How Celtic have become caught up in a desperate game of whack-a-mole

It has been stated emphatically by all that Celtic’s title tanking can be attributed to desperate defensive inadequacies. Curiously, the assertion is half wrong.

Mohamed Elyounoussi fails to find the net in Celtic's last outing, with the raft of chances passed up in the scoreless draw at Tannadice typifying the bluntness that has afflicted the Parkhead side over the second half of a torturous season.(Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The perception is that Rangers romped to the championship because they were impenetrable at the back as their rivals Celtic couldn’t keep weans out of a close. Yet, with 32 games of the 38 played, this narrative demands reassessment.

If we split the league campaign into two, the figures are startling, and surprising. While in the early months of this term Celtic leaked like a sieve, they have largely addressed such problems. Only for another to pop up. Over their past 16 Premiership games, Rangers conceded five goals. In that same match-span, Celtic coughed up nine goals. Hardly a divergence to explain the 20-point chasm that exists between the pair ahead of their derby meeting in Glasgow’s east end on Sunday. Drill down further and the defensive comparisons are even more pronounced than the differences. In their past 16 league games, Rangers posted 11 clean sheets. In the same sequence, Celtic had nine shut-outs.

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So why, you should be asking at this point, did the Ibrox men drop only four points in that time as their ancient adversaries dribbled away 18 points? The answer to that lies in goalscoring, which, even as their form nosedived across the first half of the season, didn’t really desert Celtic. Only for it to do so just as they appeared to resolve acute issues at the other end of the pitch.

In a quarter of Celtic’s last 16 Premiership encounters, they failed to find the net...on the back of doing so in all but one of their first 16 such games. Rangers, meanwhile, scored in every one of their past 16. They did so after having had the same number of scoring duck eggs before the turn of the year as the now deposed champions.

Had Celtic scored only one goal in each of the four confrontations they drew blanks in this year it would have resulted in an eight-point swing at the top of the Premiership. In that scenario, the title would still be, at least nominally, in play. Football doesn’t work this way, of course, but had Celtic produced their defensive numbers from the second batch of 16 league games in their first 16, and their attacking numbers from the first 16 in their second 16, they would at least have been competitive in their drive for a 10th straight title. As, frankly, they haven’t been since October.

Problems in the forward areas as the championship ceased to be a live issue can be evidenced by Celtic netting only once in their past three games - a fortunate deflected strike in 1-0 home win over Aberdeen on February 17. In the 1-0 loss away to Ross Country and the scoreless draw at Tannadice that sandwiched this encounter, Celtic created, and missed, no end of opportunities. In the past month, Odsonne Edouard, whose scoring thermostat has veered widely this season, again seems to be blowing more cold than hot. At a time when not one of the five players utilised as frontline support - Leigh Griffiths, Patryk Klimala, Albian Ajeti, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Ryan Christie - has found the net. The league table betrays the consequences.

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