Is It Time to End The Liam Scales Experiment?

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After Liam Scales’ performance on Saturday against Kilmarnock his inability to successfully progress possession from the defence into the final third was evident once again.

Celtic are now entering the business end of the season.

If Brendan Rodgers can’t address his sides consistent failure to create chances, the Hoops will ultimately squander any chance they have of retaining the Scottish Premiership title.

Simply put, they cannot rely on winning the last two Glasgow derbies of the season to compensate for a points deficit behind Rangers.

Despite Scales’ strengths in defending, particularly in one-vs-one situations, he consistently struggles to advance possession into the final third through progressive passing and dribbling.

The Irish defender simply isn’t used to playing as a centre back in a possession-dominant side like Celtic.

DOMESTIC CHALLENGES

Each week, the Hoops face the same challenges domestically against teams who defend deeply, limiting their chance creation by forming a low defensive block.

As a result, Celtic’s centre backs constantly need to move the ball quickly, but also effectively.

Scales simply cannot do this and is too slow in possession and, at times, pauses on the ball due to a lack of understanding over who to pass to.

Even against a Kilmarnock side who pressed man for man at Celtic Park in an aggressive 4-4-2 on Saturday, Scales struggled to play through the Ayrshire side.

If he had been brave enough on the ball, he could have passed progressively with space in front of him opening up due to Kilmarnock’s press leaving gaps in the middle of the park.

His hesitancy to find Anthony Ralston also often led to possession breaking down, and the Hoops too often failed to advance the ball into the Kilmarnock half.

But this is not an isolated incident.

Scales Picked Up a Champions League man Of The Match Award For His Performance Against Feyenoord
Scales Picked Up a Champions League Man Of The Match Award For His Performance Against Feyenoord

Even in Scales’ first appearance this season against St Johnstone in August, he struggled on the ball, leading to jeers from the crowd due to his lack of assurance in moving the ball into the final third.

This frustration resulted in a 0-0 draw, despite the Perthshire side losing their first two league games 2-0 against Ross County and Hearts, home and away.

Carl Starfelt, despite his flaws, was brave on the ball, often dribbling into the opposition half with ease.

His passing could sometimes be criticised for being too aggressive.

In contrast, Scales is the opposite; he is too conservative, often passing sideways and backwards leading to a breakdown in chance creation.

Undoubtedly, he is a downgrade on Starfelt, begging the question: why Scales over Maik Nawrocki?

The simple answer is timing.

CENTRE HALF OPTIONS

Maik Nawrocki Has Found gametime Hard To Come By In His Time At Celtic Sop Far
Maik Nawrocki Has Found Gametime Hard To Come By In His Time At Celtic So Far

With Nawrocki and Cameron Carter-Vickers suffering long-term injuries in August, Scales was afforded the opportunity to start week in and week out.

He has started every game since in all competitions.

Asked in August who the better defender is between Scales and Nawrocki, the majority would have confidently answered Nawrocki.

However, after impressive displays on the back foot against Rangers at Ibrox and in the Champions League against aggressive sides, Scales shifted opinion in his favour.

These displays are important to note, though, as they came against aggressive sides that looked to press high, leading to the Irishman only needing to be concerned with defending his box instead of progressing possession into the final third, with Celtic having greater space to play in behind the opposition.

Having joined for just over £4.3 million in July 2023, weeks before Starfelt’s departure to Celta Vigo, it seemed that Nawrocki was eyed as his long-term replacement.

At five years his junior, Nawrocki looked like a promising defender who had previously played in the Europa League group stages in 2021 for Legia Warsaw at the age of 20, starting a total of four games, including against Rodgers’ Leicester City in one game.

Rodgers’ involvement in the signing seemed clear to all, but what has followed since has confused many.

That’s not to write off Nawrocki.

TIME FOR CHANGE?

Having only played seven league games, four away from home, with two against Aberdeen, one against Hibernian, and one home game against Rangers off the bench in December, completing 55 minutes, Nawrocki has wrongly been categorised by Rodgers and some supporters as inferior to Scales.

If Rodgers had afforded Nawrocki the same game time as Scales, Celtic would almost certainly not have dropped the 12 points they have with Scales in the starting 11 and Nawrocki not being involved.

Celtic have only dropped two points with Nawrocki involved in a Scottish Premiership game, albeit in only seven league games.

However, it is clear that Nawrocki, particularly in his time on the pitch against Rangers in December off the bench, has shown he is aggressive in his passing, much like Starfelt, and has the confidence to get on the ball and dribble without the hesitancy of Scales.

Former Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa, one of the most influential coaches in the history of football, said it best himself: if you are not creating enough chances in the final third and scoring enough, the first place to look to adjust is the centre backs.

With Scales being the only defender who started on Saturday against Kilmarnock to not play a minute under Ange Postecoglou last season, he is the first place to look to fix this Celtic side’s consistent lack of goals and chances created.

Tune in now to the latest episode of The Celtic Exchange Weekly as we discuss what’s needed for Celtic to resurrect the title race!

Available wherever you get your podcasts or via the player below.

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