Talking Tactics: Midfield marvels powering Postecoglou’s Celtic revolution

Sam McGuire
LiveScore
Matt O'Riley and Reo Hatate have transformed Celtic's midfield in recent weeks
Matt O'Riley and Reo Hatate have transformed Celtic's midfield in recent weeks

Celtic have powered their way to 24 wins from their last 27 matches across all competitions. 

The club’s current nine-game winning streak is their longest under Ange Postecoglou — and coincides with the Bhoys bringing in midfield reinforcements last month. 

As they look to make it 10 wins on the spin tonight, the battle in the middle of the park will be key in their clash with Bodo/Glimt.

Ahead of the first leg of the Europa Conference League knockout round play-off tie, we examine exactly why that will be the case. 

Patience pays off

Fans saw Scott Brown, Olivier Ntcham and Ryan Christie leave Celtic Park last summer. 

Though it was arguably the correct time to part with the trio, James McCarthy was the only senior midfielder to arrive in the same window. 

But Celtic righted that wrong during the January sales by signing Matt O’Riley from MK Dons and Japanese duo Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi. 

The Bhoys immediately looked significantly better and the fact the Scottish Premiership leaders bolstered their ranks by recruiting players familiar with ‘Postecoglou-ball’ made it all that bit easier.

In perfect harmony

It may sound cliched but the middle third really is where the game can be won and lost. 

Get it wrong and you are exposed. Get it right and it can appear as though the team in control have twice as many players on the pitch. 

In O'Riley and Hatate, Celtic appear to have got it right — and in spectacular fashion. 

Reo Hatate has been a revelation for Celtic following his arrival in January
Reo Hatate has been a revelation for Celtic following his arrival in January

Operating on the left, Hatate, 24, is an all-action midfielder who has bossed things from his first game in Scotland. 

He was named man of the match on his debut against Hibernian and then stole the show in the 3-0 win over Rangers earlier this month.

Englishman O’Riley, 21, has made a similar impact in Glasgow, just from the right side of the pitch. 

He has three goal involvements in five games for Celtic, was the star man in the recent win over Dundee United and has been key to Postecoglou’s side storming to the summit of the Scottish top flight.

A stylistic match made in heaven

It is rare to see a footballing marriage such as this. 

Hatate dominates offensively while O’Riley comes out on top defensively. Combine the two and it is easy to understand why the pair have both hit the ground running.

Manager Ange Postecoglou has already put his stamp on things at Celtic Park
Manager Ange Postecoglou has already put his stamp on things at Celtic Park

Former Kawasaki Frontale man Hatate attempts more shots (2.34 vs 1.9 per 90 minutes) and is a dynamic dribbler, while O’Riley is more focused on winning the ball back before attempting to create chances. 

It is the exact sort of dynamic every manager yearns for and one very few have within their team.

The person, not the player

Postecoglou puts a lot of emphasis on what potential signings are like as individuals and not just as players. 

The Celtic boss referenced this following the arrival of O’Riley. 

He said: "I don't just sign players, I sign people. That is important and I had a great conversation with him. 

"He is a very mature young man and a credit to his parents for his upbringing. 

"He knows what he wants to do and what his priorities are right now. Matt has a burning desire to reach the very top and that's great. Those are the types we want at the club."

Matt O'Riley has adapted seamlessly to life in Scotland since signing from MK Dons
Matt O'Riley has adapted seamlessly to life in Scotland since signing from MK Dons

The platform to progress

Hatate and O’Riley are not going to be content with what they have. 

Both want to improve and both have burning ambition. 

Celtic have banked big money for Kieran Tierney, Odsonne Edouard and Moussa Dembele in recent years and players know that performing at Celtic Park can lead to moves elsewhere. 

The duo are not pitted against one another but the desire to shine brightest could see them reach new heights and attract potential suitors from the continent’s top leagues. 

A European run puts them in a much larger shop window — and the better they are, the more chance Celtic have of securing silverware.

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CelticEuropa Conference League 1
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