Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou on the surprise group who can take team to ‘another level’
Ange Postecoglou sees the situation differently. More minutes for players who have struggled for these among his Celtic squad in recent times is the means by which he believes his Celtic side can remain the cat’s pyjamas. With Celtic last week hitting the 100-mark for goals in all competitions this season, the capacity for ratcheting up performance levels over the remaining three months-and-a-bit of the campaign would appear limited. Postecoglou, though, is homing in on surprising a band of players to supply his side with added vim.
Between them - for a variety of reasons - Tomoki Iwata, Yuki Kobayashi, Sead Haksabanovic, James Forrest, Anthony Ralston and Alexandro Bernebei have precisely seven starts since the turn of the year. That, though, ensures they are sure to be mint fresh for the run in as Celtic chase a clean sweep of domestic honours. A year ago, Postecoglou’s men were being talked about as a 60-minute team for their propensity to flag later in games. Now, they have a coterie of alternatives - to which striker Oh Hyeon-gyu can be added - that obviates the need to squeeze much more than an hour out of any players. The Australian is convinced, in his chomping-at-the-bit squad men, Celtic can display even more bite.
“There are always areas to improve. Our players want to improve,” said the 57-year-old. “They come in here every day looking for improvement and asking us for ways they can do that. I think our football is improving. I think we’re playing better now than we were at the start of the year and we were playing pretty well at the start of the year. My role is to keep pushing and to keep trying to improve.
“There are still guys who want to make more of a contribution and haven’t had much of a chance particularly lately with a game a week. Iwata, Kobayashi, Haksabanovic, Forrest … all of these guys haven’t been able to contribute as much as they would have liked. We’ve [also] got [Anthony] Ralston back [from injury] and [Alexandro] Bernaabei is available. The games will come thick and fast pretty quickly and I think those guys contributing will help us and sort of take us to another level as well.”
Celtic’s apparent ability to renew themselves by revolving their personnel within games would seem to be highlighted by two statistics. The first is that five of their past nine goals have been netted by substitutes. The second is that the two peaks for their Premiership goal plundering are between 51 and 60 minutes, and 81 and 90 minutes.
“Having a strong squad is one thing, but it’s how the players embrace that challenge,” said the Celtic manager. “I think you’ve seen that the guys are taking on that challenge in the right way. Whether they are starting or not, they want to make an impact and a contribution. From my perspective that’s what I’m looking for. The first minute of a football game is just as important as the last so whoever finishes is just as important as who starts. Sometimes it’s the guys at the end who are getting the rewards for the work put in by the guys who start a game of football.”
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