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Brendan Rodgers chose to experiment with his starting line-up last weekend as his Celtic side took on Motherwell for the third consecutive game.
His decision paid dividends, with his players winning comfortably to build confidence ahead of this Tuesday’s crucial Champions League clash with Anderlecht.
Kristoffer Ajer was given the nod in central defence, while Olivier Ntcham partnered Scott Brown in central midfield. Further forward, Tom Rogic and Jonny Hayes were given starts behind Odsonne Édouard, who netted a hat-trick in the comprehensive 5-1 victory.
The Frenchman hadn’t started a game for several months prior to the latest Motherwell clash, but he showed enough evidence to be given more frequent opportunities.
After tapping home from close range to open the scoring, he found the net with a right-footed drive to double Celtic’s lead. He then capitalised on a poor back-pass to seal his hat-trick, before creating space through intelligent movement for James Forrest to score the Scottish champions’ fifth.
Left-back Kieran Tierney commented on the striker’s performance. “Odsonne was brilliant,” he said. “He was up against physical centre-backs and I think he actually got the better of them physically. He has been great in training and working hard.
“He has obviously had limited chances but he is still young. [The hat-trick] was fully deserved and everyone is really happy for him. It shows the depth…in the squad.”
That depth has given Rodgers yet more selection headaches to decipher. Édouard, in particular, has given him the sort of problem most managers can only dream of: having three quality strikers to choose between for one role.
So, can the 19-year-old force his way past Moussa Dembélé and Leigh Griffiths in the Celtic pecking order? We analysed the tactics and statistics to find out.
ÉDOUARD’S MOTHERWELL PERFORMANCE
Édouard’s three goals against Motherwell demonstrated sound positioning, anticipation and decision-making in and around the opposition penalty box, but this was just the tip of the iceberg as far as his overall performance is concerned.
Outside of those finishes, he demonstrated a number of qualities that will be important to Celtic over the course of the season. Aerially, he was dominant, winning most of the headers he challenged for.
His physical strength, combined with good control, also helped him in holding up and laying off effectively, while his movement off the ball showed signs of real tactical awareness.
The youngster, who is currently on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, put in his most complete display in a green and white shirt to make a concerted case for more consistent selection, and his manager was delighted to witness it.
“Young Odsonne was top class. Take away his goals and his overall game was at a really high level,” Rodgers said afterwards. “He scored three goals, could have had five, he was absolutely exceptional.
“I felt we needed more mobility at the top end of the field…I felt his speed and movement could hurt their centre-halves, in front of them and in behind.
“This boy is a great mover, he's flexible, his touch is good and when it's played up to him, he's strong. He could have been playing a long time ago but you have to respect the other boys and how they've performed.
“He's kept plugging away in training, he's getting better in training and you see his quality today. His touch, his movement to create a goal for James.
“For a kid that's hardly played, he lasted the 90 minutes and that's testament to his fitness and his work-rate. He's an outstanding player that's been unfortunate not to be involved as much, but he took his chance today.”
CAN ÉDOUARD BEAT THE COMPETITION?
Statistically, Édouard is ahead of Dembélé and Griffiths at this stage of the season. In 291 minutes he has scored four times and been directly involved in seven goals. This means he has scored 1.24 per 90 minutes, and been involved in 2.16 goals per 90.
By comparison, Dembélé has hit 1.02 goals per 90 and been involved in 1.26 goals per 90, while Griffiths has hit 0.56 goals per 90 and been involved in 1.06 goals per 90.
However, it is worth noting that these numbers are taken from very different sample sizes. Édouard’s 291 minutes of game time in all competitions pale when compared to Dembélé’s 783 minutes and Griffiths’ 1449 minutes. Ultimately, you would expect his aforementioned stats to drop off with more time on the pitch.
What cannot be denied is that the 19-year-old makes an impact when he plays. Of his seven outings, he has scored and/or assisted in four. And, of the three games in which he didn’t find the net or set up for a team-mate, one was against French giants Paris Saint-Germain and another was a nine-minute cameo in the recent 1-1 draw with Motherwell.
The issue for Édouard is getting into the team when the manager prefers to go with one up front. Rodgers has often had to sacrifice one of Dembélé or Griffiths when opting for either 4-3-3 or 3-4-2-1 systems, and that tactical preference is unlikely to go away simply because another striking option has emerged.
However, having proven his quality in dropping deep, holding up, winning headers, combining with team-mates and finishing chances, the on-loan starlet has made a strong case to be included.
Before, it was Dembélé and Griffiths, with Édouard as back-up, but that dynamic has changed. Finally, the youngster has entered the conversation as to who deserves to start up front for Celtic.