Graham Ruthven: Here’s why Celtic are struggling to score

Our Scottish football writer Graham Ruthven looks at the reasons why Celtic just can’t seem to get it going in front of goals this campaign…

Comments

By this stage of the 2017/18 Scottish Premiership season, five games into the campaign, Celtic had yet to suffer defeat, dropping points just once.

But the starkest indicator of their form came in their tally of 12 goals from five fixtures. In contrast, Brendan Rodgers’ side have scored just five times over their opening five matches this season.

Celtic’s troubles over the early part of the season have been well documented. There was their failure to qualify for the Champions League, the saga concerning the future of Dedryck Boyata, the pointed comments of Rodgers directed towards the club’s board regarding a lack of transfer market investment and finally the sale of Moussa Dembele in the final week of the window.

Most concerning of all, though, has been Celtic’s form.

Get the latest odds on Scottish football at PaddyPower.com

From five league games this season, they have won three, drawn one and lost one. For any other side, that would represent a solid start, but even in the games Rodgers’ side have won, the margins have been narrow – two 1-0 wins and a 3-1 win over newly promoted Livingston on opening day.

So why are Celtic struggling in front of goal?

They boast the strongest attacking line in the Scottish Premiership, after all, with Leigh Griffiths and Odsonne Edouard the league’s two best strikers. Celtic averaged 1.92 goals per game in the Scottish Premiership last season and a staggering 2.79 goals per game the season before that.

With all this in mind, what’s happened?

There are a number of factors to highlight in explaining why Celtic have lost their scoring touch of late. One of those factors can be found in the players lost by the Scottish champions over the summer, primarily Stuart Armstrong.

Armstrong’s form in his final season at Celtic was patchy. At times he was even a peripheral figure, playing second fiddle to Callum McGregor, who enjoyed the season of his life.

£7m seemed to be a more than fair price for a player some considered surplus to requirements at the club. But, it is only now that we are seeing just how important Armstrong was to the Hoops.

He was a driving force from deep. Armstrong offered something different to the likes of Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham, who have established a strong midfield partnership over the past season or so.

He opened up space, either for himself or others. He joined up the dots for Celtic in the attacking third of the pitch.

The failure to sign a centre back dominated the transfer market agenda in the summer, but it now transpires that the failure to sign a replacement for Armstrong was just as damaging.

Celtic also lost Patrick Roberts, who returned to parent club Manchester City, with Daniel Arzani, also loan from Manchester City, playing academy football and left out of Celtic’s Europa League squad.

Celtic’s lack of depth is already taking its toll, with the early start to the season due to Champions League qualification testing the Hoops just a handful of games into their Scottish Premiership title defence.

It’s only now, with the transfer window long since closed, that Celtic are being linked with attacking midfielders. Wigan Athletic’s Nick Powell, for instance, has been linked with a move to Glasgow.

Of course, Celtic no longer have Dembele to call upon.

The Frenchman, when fit and firing, was the best goalscorer in Scotland.

Dembele frequently found his best form in Europe and so Celtic might miss him when they host Rosenborg in their opening Europa League game on Thursday night.

Rodgers is a coach who emphasises the worth of the team unit over the individual, though. Celtic are better than they have shown in recent weeks, even without Dembele.

A big European result against Rosenborg would lift the mood around the club, changing the tone of the season so far.

Some of Celtic’s issues will take a while to untangle, but they can’t waste any more time in addressing their scoring problem.

Head over to PaddyPower.com for the latest European football odds

What do you think?