How Celtic’s Kyogo and Giakoumakis work in tandem to torture and tire helpless defenses

Ange Postecoglou ‘Season Two’ was always going to be highly anticipated.

Difficult second album or The Godfather Part II? Experienced Postecoglou spotters say they expect the latter, but that’s just the beginning.

Perhaps what emerges most clearly from Celtic’s pre-season and first four Premiership games is that the mantra is ‘we do plan A better’.

‘Ange-ball’ has many facets and I have covered many of them as you can find on this site. One of the most fascinating is the role of the strikers.

Kyogo Furuhashi scored for the third game in a row on Sunday against Heart of Midlothian. Giorgos Giakoumakis came off the bench to score for the second game in a row.

After those first four games, Furuhashi has settled at 0.76 xG per 90 minutes while Giakoumakis leads the league at a barely sustainable 1.55.

Fitness and wellness aside, it would be surprising if any of them didn’t top the league’s xG charts at the end of the season.

Are they simply better than the strikers of old?

Total number of ball actions

It’s quite a different way of using the central striker compared to lately.

Celtic fans are used to Odsonne Edouard starting from this position inside the left and drifting through these channels on the left side. Leigh Griffiths, meanwhile, would fall into channels on both sides and come deep in search of an early shot and Moussa Dembele would look to engage the centre-backs and fire them to create space for the others.

If we consider a simple count of actions on the ball, the current pair stands out:

We see a drop to less than 30 ball actions per 90 minutes. This season, Furuhashi is at 16.88 and Giakoumakis at 27.53, so this trend continues if not increases.

Attackers are simply not expected to engage in build play.

This season, Furuhashi has completed 15 passes in open play while attempting 10 shots. Giakoumakis completed 10 passes and eight shots.

Are we at the stage where the Celtic striker is more like a netball goal taker – just there to score all the goals and nothing else?

Attack productivity

We can gauge the contribution to goal creation by plotting expected assists per 90 (open play only) and chances created per 90.

Celtic Way:

Giakoumakis, in particular, is barely involved in incidental creation for others. Furuhashi more so but, keep in mind, this data includes the time he spent outside as a left-sided striker.

The gold standard for this view is Edouard’s 2019-20 season. He operated simultaneously as an elite level striker in the Europa League and a number 10. Logically, Celtic really should have sold him at the end of this season.

What are these strikers doing?

Consider possessions in the opposing box, again by 90.

Celtic Way:

The two current attackers manage more possessions in the area than Griffiths in two seasons but much less than Edouard and even Albian Ajeti.

This despite Postecoglou teams having more possession and generating more shots overall. Not up to those lazy guys, huh?

Celtic Way:

Well, they have their attractive aspects. Not only does the current pair hit the target more than 50% of the time, it converts almost identically 30% of the everything strokes.

Note that Ajeti of the 2020-21 season represents a wasted opportunity. He’s out of favor now, but the raw data suggests he was hoping to play a role similar to the current strikers. Such is soccer.

Furuhashi and Giakoumakis’ conversion rates seem unsustainable, but perhaps it’s a function of the positions they receive the ball from and shoot from.

Celtic Way:

A simple thought for those coaching young kids – you’re more likely to score if you shoot inside the box, from central positions, than not.

Furuhashi and Giakoumakis are taking far more shots from inside the box than their recent peers. Both are above 90 percent for this. This season, neither has attempted a single shot from outside the box.

That does nothing to dispel the building image of thoughtless guys lingering in the six-yard box waiting for tap-ins. We have all played with such players in the school playground. My own minor football history has seen such largesse.

Defensive Actions

Of course, this is not a fair representation. Except for dramatic narrative purposes.

Few would say that Edouard was a versatile striker with a powerful mix of creative and goalscoring abilities, who was also quick and strong.

With thanks to James Dailey – also from this parish – for developing this “Striker Defensive” radar using Statsbomb data, here we compare Edward to Furuhashi:

Celtic Way:

The Japanese’s defensive performance eclipses the Frenchman’s in every category except (unsurprisingly) aerial wins and (more surprisingly) counter-pressure replays.

Furuhashi overtakes, intercepts and tackles Edouard.

Here is the same view comparing Edouard and Giakoumakis:

Celtic Way:

This contrast is even more striking with Edouard who comes in first only by being less easily dribbled.

From my own data, I calculate the success rate percentage of defensive actions. This looks at the results of all defensive actions and the percentage indicates whether the player was successful in winning the action or securing possession.

Celtic Way:

Current forwards are almost playing a different sport compared to the defensive success of previous recent forwards.

Their success rate percentage in defensive action is almost double that effort.

Summary

Last season, with the arrival of Giakoumakis without pre-season, then Furuhashi overloaded and then seriously injured, there was very little chance of seeing the current routine “Furuhashi in first half, Giakoumakis in second half” used this campaign so far.

The Japanese striker torments the defense with relentless pressure and movement, exhausting bodies and minds, before the more exuberant Greek comes on and provides even more defensive intensity combined with a physical challenge to weary bodies .

Giakoumakis’ 94th-minute goal against Hearts also highlights his exemplary movement off the ball into the box and over a few yards.

The current strikers are not the ‘best’ players Celtic have had in their ranks. However, they work under very specific team orders which the pair are able to follow admirably.

These are namely:

  • Minimize involvement in construction play
  • When the ball is wide, do not go outside the width of the posts
  • Shoot from the center and inside the box
  • Harass opponents relentlessly
  • Don’t worry about getting tired, because your companion will be here soon

With the two players currently fit, the manager can use two very different players in stature and style who produce very similar data due to the strength of the system they are asked to operate in and their strong team ethos, which means they follow the team’s orders.

That’s how you build winning teams on a relatively – in Champions League terms anyway – small budget.

Maria D. Ervin