Starting in the second tier of the Scottish football and after a couple of loan spells away at Aberdeen, Ryan Christie has cemented himself in the Celtic team.
His transformation into a modern midfielder with finesse and physicality has seen him become one of the starting names in the Celtic teamsheet.
How often do we see a midfielder who has got the attributes to operate on both sides of the pitch? Well, Christie can. His ability to shuffle across either flank really makes him a useful asset for Celtic.
Build up and use of space
A versatile midfielder who can play different roles, Christie positions himself in a deeper role, especially when playing as the attacking midfielder.
During the build-up phase, Christie drops deep to get hold of the ball quicker and influences the Celtic attack. He averages 46.85 passes per game with an accuracy of 81.77 per cent. This is the second-best in the league.
Against St. Mirren, he played as the number 10 and dropped deep to start the play.
Christie has an instinct to find isolated spaces and create room for himself. He often stations himself just behind the striker in a bid to create goal-scoring opportunities and gain greater control of the attacking areas of the pitch.
He often acts as the lynchpin between the midfield and the forwards. The Scotland international is quick, agile, and has good vision. He facilitates the attack by also bringing the fullbacks in play. On many occasions, he connected with left-back Greg Taylor and winger James Forrest to barrage in numbers and formulate overloads in the box. He also switches position with Callum McGregor at times. Christie stays deep while McGregor darts forward. This affiliation with McGregor has seen the veteran’s output rise from 3 league goals last year to 9 goals this season.
Even against St Mirren, after a narrow build-up by the Glasgow giants, Christie found himself in space cutting inside from the wing.
Worlds apart from a traditional flank hugging winger, the false wingers are required to vacate their starting position out wide and roam into threatening areas of the pitch. Despite primarily starting on the wing, Christie has become such an inside forward who vacates his position on the wings and aids his team with his creative spark by occupying the central areas of the pitch.
He made such a run inside against Ross County from the wing and after a good pass into his path, scored a goal. The Scot has scored 11 goals this season in the Premiership and overall 20 goals in all competitions from 49 appearances.
His creativity as a number 10 has galvanized Celtic’s attack and made it the best in the league. He has 11 assists in the league this season averaging 0.54 per game.
Nimble footed as he is, Christie operates quite well in zone 14 and prefers to dictate play in that position when teams sit deep in their own half. Above, you can see how he was playing on the edge of the box and he made a precise pass to James Forrest who took a shot on goal and rattled the keeper.
Another reason why he has been so frequently relinquishing his zone on the wing is because of Jeremie Frimpong’s position. Christie’s game understanding with the Netherlands U20 is one of the reasons why the Bhoys haven’t had defensive woes down the right-hand side. It’s because of how quickly Frimpong covers the right flank after Christie cuts in and prevents turnovers.
His transition into this role has also encouraged him to have a pop at goal. He averages 3.17 shots per game. Also, he has 3.06 shot assists per 90 which is the more than anyone in the league. You can see him having a shot on goal against Livingston in the image below.
He also makes runs in little pockets of space which forces markers out of the way, creating space for his teammates. Against Aberdeen, he made a sharp run in the inside channel and managed a shot on target.
Deep Lying Playmaker
Christie’s last couple of games at Celtic before the season was suspended came playing as a deep-lying midfielder in a 3-5-2. He continually used to influence play in a deeper but more creative role. He led the Celtic attack from deep with his guile, while also making third man runs into the box. In the game against Kilmarnock, he seemingly was positioned as a deep playmaker.
He notched an assist and made 103 accurate passes in that game. His most ever in a game.
Also, he takes a wider left midfield position when playing in a 3-5-2 at times to pass to the forwards and put crosses in the box.
Generally, he averages 3 crosses per 90. But when playing in a deeper role, he averages 4 crosses per game which are lethal from that left-hand side considering the bend he gets and especially from that angle.
Christie rarely gives the ball away and is always looking to further the play and pass ahead.
His passing numbers are extraordinary. He made 241 progressive passes this season out of which 210 are accurate with a success rate of 87.1 per cent.
His first touch and ball control is excellent. This allows him to keep possession of the ball and pass in space to the forwards at a quicker rate. He makes 13.22 forward passes per 90 with an accuracy of 72 per cent.
Because of his ball keeping abilities, he also draws a lot of fouls on himself as the opposition tends to mark him more. He gets fouled 1.61 times per game on average.
He also plays almost like a supporting striker at times with some of his positioning and incisive connection with the striker. Below, against Aberdeen, his combination with Odsonne Edouard led to a goal. Christie played a one-two with the Celts’ striker and created a goal for him.
Set pieces and defence
He has a good bend on his free kicks and corner kicks which always unsettle the opposition defence. In the pic below against Aberdeen, his corner kick was delivered dead in the centre and Christopher Jullien scored the goal.
In the same match, Christie sent another perfect ball in the mix from the other side of the post, and Jullien headed it and hit the crossbar.
The Celtic midfielder dispatched an identical set piece in the centre of the box and picked out Jullien again in a league game against Livingston. The French defender headed that just away from goal. This suggests that delivering the ball in the heart of the six-yard box is a ploy of Neil Lennon and Christie to pick out Jullien who is clearly the best in the air in the Celtic squad.
Despite playing in a free role as the number 10, his 14 interceptions and 89 recoveries in the central third region of the pitch highlights how he is fulfilling his defensive chores quite well.
From this analysis piece, we conclude, that as much depth that Celtic have in their squad, they don’t have an auxiliary winger like Christie. Goals, assists, he offers them a lot going forward.
His passing, little runs, shooting, and link-up play with his attack force is all a manager could ask for. Particularly Neil Lennon who’s being tasked with implementing a certain style of play at Celtic which involves grounded passes and a seemingly narrow build up.
These tactics are something that Christie cherishes and suits his flair. His manner of play is similar to Mesut Ozil of Arsenal. Even though Christie hasn’t been linked with a move away from Celtic Park recently, he certainly has the potential to play in the premier league.
As far as his best position is concerned, he is more suited to playing in the hole as the advanced playmaker because of his technical prowess. But he can play in several different roles as discussed.
All and all, it has been a remarkable campaign for Christie this past year. Some of his performances in the league and an amazing European outing against Lazio and Rennes in the Europa League has put him on the map and made the 25-year-old one to look out for.