Celtic have reasserted themselves atop the Scottish Premiership in recent weeks, hammering their closest rivals Aberdeen before making history with their win over St. Johnstone, which sealed a record-breaking 63rd domestic consecutive game without defeat.
They also put forth an excellent effort in Champions League action, competing with German giants Bayern Munich on their own turf before losing 2-1. The performance deserved more, suggesting the Scottish champions have what it takes to secure third place in their group and Europa League football after Christmas.
Brendan Rodgers, however, appears determined not to allow the side to rest on their laurels. In pursuit of a seventh straight title and a concerted push on the continent, he has reportedly begun the process of identifying players who can strengthen his hand in January, with Liam Moore the latest to be linked.
Celtic have suffered injuries to two of their key centre-backs in Jozo Šimunović and Erik Sviatchenko this season, something that has only been compounded by the recent switch to a back three. Consequently, it makes sense for them to target central defensive reinforcements in the upcoming transfer window.
Moore would fit the bill from a purely positional sense, but why else should Rodgers look to him as a solution? Here we break down the player’s qualities and consider whether he’d be a suitable signing.
WHO IS LIAM MOORE?
At 24-years-old, Moore is an experienced Championship centre-back who made his first breakthrough at Leicester City. He captained the Foxes’ at youth level before joining the first team squad, debuting for them in January 2012.
After loan spells with Bradford City and Brentford in the English lower leagues, he established himself as a regular in Leicester’s starting XI in 2013/14, courting interest from some of the country’s top clubs along the way.
Moore remained on the club’s books as they won the Premier League in 2015/16, though by that time he was more of a squad player and was once again out on loan, this time with Bristol City. Then, in the summer of 2016, he joined Reading on a permanent basis.
He was a key component in Jaap Stam’s side, helping them reach the Championship playoff final where they lost on penalties to Huddersfield Town. He spoke openly of the impact his manager had on his personal progress last term, saying:
“Hopefully we can do the gaffer proud as every piece of information he's passed on to us this season has been vitally important and stuff we can take on board. Every week I feel like I've learnt something new from him and started to create good habits in my game. It's only good for me to be playing under him.”
MOORE’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
As centre-backs go, Moore is comfortable carrying the ball forward. He is fairly composed when under pressure and has no qualms driving on himself if given the space and time. In such instances he is able to call upon good pace and sound technique.
Perhaps learning from his Dutch manager, he is also intelligent in his movement and positioning when helping to build possession from the back.
Often he will move beyond his central defensive partner, Paul McShane, to offer a forward route to the Irishman and eliminate a pressing opponent.
Moore’s willingness to drift and form a connection in possession is arguably more valuable to Reading’s passing game than his actual ability on the ball. While capable, the range and accuracy of his passing is unspectacular.
Defensively, he is an aggressive marker who is willing to follow his opposite man up to the halfway line when appropriate. He does this with full knowledge that he has the athleticism to recover if necessary.
Despite a commanding stature – Moore stands at 6ft 1in – he is not dominant in the air; this season he has only won 54 per cent of his aerial duels. However, most of his main strengths are on the ground and with the ball at feet.
He is an excellent communicator who states his intentions when in possession and always looks to organise the team tactically.
This, along with his aforementioned movement and positioning, go a long way to explaining why only four Championship defenders have completed more passes than him this season.
WOULD MOORE FIT IN AT CELTIC?
Tactically, Moore would theoretically find it quite easy to settle at Celtic thanks to his current team’s style of play.
averages more possession than the Royals’ 55.6 per cent, while only three average more short passes per game than their 411.
In addition, Stam has shown a proclivity for switching from a back four to a back three, meaning Moore has experienced not only playing for a team that prioritises retention and use of the ball, but opt for different defensive shapes. In both respects, he is stylistically prepared for a move to Celtic.
Many of the Scottish titleholders’ current centre-back options come with asterisks attached. Šimunović and Sviatchenko are injured; Mikael Lustig, Kieran Tierney and Nir Bitton prefer to play elsewhere; Kristoffer Ajer lacks experience. This meant he only natural, in form and fully fit central defender available to Brendan Rodgers at present is Dedryck Boyata.
This issue is only compounded by the fact that Celtic have successfully switched to a fluid 3-6-1 shape in recent weeks. Given performances and results in the new system, as well as their desire to go deep in the Europa League, they could do with another centre-back.
The good news is that Moore, as well as fitting their system and style, wouldn’t break the bank. His contract with Reading lasts until 2021, so a free transfer isn’t on the horizon, but reports suggest that the Championship club value him at £5million.
Paying that fee would make the Englishman the Scottish giants’ biggest signing since they brought in Šimunović for over £6million in 2015/16. However, given they would be getting a finished article, not a prospect, it’s a fee worth paying.
Moore has all the attributes to fit in at Celtic and, having played in the English Premier League and Championship, is of the level required to not only fill a temporary defensive void, but substantially improve their back line.