WHEN the transfer window opened at the beginning of summer, Olivier Ntcham's future was up in the air. Rumours were circulating that the French midfielder was angling for a move away, and Celtic approached Motherwell's David Turnbull as a potential challenger to Ryan Christie. After an underwhelming campaign, it looked as though Ntcham's time in Glasgow's east end was coming to an end.

Porto and Marseille were reportedly interested in securing the 23-year-old's signature but after a sit down with Neil Lennon, the midfielder decided to stay put in Glasgow. And it's a good thing too. The Celtic manager was keen to bring in another attacking midfielder to provide competition for Christie and once Turnbull's move to Parkhead collapsed, Lennon realised something: he already had just the player.

Ntcham joined the club in the summer of 2017 and in that time has featured primarily as a traditional number 8, controlling play in the middle of the park. Yes, Ntcham always had a tendency to drift forward and join attacks but, on paper at least, he was deployed as a central midfielder.

That has all changed this season. With the exception of the 4-3 defeat to Cluj in the Champions League qualifiers, Ntcham has featured almost exclusively as a number 10 this season - and it is a role that he is thriving in.


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You can see Ntcham's heat maps from this campaign and the last two seasons above, and the first thing that jumps out is that the Frenchman spends much of his time in an attacking position, slightly to the left. Lennon has clearly identified this and rather than playing Ntcham in a deeper role where he will inevitably drift into this position anyway, the Celtic boss has decided simply to play him in this area and the results make for impressive reading.

The former Manchester City player has struggled for a place in Lennon's starting XI so far this season but that is more down to the exceptional early-season form of Ryan Christie than any perceived faults with Ntcham. While the 23-year-old has had to settle for cameo appearances off the bench for the most part so far this season, he has still been putting in eye-catching performances. In Celtic's 2-0 win at Ibrox, for instance, Ntcham was brilliant when he came on - misplacing just one pass and playing a key role in his side's second goal - and was arguably the best midfielder on the pitch.

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Christie's start to the season has made the former Inverness midfielder one of the first name's on Lennon's teamsheet this season but when we compare the Scotland internationalist and Ntcham, there are actually a few areas where Ntcham is out-performing the 24-year-old.

Christie has the edge when it comes to goalscoring and shooting - and is considerably better, in fact - but Ntcham leads the way in terms of passing and dribbling. Now, it is important to point out that there are mitigating factors at play here. Ntcham benefits from coming off the bench for the majority of his appearances this season, and is therefore facing opposition who are more tired than the players Christie is up against. But there is no getting away from the fact that Ntcham has the technical ability to do certain things more successfully than Christie does.

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When we dig into the Celtic pair's passing stats, we can see that Ntcham has the edge over Christie in just about every way. The France under-21 international hits more through balls, forward passes and passes into the final third than Christie, and is more accurate in every single passing metric.

Ntcham's passing statistics have always been impressive and while there has been a slight drop-off when played further up the pitch, this is only to be expected. The fact that he can still maintain a high passing accuracy, particularly when playing killer balls in the final third, speaks volumes about the level of technique Ntcham possesses.

Ultimately, this leaves Lennon with two distinct options from which to choose from, which can only be to Celtic's advantage this season. Christie is the more direct of the two and is more likely to get on the scoresheet himself, while Ntcham is best deployed in games where Celtic are facing a stubborn defence and struggling to find a way through. It is still early days, of course, but it looks as though Ntcham will be able to flourish in his new role for Celtic. The midfielder's evolution under Lennon has been intriguing so far and the playmaker is certainly one to watch as the season progresses.