Why Carl Starfelt has been the victim of confirmation bias following Celtic's defeat by Rangers

There is no disputing we are in the analyst era of footballing scrutiny.

The picture that shows blame for Filip Helander's clinching goal in Rangers derby victory should not have been directed toward Carl Starfelt, with the Celtic defender clearly marking Conor Goldson and only reorientating himself to attempt to prevent his Swedish international team-mate because Helander had been dropped by another team-mate.(Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Confirmation bias is one of the buzz phrases deployed by those that formulate opinions through crunching all manner of data. Essentially, they see their function as often serving to correct it – picking apart flawed judgements against an individual that are rooted in assessments tailored to fit previously settled, often unfavourable, opinions.

Rarely has a performer been the victim of confirmation bias more nakedly than Celtic’s Carl Starfelt consequent to his team’s 1-0 derby defeat to Rangers at Ibrox on Sunday. The Swede has certainly had his injudicious moments since his £4.2million move from Ruban Kazan. Step forward the fresh-air swipe and subsequent standing leg cannon that led to an own goal against Alkmaar last week. A ‘pretty terrible error”, his manager Ange Postecoglou admitted. His clumsy penalty concession in the Premier Sports Cup win over Hearts was another. And he didn’t cover himself in glory at the goal conceded minutes into his debut as Celtic lost their cinch Premiership opener to the same side at Tynecastle.

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Yet, it seemed that these were fed into a swathe of wholly erroneous assessments of the Filip Helander headed strike that condemned Celtic to a sixth defeat in a 20-month seven-game run without a victory in the fixture. Not by the club’s analyst community – Celtic served by many fine ones in the cybersphere – it must be said. This band, as with more astute observers, recognised Starfelt was one visiting player who excelled across an afternoon wherein the champions didn’t open their opponents.

The victors benefitted from a well-executed set-piece – Borna Barasic’s corner and Helander’s run and contact both spot on – but that wasn’t because of any shortcoming on the part of Starfelt. Blame has been heaped on to the 26-year-old because, as Helander powers in his header, it is Starfelt attempting to get his head on the ball. That, though, is the result of Helander’s movement from the edge of the area not being tracked. However, that was not Starfelt’s job, and this is where micro-analysis is instructive.

Conor Goldson was the man the Celtic centre-back matched up with throughout. Minutes before the 66th-minute clincher, Starfelt produced a brilliant back header to thwart Goldson. As the corner sweeps into the box at the goal, it is the Rangers stand-in captain Starfelt is touch tight with. As the Celtic man quickly recognising the ball is drifting wide of the pair, he seeks to re-orientate himself to compensate for the fact a team-mate has failed to track Helander’s run.

In the glib world of ex-player punditry, such nuance was lost, alas. Former striker John Hartson damned Celtic both for zonal marking and then no-one marking Helander, with Starfelt failing in his zone. A certain muddled thinking. Similarly with former Celtic midfielder Kris Commons. “Between them, what were Starfelt and [Stephen] Welsh doing?” he said in his newspaper column. Well, we know what Starfelt was doing, nullifying Rangers’ greatest threat from set-pieces.

Starfelt is actually helping clean up Celtic’s act at the back. He has exhibited a strong temperament, that facet allowing him to recover from his Alkmaar aberration to post a 100% success-rate in five crucial second-half tackles that night. But mud has a bias for sticking.

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