Ahead of the big match this Sunday, three members of The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast give their take on Celtic hitman Leigh Griffiths.
Craig Anderson (@craig_killie)
Very few people would disagree that Griffiths is currently the best striker in the SPFL. The Celtic hitman has netted 37 goals in all competitions this season, which is the highest tally any player has managed since Henrik Larsson left the club. He is well on course to become just the fourth player in the last 40 years to reach the 40 goal tally for the Hoops. Griffiths has scored 28 goals in 2383 minutes of Premiership football this season, which is better than one every 90 minutes.
It is clear that he is able to score goals for fun in Scottish football, but Griffiths’ ability to perform at a higher level has been called into question. When he was handed a start for Scotland against Denmark last month, his performance was underwhelming. It should be noted that the first half of that fixture saw him paired with Steven Fletcher in attack - an unfamiliar role for a man who has almost exclusively played as a lone striker in the last four seasons. The second half saw him take up a more familiar spot as the lone frontman, but by that stage Scotland were sitting back on a lead and he saw very little of the ball. Nonetheless, Griffiths must improve his performances at this level if he is to win his doubters over - seven caps and no goals is not a pretty record.
It is a similar story for Griffiths in Europe. The striker has found the net just once in nine Europa League appearances for Celtic over the past two seasons - even Stefan Scepovic managed more than that. However, Griffiths has shown glimpses of what he is capable of on the European stage. He was at his dead-eyed best in the Champions League qualifier against Malmo at Celtic Park earlier this season; his early double put Celtic in the driving seat on the Group Stage motorway. Unfortunately for Griffiths, they hit a roadblock in the form of Jo Inge Berget, and his performance in the second leg was overshadowed by an act of petulance towards the end. Griffiths’ behaviour on and off the field has been called into question in the past, but he seems to have cleaned up his act of late, which will boost his chances of a successful career.
Many of Griffiths’ critics also point to his time in England. He spent three seasons as a signed Wolverhampton Wanderers player, but spent his first six months on the sidelines before spending two years loaned back to Scotland with Hibs. He had just six months as a first team regular at Molineux in League 1 before returning to Scotland to join Celtic. This plays nicely into the “failed in England and returned with his tail between his legs” narrative, but Griffiths’ spell at Wolves was far from a disaster. He scored roughly a goal every other game, and was sold on at a substantial profit.
There is no doubt that some of the criticism of Griffiths is justified. He has not yet proved himself fully at the top level of football. However, I do not believe he gets enough credit for his goalscoring exploits in the domestic game. At the age of 25, Griffiths has already scored over 150 goals in Scottish football. And there are signs that he is just beginning to hit his peak - this season has been the most prolific of his career to date. Assuming that he remains as Celtic’s main striker for the next few years, it’s entirely plausible that he could show Jonathan Wilson was wrong; if anything, goals (and goalscorers like Griffiths) are underrated.
Graeme Thewliss (@THISGraeme)
Leigh Griffiths is Celtic’s second best goalscorer in my lifetime. His two goals against Motherwell at the weekend pushed the 25 year old onto 37 for the season, a total only matched (and indeed surpassed) at Celtic by Henrik Larsson. A number of talented strikers from across Europe have pitched up at Parkhead and performed admirably, and Griffiths has outshone them all.
In an under-performing Celtic, Griffiths has offered a level of consistency lacking across the rest of the team. While others in the squad have drifted in form, Griffiths has slotted regularly, his greatest drought being in the last few weeks, going a whole 345 minutes between his turn and volley against Thistle and his first time shot past Connor Ripley at Fir Park.
Griffiths importance to Celtic’s title push cannot be understated, his 37 goals give him the total of Celtic’s next five top scorers combined. The other recognised strikers (Ciftci, Kazim-Richards and Cole) have contributed a paltry six between them. Quite simply, without Griffiths, Celtic’s challenge would be floundering in a sea of never-have-been and never-will-be centre forwards. His calf injury in December saw Celtic dropping points with lacklustre showings against both Motherwell and Hearts, he marked his return with a vital 90th minute volley past Tomas Cerny.
Griffiths is Scotland’s in-form striker. A frustrating night for Scotland against Denmark gave him little chance to show his qualities, Maloney’s poor pass in the first half robbing him of the opportunity to take on Kasper Schmeichel. Should his form continue, he surely leaves Strachan little option other than to select him in the World Cup Campaign.
Joel Sked (@sked21)
First of all I have to say that I think Leigh Griffiths is a good striker. But is he that good? Good enough to lead a Celtic attack into the Champions League group stages? Good enough to be the striking talisman Scotland are crying out for in its quest to reach the World Cup?
Griffiths has proven himself at Premiership level both in a struggling team and one going for the title. For the former he was a one-man attacking force and for the latter he shrugged off a number of doubters, including his current manager.
You cannot argue with his scoring record against domestic opposition and is in line to win the player of the year thanks in part to his 26 league goals. However, for me there has been no discernible step up from the player who notched 16 goals in 22 matches in the second half of last season. The same qualities and flaws, strengths and weaknesses are still evident.
He can still look like the type of striker whose level is against the likes of Thomas Konrad, Gavin Gunning and Stephen McManus. His obsessiveness for goals can be a burden on three levels:
1)Desperate to score, he can lack composure snatching at chances.
2)He can over think clear cut chances when given time in front of a goalkeeper.
3)He can ignore better placed team mates.
The 25-year-old is a better striker when he has less time to think when presented with a chance and he can reach for the driver. But he has still to master the other clubs in his bag. By doing so he would become even more clinical. However, such a criticism of a goal scorer like Griffiths is like winning millions on the lottery and complaining it isn’t enough.
While he has improved his all-round game under Ronny Deila it is still where he is most fallible and why he is currently no more than a top Premiership striker. He has the attributes to operate in different, deeper, areas but has become so accustomed to the team’s focus on feeding him.
For that next level and to be in with a shout of leading the line for Scotland he has to become more adept at playing with his head up, recognising team mates in better positions and making unselfish runs to open space. Runs such as the one he made against Hearts recently to open space for Patrick Roberts.
For Griffiths to truly become an elite striker he needs to evolve once more and become more involved in every game.
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