Celtic playmaker Tom Rogic, much like his club as a whole, suffered a tough start to this season. His team consistently put in stale attacking displays and struggled to find the back of the net, and he was at the heart of the malaise.
Prior to last weekend, the Australian had failed to score a single Scottish Premiership goal in six outings this term. He had also contributed just one assist. Having a direct hand in one goal every six games is an unusually low tally for him – in 2017/18 he averaged one goal or assist every 2.1 games, while in 2016/17 he averaged one goal or assist every 1.8 games.
This decline in productivity led to Rogic being dropped by Brendan Rodgers for three consecutive matches. However, he returned to the starting line-up – and to his very best form – away to St Johnstone last Sunday, helping Celtic to a stunning 6-0 win that suggested they are back in business, and our friends at Football Whispers look at how his resurgence has breathed new life into the Hoops.
The reigning Scottish champions needed a performance like this. After a tricky opening ten minutes, they began to click offensively in a manner rarely seen this season, combining with one another and opening up the opposition defence regularly. James Forrest was the main individual beneficiary of the play, scoring an incredible four goals and earning praise from his manager in the process.
“It was great for James and it marked off a challenging week for him,” Rodgers said of Forrest after the win. “He’s shown, not just in Scotland, his quality and ability and his finishing. It was an outstanding individual performance.”
But while Celtic’s pacey wide man was the finisher of most of his team’s chances, Rogic was often the architect. Playing in his favoured attacking midfield role, he relished being the creative heartbeat in a slightly modified system.
Rodgers recently opted to field both his natural No.9s, Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths, up front, with the former operating more towards the left wing. This change initially seemed like bad news for Rogic, who dropped out of the team with Callum McGregor preferred. However, with McGregor deployed as a No.6 against St Johnstone, Rogic came back into the side and orchestrated moves throughout his time on the pitch.
One aspect of note was his positioning. In recent months, he has drifted out wide too often, leaving his teammates without a real central presence to penetrate the opposition defensive block with. But last weekend he operated more centrally, getting between the St Johnstone defence and midfield lines on a number of occasions.
Key underlying statistics evidenced the improvement in his play against St Johnstone. His pass success of 89 per cent was 5.3 per cent higher than his season average, and he attempted an above average amount of through balls, forward passes and passes to the opposition box – all at higher completion rates.
Rogic also had more of a direct hand in setting up chances. His xA (expected assists) tally was 1.09 and he set up three shots, compared to season averages of 0.21 and 1.15 respectively. Some of the passes these numbers reference were pivotal.
Capitalising on a mistake by the St Johnstone left-back, the 25-year-old received from Forrest before playing a perfectly timed through ball into Edouard to open the scoring. He then played a wonderful one-two with Forrest to set up the team’s third goal.
Another one-two saw him rip open the hosts’ defensive line for Forrest’s hat-trick. He then played a third one-two with Forrest, this time in his own half, to release the winger into space for his fourth goal and Celtic’s fifth.
By half-time, Celtic were 5-0 up. The game was over and done with as a contest, and Rogic had essentially supplied four of the five strikes. From his more influential central position, his passing was precise and penetrative. Finally, after weeks of underperformance, he was helping his side to play through the opposition, as opposed to around or over them as had too often been the case previously.
St Johnstone’s manager, Tommy Wright, bemoaned his team’s tackling, or lack thereof, in his post-match interview. But when it came to Rogic there wasn’t much his players could do. If the languid No.10 wasn’t setting up shots for his teammates he was creating them for himself, as he did just after half-time. Getting the ball on the right wing, he used his strength and guile to glide beyond four helpless defenders before shooting from just outside the box.
Celtic’s attacking struggles looked a thing of the past in their most recent win. Rodgers’ deployment of McGregor as a No.6 and Forrest’s dazzling display from out wide were part of this, though Rogic’s role was fundamental. If he can turn that single display into a run of form, he and his teammates will be back on top of the Scottish Premiership in a matter of weeks.
* Odds subject to change