Leigh Griffiths has a striking record that players at any level would likely be proud of. Since joining Celtic in 2014 he’s rarely let his side down, whether first choice or further down the pecking order. At times he’s had to work hard for his place at the Hoops, often needing to convince managers that he has what it takes to be Celtic’s main man leading the attack.
Under Brendan Rodgers that’s been no different. One of the first actions the Celtic boss took was the signing of Moussa Dembele and despite a summer of goalscoring, Griffiths was eventually displaced last season by the Frenchman as the club’s number one striker. Dembele’s form was undeniable and the Scottish international has had to show patience and personal improvement in order to continue being a valued member of the Celtic squad.
In recent weeks though, his standing has appeared to take a further hit. He’s spent Celtic’s last four matches as a substitute, unused in three of them, something that has rarely happened in his time at the club. It’s not that Rodgers hasn’t needed an alternative to Moussa Dembele, but rather he’s decided to use loanee Odsonne Edouard instead.
The young Frenchman has started Celtic’s last three league encounters, with Moussa Dembele starting the Hoops’ ill-fated match at home to Anderlecht in between. Has the Paris Saint-Germain loanee replaced Griffiths as Dembele’s number one back-up?
Since arriving at Celtic Park, Griffiths has scored a rather excellent 94 goals in 169 matches. When you consider that 51 of those appearances were from the substitute bench, it’s clear that the 27-year-old is a constant danger for the opposition when wearing the green and white hoops. He isn’t just a goal poacher either, also contributing significantly in a creative sense with 43 assists.
This season, he’s impressed as much as ever, netting nine goals and creating eight assists, the second highest direct goal contribution in the entire squad.
Why then has only started one match since the end of October?
The return of Moussa Dembele certainly played a significant role. The Frenchman has battled against injury so far this term but when he managed to get himself back to full fitness he looked as impressive as ever, scoring seven goals in eight matches.
The run of matches coming thick and fast also allowed Rodgers to have a look at his loan star Odsonne Edouard, who the Hoops have the option of buying when his loan deal expires. There’s no way to know if he’s the right fit for Celtic unless he gets some game time and that’s been limited for the PSG man this season. That naturally leads to the other strikers missing out given the system employed by the Celtic boss.
You can’t help get the impression though that perhaps Brendan Rodgers should have relied on Griffiths a little more in recent weeks. While young Edouard certainly looks sharp in the Celtic team, he netted a hat-trick against Motherwell after all, against Hibernian on Sunday he was a little off the pace in a match Celtic dropped points in and although putting in a strong performance against Hamilton, he missed three chances that he’ll have been disappointed not to stick away.
Despite his lack of action in recent weeks, there’s no doubt that the Scotland international will continue to play a vital role in the Celtic squad in the short and long-term future. His exclusion has certainly raised a few eyebrows, but he’s been quick to point out it isn’t bothering him and he’s bounced back from difficult periods many times in his Hoops career already.
The likelihood is that Moussa Dembele will forge his future away from Celtic Park at some point and the club need mainstays like Griffiths to be a reliable presence while the club finds new striking targets and new stars of the future they can continue to build their transfer model around.
His goal scoring record speaks for itself and if he maintains the correct attitude, he’ll be a player that Rodgers returns to time and again to perform in big matches at home and abroad. The Celtic boss has invested time into developing the striker’s skills and he isn’t going to forget that quickly, even if newcomers arrive and stake a claim for starts in the Hoops first team.
Celtic play more matches than many sides across Europe, having to face difficult qualifying stages in Europe and usually reaching the latter stages of two domestic cup competitions. Supporters have been crying out for three quality striking options to give them enough depth and energy to meet those challenges, so rather than seeing the recent weeks as a denial of Griffiths, perhaps it should be celebrated as the arrival of Edouard.
Leigh Griffiths will survive and score many more goals, it’s what he does.
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