Please enjoy the latest article from the up and coming analytics blogger @BhoysAnalytics
With Jonjoe Kenny signed, Celtic once again have a RB. This article will look at some of the consequences of playing Ajer out of position at RB and the impact this had on his overall game. I believe by doing this I can show, with game play evidence and data, that his move to RB was a complete disaster that subsequently resulted in a poor run of results. It will also demonstrate that Neil Lennon is incapable of seeing and analysing how his decisions cause such catastrophic failures.
Why was he at RB to begin with?
Ajer at RB stems from a very good performance against Lille when the team was finally introduced to Soro & Turnbull. Neil Lennon saw this performance as justification to play Ajer more at RB, but this misses the point – this was a game against a dominant opposition where Celtic had to sit deep and defend for large parts of the game. Naturally, Ajer is a very good defender and his corresponding winger played deeper to help defend.
Problems Start Appearing: The Cup Final
Against Hearts, Ajer had a horror show providing 0 crosses 0xA and only 38% defensive duels. He was culpable along with Shane Duffy (who only played due to Ajer moving to RB) for the first Hearts goal. First, he gets too tight to Aidy White, which allows White to cut inside, with Ajer flying by him. Ajer recovers, tackling the ball to Halliday who he rushes towards. With Ajer’s momentum going away from goal, all Halliday has to do is knock it by Ajer, leaving him stranded not able to challenge. A free cross comes in and goal.
Problems Persist at Livingston
With Frimpong now on the way-out, Lennon feels he needs to move towards playing Ajer at RB no matter the damage. This comes to a head against Livingston at the Tony Macaroni stadium. Ajer, already at fault for the first goal in the Livingston game from losing his man, proceeds to make the same error for the second as he did in the cup final. He panics, engages to early and the ball goes round him. An unpressured cross then enters the box and goal.
A win against the weakest team in the league provide some reprieve for Celtic, but Hamilton missed a sitter. Once again Ajer and Duffy fall to pieces defensively. Ajer allows a cross unchallenged to enter the box again which Duffy flails. Moyo would miss a sitter from 6 yards.
St Mirren Ending
What looks to be the final game for Ajer at RB and the Duffy/Ajer magnum opus. Duffy would cause the first goal, before him and Ajer would combine one last time to cause another goal. Once again Ajer stands off allowing the ball to come into the danger area where Duffy would do his thing and goal.
Ajer has seen his defensive dual win % drop from 73.5% at CB to 59.4% at RB. That is lower than Frimpong at RB who recorded 66.7%. His passing accuracy dropped from 92.6% to 81.3%. Ajer provided 0.12xA P90 (4 chances) however the only clear chance created was the Turnbull goal. Frimpong has 0.16xA P90 this season. For an overall view, total successful actions dropped from 82.5% to 68.8% with the move to RB for Ajer, a huge drop off.
This all may sound overly harsh. It’s important to note Ajer is our best CB and his performances and data in that position are great. He is not an RB as performances showed and the management should have been able to identify this. Neil Lennon and his staff foolishly persisted with this detrimental tactic, causing lots of damage to the club across January. Many of the goals conceded would have been prevented by just having Ajer at CB and Ralston a natural right sided defender on the park regardless of his limited ability. The willingness of Lennon to back Duffy regardless of every shambolic performance should be a sackable offence in itself especially since it meant removing Ajer from CB. At least with Kenny signed, this farce has finally come to an end.
You can follow the author here.