The cornerstone of Celtic: Ange Postecoglou explains why 'understated' player is so important to him
Celtic score lots of goals under the Australian and commit most of their team forward when attacking. It can leave them exposed and puts strain on the two centre-halves and goalkeeper that often remain as the only players left in their own half. Under Postecoglou, Celtic have won 50 of their 61 league matches, so defensive scrutiny is often not required. However, the part that Celtic’s two centre-backs play cannot be underestimated, given they are tasked with accurate passing, defensive discipline, winning one-on-one duels and staying high up the pitch.
With Moritz Jenz, Stephen Welsh and Yuki Kobayashi having been deployed at times this season, Celtic’s main duo are Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt. When paired together, on 29 different occasions, Celtic have never lost on Premiership duty. That is a fine statistic. Carter-Vickers is the defender that gets most of the praise but after another clean sheet in the 2-0 win over Dundee United, Postecoglou was quick to point out the virtues of Starfelt, a 27-year-old Swede who signed from Rubin Kazan in 2021.
“Maybe externally, but internally he certainly does,” Postecoglou responded when asked if Starfelt does not get the adulation he merits. “He has been a cornerstone of our team since pretty much the day he arrived last year, he was one of the first ones we signed. You know, I guess he is a bit understated in the way he plays the game. He rarely gets beaten, he is always in the right areas and contributing both to our attack and our defence and it is a credit to him, and Cam. They have a very good understanding and I think our whole defensive work since the break has been outstanding. Led from the front with Kyogo’s pressing, but with everyone really committed to being really aggressive with our defensive work. I think that is reflected, and it gives us the foundation to play our football. Obviously the back four is a big part of that, Joe [Hart, goalkeeper] is a big part of that, but it is just collectively I think our defensive work has been really top notch.”
Postecoglou knows just how vital the Carter-Vickers/Starfelt axis is to his team. “They have a good understanding, they complement each other really well,” explained the manager. “Again they are committed to the way we want to defend. It’s not easy to defend in our team. We are constantly pushing the line, but we want to be aggressive. It means a lot of one-on-one defending, one defending without cover. You need to embrace that as a defender and be willing to put yourself on the line. They are both very, very brave in their position – as they need to be – and it is a credit to both of them.
"We certainly look at it [defence] that for us, it is the foundation we build our football on. If we are working really hard defensively, collectively, and really organised and disciplined it suffocates the opposition. It doesn’t give them time to breath and allows us to wear teams down, break them down one way or another. That’s through everyone being committed to it. We wouldn’t be the attacking side we are and score the goals we do if we didn’t have the defensive framework to fall back on.”
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