has an xG of 2.89 (0.17 per 90 minutes). While the intention of this article is to praise the play of Oliver Ntcham, a criticism you could have about him is his shot selection. 42 of his 50 shots this season have come from outside the box, or 83% of his shots in SPFL play.

Ntcham Shot Map.png
Olivier Ntcham Shot Map: Hey Olivier, why not try a shot in the box?

Scoring 3 of 50 shots is good for a conversion rate of 6%, which is higher than average (roughly 4-5% is average in the SPFL) for outside the box, but is still not a shot we would expect to go in that often. We could expect his goals coming from outside the box to start to dry up, as he is currently over-performing what we would expect. While Ntcham’s job in the Celtic line-up is not necessarily to be a goal threat, if he is going to attempt 2.9 shots per game, getting those shots in a more dangerous position will help him become an even better player.

Ntcham ling

While Oliver Ntcham’s shot selection may need work, you cannot help but be
impressed by his ability to pick a pass. Both anecdotally and statistically, the French midfielder has been impressive in his play-making this season. Though he only has 1 assist in league play so far, his underlying metrics have been quite impressive, with a total Expected Assists of 4.21 and 0.21 per 90 minutes, which is 9th in the league.

He also has a total Expected Secondary Assists (this is the same as expected assists, but for the pass before the pass before the shot) of 3.46 and 0.20 per 90 minutes, which is 2nd in the league. If we combine these passing metrics of xA and xSA, Ntcham has a total of 7.67 and per 90 of 0.44 which is fourth best in the league. All of these numbers show an impressive showing for Ntcham in his first season in Scotland.

Ntcham Pass Map
Olivier Ntcham Pass Map where he and teammates typically are when he sets them up (Open Play Only)

Looking at the pass map above, we see the median location of where Ntcham is when he makes a key pass (or the pass that leads to a shot) and average location where the player who took the shot was. It is clear that Ntcham makes his mark in the center of the pitch and from outside the box when setting up his teammates. We also see that he is most often setting up Celtic’s most dangerous goal threats such as Scott Sinclair, Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest, and Tom Rogic in the box, where they are more likely to score. Below is a perfect example of this, where we see Nthcam make a killer through ball from the middle of the pitch to find Griffiths in a high probability scoring location and Griffiths is able to finish.

While it is often referenced, for the most part there is not much one can gather from looking at a player’s pass completion percentage alone as a stat. This metric does not speak to the type of pass a player is attempting. If the player is just playing simple back passes, they would likely have a high completion percentage but that does not really tell us anything about the passing ability of that player. It is for these reasons most of those analytically inclined prefer metrics such as xA or Expected Passing (a metric that the data needed to calculate for Scottish football is not publicly available).

SPFL Pass % & xA xSA

However, if we combine a player’s pass completion percentage with expected assists and expected secondary assists, we can see how accurate their passing is and what type of passes they are making. Above is a graph featuring every SPFL player (minimum 900 minutes and averages at least 0.33 Key Passes per 90 minutes) total pass completion percentage and their xA+xSA per 90 minutes. That top right quadrant is where a player has completed higher than average percentage of their total passes, has a higher than average xA+xSA per 90 and where we can surmise the top passers in the league. Sure enough, we see Olivier Ntcham there among other names we would associate as among the best passers in Scotland. Ntcham not only is completing a high number of his passes, but the key passes he makes are more dangerous than most other players in the league.

Ntcham 3

In his first season in Scotland, Olivier Ntcham has been a great addition to the Celtic midfield. He has chipped in goals for the Bhoys, though if we look at his underlying numbers for goal scoring we could guess he might not be able to sustain that. We can definitely surmise that based on his passing metrics that he can continue to pull the strings for Celtic in the midfield though.

At the beginning of the season, the Celtic midfield seemed to be deep, with lots of options. However, as the season has progressed, Olivier Ntcham has started to pull away from his teammates and appears to be certain to start any big matches Celtic have. Given he is only 22 years old, if the French midfielder can continue this form and these metrics, it is hard to imagine that he will not start to gain the attention of bigger leagues and teams and Celtic may be able to cash in on another big transfer fee.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.