This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Kristoffer Ajer has had to deal with being moved across to right-back in the early parts of the season. He’s done well, but it could be hampering him from reaching his sky-high potential at Celtic.
The 21 year-old has been forced to play on the right-hand side of the defence a few times already this season and he’s been far from a disappointment. His goal against Motherwell highlights his prowess going forward, while his defensive capabilities are clear for all to see.
He’s been forced to move to this unfamiliar position thanks to the club’s inefficiency in the transfer market, failing to land a lot of their right-back targets. They’ve since brought in Hatem Abd Elhamed and are still looking at others, so it appears he might revert back to his natural role at centre-half eventually.
But while his tactical flexibility is nothing new, it could be holding him back, particularly if Neil Lennon fails to land another right-back and continues to shuffle him around the park.
Ajer has been stepping up as the club’s first-choice centre back for the past six months, despite Jozo Simunovic’s upturn in form and Christopher Jullien’s big-money arrival. He played 45 times in all competitions last season.
He is well on track to becoming an incredible defender capable of being a regular for a Champions League side – there are even comparisons to former Celt and current Ballon D’Or favourite Virgil van Dijk, and deservedly so after Ajer’s fantastic 2018/19 campaign.
And while he has proved to be quite capable in other areas, Ajer deserves the same luxury that was afforded to van Dijk – letting him play unobstructed in the heart of the defence.
There’s also the worry that his performances are getting admiring glances from rich suitors. Both Leicester and AC Milan have been linked to the defender this summer and they likely won’t be the only ones if he has another top season, so keeping him happy is a must.
Celtic must start to give Ajer the responsibility he deserves and stop shuffling him about. They risk damaging his development, or even worse, losing him altogether.