GREG TAYLOR has always had to work hard to earn his place in the Celtic first team. Regularly viewed by some supporters as an enterprising but technically limited player, he has had to fend off several challengers for his jersey since arriving at Parkhead in 2019.

Many sparring partners have came and went in the interim: Boli Bolingoli never really convinced during his stint in the starting line-up before breaking Covid protocols that essentially brought his Celtic career to a close; Diego Laxalt was brought in on loan from AC Milan and departed a year later having made very little contribution to the first-team cause; Andrew Gutman failed to make a single appearance during his year-long loan; and other young players, such as Adam Montgomery and Liam Scales, have been given a go without making the position their own.

Alexandro Bernabei is the latest recruit to have been brought in with the hope of eventually dislodging Taylor but the Argentine has off-field issues of his own to deal with before he can think about breaking into Ange Postecoglou’s starting XI. The 21-year-old was arrested and charged with a road traffic offense in Glasgow city centre last week and while he is still available for selection, matters away from the football pitch could affect his game-time in the short-term.

Once again, it is Taylor who has been asked to step into the breach and once again, the 24-year-old has seized his opportunity with gusto. He has played every minute of Celtic’s campaign thus far and has arguably never been in better form.

We have a small sample size to work from so the following should be accompanied with a healthy dose of salt, but the early indications from this season’s data suggest that Taylor has improved over the summer: both defensively and in possession.

The left-back has taken time to adapt to Postecoglou’s system but now appears to have a greater understanding of what his manager wants from him. There has rarely been any doubt over Taylor’s enthusiasm or work-rate – adjusting for possession, he has been one of the Premiership’s top interceptors of the ball for quite some time now and is in the top five per cent of players in this regard – but a fairly common criticism has been that he does not win enough of his individual battles.

That cannot be said this season. In the four matches he has played, Taylor’s successful tackles completed per 90 minutes (again, adjusted for possession) has more than doubled compared to last term. He now wins 5.8 tackles per game, leaving him in the top one per cent of top-flight full-backs in this area. Similarly, the number of times he pressures an opponent has risen significantly from 11.68 per 90 last season to 14.08 in the new one, while his aerial duel success has consistently been amongst the best in the division for full-backs.

On the ball, too, we have seen a marked improvement from the Scotland internationalist. His passing accuracy has marginally improved from 84 to 85 per cent this term but he is becoming far more efficient when in possession. The number of deep progressions (passes into the final third) he completes per game remains amongst the highest of any top-flight full-back with 7.98, his xG Build-up (a metric used to quantify a player’s contribution to attacking moves) remains in the top percentile at 1.17 (an increase from last season’s average of 1) while his successful dribbles completed per game has improved almost three-fold during the opening exchanges of the new season, rising from 0.55 per game to 1.41.

Following in the footsteps of a player of the calibre of Kieran Tierney was always going to be a thankless task after the homegrown hero sealed a £25million move to Arsenal in 2019. A fans’ favourite and a genuinely world-class player, Celtic were simply never going to find a like-for-like replacement.

With all due respect to Taylor, he is unlikely to hit the same heights as his predecessor but that does not mean that he is not a very capable player in his own right. Against Kilmarnock, arguably Taylor’s best-ever performance in a Celtic shirt, it was Jota who received the man-of-the-match award but the Portuguese winger was quick to heap praise on his team-mate in his post-match interview.

“First of all, I think I should speak about Greg because he has been unbelievable this season,” the summer signing from Benfica told Sky Sports. “He’s a top player, I think he’s delivering every game. He really deserves this because his standards every week are unbelievable and he doesn’t get enough credit.”

Taylor is starting to get his share of the spotlight now. And as someone who has worked incredibly hard for his seat at the table, constantly evolving and improving to fit into his manager’s plans, there are few that can begrudge him it. After years of being considered an unfashionable understudy, the left-back berth at Parkhead is now Taylor’s to lose.