The goal glut that Celtic produced in the opening two months of 2020 proved particularly satisfying for Callum McGregor.
The 26-year-old netted seven goals in the seven weeks of football played before the coronavirus pandemic brought an indefinite suspension to the campaign a fortnight ago. The best scoring run of the midfielder’s career, it took his tally for the season to 13 to also outstrip any previous such total.
Strikers Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths might have claimed the headlines for their potency since manager Neil Lennon switched to a 3-5-2 following the winter break, but McGregor has also been a notable beneficiary, and the results have been outstanding. The champions have taken their overall total to 141 goals and built up a 13-point Premiership lead in the pursuit of their ninth straight title.
“I was really enjoying that spell after Christmas where we’d changed the system,” said the Scotland international in an interview for club magazine the Celtic View. “That allowed me, Ryan [Christie, pictured], Ollie [Ntcham] or Tom [Rogic] to go forward a little bit more. I was getting into goalscoring positions and hit a nice wee purple patch in terms of getting goals. I was feeling good, feeling fit and influencing games, which is what I want to do.
“The volume of goals we were scoring was a combination of the form we were on, the fitness of the players and the system. The change in system allowed us a bit more freedom in terms of going forward because we had the three in front and one behind to try and secure it. That gave us more numbers going forward.
“The gaffer felt like we had become a bit pedestrian and wanted more of a focus on the counter-attack so that when we won the ball and it was in transition, boys would take off straight away and we’d get runners going beyond. He refocused us in that regard to be a bit more ruthless.
“The goals have been a combination of more bodies and a hunger and willingness to get forward quickly. That’s why you saw the numbers go up around November, December time and then into January and beyond.”
As with all at the club, McGregor believes the winter training week at Dubai proved pivotal in all that has come since.
“When we went to Dubai it was the same set-up and idea as we’ve had in previous years so everyone knew exactly what we were doing,” he said. “We all knew we were going to work really hard in the sessions.
“Everyone went out knowing that we were going to focus on the tactical idea of what we were wanting to do, refocus on how we were playing the game and improve the fitness levels. The hard work was done in the morning and afternoon sessions, and then we had the evenings together to really integrate the squad.
“Everyone arrived back fresh and hungry. We took off at a relentless pace, and momentum is a massive thing in football and we had that in abundance.
“We probably didn’t imagine we’d be this far in front but we had to set the pace and beat who was in front of us. The mindset was a case of anyone who comes up against us, we’re going to play our football and if people couldn’t keep up with that we were going to be relentless.”