The young French striker showed on his debut that he’s equipped with the tools to star in the Ladbrokes Premiership. With this in mind, Craig Fowler looks at how his signing could impact the Celtic squad and what it could mean for the attackers already at the club.
Brendan Rodgers said it himself: “With all due respect to Scottish football, you can’t have three top strikers. You cannot bring in another top striker because the dynamic wouldn’t work within the group, within the model of how we play, it is not going to suit us.”
He did then admit the club needed to look at the situation because of the injuries picked up by his first-choice strikers. That led to the arrival of Odsonne Edouard on a season-long loan, which is perhaps the best type of deal for Celtic’s current predicament. He’s not their player, so if they want to keep him as the third-option, featuring mainly from the bench and occasionally starting when the other two are unfit or rested, then they can do so without worrying too much about whether he’s happy in the role.
On the other hand, Celtic did cover their bases by inserting a first-option clause into the deal which brought him from PSG. They’re leaving themselves open to the possibility that this guy might turn out to be a can’t-miss prospect. If that’s the case, and his debut against Hamilton would suggest it’s not implausible, then Rodgers will have three top strikers on his hands. With only many spaces available in the first-team, someone may find their role reduced. Such as...
Griffiths is the No.1 strikerat the moment but nobody needs to tell the ex-Hibs hitman how precarious a position that can be. Moussa Dembele took that mantle from him last season and didn’t look set to give it back until injury struck. Not only did Dembele appear to be the better player, at least the more rounded striker, but his age and reputation made him Celtic’s No.1 asset in the transfer market. Dropping the Frenchman for his deputy wouldn’t just have represented a football decision, it would have been a business one as well; a spell on the sidelines would have seen Celtic’s hopes of bagging £20million for the player diminish with every passing week.
It’ll be interesting to see how Rodgers decides to ease Dembele back in. Does he foresee the striker inevitably becoming the top dog again, and therefore throw him into the starting XI after a couple of substitute appearances regardless of Griffiths’ form? Or does he give the 2015/16 season’s top goalscorer the chance to keep his job and not have to fear losing it the first game he goes without scoring.
Last season the back-up role still served Griffiths fairly well, seeing as he still played 1342 minutes (equivalent of 15 full games) despite injury issues of his own and netted 12 goals. However, Edouard’s presence will make it difficult to replicate those opportunities. There’s now another option from the bench and another personality to try and keep happy. Griffiths’ morale will take precedent over Edouard’s, as he’s contracted to Celtic, though that may change if they want to take up their option to sign the Frenchman permanently.
Back in training, the striker is expected to return to the matchday squad for the trip to Ross County. It may be arriving just in time. Had Edouard been in place since the start of the summer, giving him further opportunities with which to impress his new manager, it may have given Dembele a tougher route back into the starting XI. As it stands, Rodgers will likely show loyalty to the player who’s been at the club for 15 months over the one who’s been here 15 minutes.
What will be interesting is whether Edouard becomes the long-term replacement for Dembele. Though the constant transfer chatter has died down due to his injury, interest is sure to intensify once he gets back into the side and rattles in a few goals. Celtic have been committed to holding on to him in the past, but one does wonder whether that will be the same going forward. They must be, at the very least, a little concerned with his injury history and whether he’s prone to picking up these two-month lay-offs.
Though they wouldn’t say so in public, Celtic’s transfer model has been largely based around picking up talented young players, developing them and then selling them on. It could be time in January - when their European campaign might be over and the need for three strikers no longer there - to move on from one project to another.
Scott Sinclair/Patrick Roberts
The best way to keep three forwards happy is to play two of them at the same time. To do so, Celtic would, most likely, require a change in formation, which may see the likes of Scott Sinclair or Patrick Roberts rotated out of the starting line-up to make way for the new attacker.
Rodgers has experimented with three-at-the-back formations, both 3-5-2 and 3-4-3, and in domestic football it hasn’t resulted in any noticeable drop off in performance. It would allow him to keep the striking corps happy while also largely sticking with the shape of the side which has worked thus far. (The 4-2-3-1 is almost a 3-5-2 hybrid with Sinclair basically playing as a second striker and Kieran Tierney as a left-midfielder.)
A 3-5-2 would likely see someone else on the left rather than Sinclair, given his propensity to drift inside, while the 3-4-3 would leave Roberts’ role on the right of the front three under threat from Griffiths, who has the ability to drop deep in space, link with midfielders and cut on to his lethal left-foot from distance.
A permanent change to a 3-4-3, which worked so well against Hamilton, could limit playing time for Tom Rogic. For such a system to work at its best, the two centre-midfielders need to be energetic and dynamic, thus enabling them to make up for the extra body opponents are likely to have in the engine room. Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and even Olivier Ntcham fit this model. Rogic does not. He’s at his best as a No.10. And while it’s easy to imagine him performing as one of the inside forwards, it’s still not a role he’s got much experience with.
If terms of all the attackers, the Odsonne signing probably impacts Forrest the least. He’s already in the back-up role now that Roberts has returned, but there will still be opportunities as he plays the role of deputy to the Manchester City loanee. Rodgers has often preferred Forrest for tougher opponents in the past because of his pace and tactical discipline. He also makes Celtic a better team defensively as he reliably protects the full-back, unlike Roberts.
If Celtic switch to a 3-5-2, he’d likely remain the option on the right, since Roberts doesn’t really fit the mould of a wing-back. If they go to a permanent 3-4-3, last week’s win over Hamilton showed there’s still a place for the Scottish internationalist.
Two of the aforementioned alternatives, Griffiths playing away from the No.9 spot or Celtic going with a 3-5-2, would likely see Hayes’ route to the first team become even tougher, since he’s already behind Forrest, Roberts and Sinclair in the pecking order. The ex-Aberdeen man has been short on form and confidence since losing to Celtic, and it’s hard to imagine either of those issues resolving themselves while he sits on the bench. Although, a place as Kieran Tierney’s back-up on the left in a 3-5-2 isn’t outwith the realms of possibility.
Of course, Griffiths is the most likely candidate to be negatively affected by Edouard’s arrival, but that in itself presents a problem. Of all the players we’ve mentioned, Griffiths is perhaps the most likely to stick around the club for the long haul, especially if his manager wants him to. He’s already at his peak, he’s had an unremarkable spell in England before, which may put off potential suitors, and there’s no other club in Scotland could afford him. Besides, Rodgers should want Griffiths to stay. In the Ladbrokes Premiership, he’s a sure-fire 25-goal a season striker if he stays fit.
No matter who loses out, it will be interesting to see how Rodgers juggles all these talents over the next three months.