Turn On The Bright Lights: Shining a light on Celtic's new signing.
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Written by: Jordan Campbell (@JordanC1107)
Celtic cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win over Hamilton as they continue to deal with the challenge of being without a natural striker.
Mikey Johnston, Oliver Burke and Timothy Weah have all been deployed as makeshift forwards in the absence of Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths, but Celtic fans can take solace from the imminent introduction of new signing Vakoun Issouf Bayo.
Celtic have had their fair share of success stories in recruitment as Virgil Van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Moussa Dembele attests to. Their growth model has been rewarded but identifying strikers has been a less fruitful undertaking in the club’s recent history with Mo Bangura, Stefan Scepovic, Amido Balde, Teemu Pukki, Lassad Nouioui and Nadir Ciftci all failing to make the grade.
However, Bayo seems destined to be a success at Celtic providing he settles into life in Glasgow. When assessing a player from a knowledge base of zero it is common to second guess your instinctive opinion or insert caveats, but Bayo has such a wide range of strengths that it is difficult to see him being anything bar a formidable force.
Just 22 and an Ivory Coast international, Bayo is a natural number nine, which is something Celtic have been lacking due to Edouard’s fitness issues and his natural tendency to play a more withdrawn role.
At just over six foot, he flaunts lean power which manifests itself in a distinctive gliding, upright gait, a gravity-defying leap that necessitates a check of the watch and an ability to spearhead the attack through clever lay-offs.
Bayo has an insatiable thirst for being in the eighteen-yard box and that has helped him to 19 goals in 23 games for Dunajska Streda (DAC) this season.
Some may use the standard of the Slovakian league as a way to temper expectations, but while it is not an elite standard, it is played in a similarly robust manner to Scotland. Indeed, the league is ranked 32nd in the UEFA co-efficient rankings, seven places behind the Scottish Premiership.
Of those nineteen goals, eleven have been headers (10 out of 14 when you exclude the five scored in cup ties against lower league opposition).
He is far from one-dimensional, but it is undoubtedly where most of his goals will come from.
Crosses into Bayo have an air of inevitability about them, not dissimilar to the effect Andy Carroll has. When the ball is flighted, it gives Bayo has the opportunity to tower above his opposition, which is why he thrives on crosses from deep where he can use his spring to gain on backtracking defenders.
The intensity with which he attacks the box is impressive and his favourite run is to initially move towards the front post and then peel off to the back for the deep cross.
Kieran Tierney favours getting to the bye-line before delivering but one would assume that will change when Bayo is in the team.
Bayo does what a lot of strikers tend not to do nowadays and that is get across the front post. Along with holding his run at the edge of the box for cutbacks they are the two most common movements he makes.
Bayo’s physical attributes are immediately apparent. He has blistering acceleration and pace that can be sustained over long distances, which has been utilised by DAC well on the counter. He likes to play on the shoulder of the last defender but is disciplined with the timing of his runs and is intelligent at coming towards the ball before spinning in behind.
One thing that will be different, however, is that Bayo will be afforded less space to exploit than in Slovakia. He is not likely to find himself in these situations too often unless Celtic turnover possession.
But his signing may offer an alternative threat against teams who sit deep and defend their box. Celtic struggled to break the press of Rangers and RB Salzburg last month as they didn’t have an alternative option that would allow them to progress up the park. Bayo offers the option of bypassing the midfield in such occasions, and Rodgers has shown before that he is not ideologically against this if it is done in a controlled manner.
Bayo is astute and streetwise when it comes to using his body to hold up the ball. He has bullied many teams in Slovakia almost single-handedly. Often dealing with service coming in at head height he has shown a natural ability to lay off the ball either acrobatically with clever flicks or with his chest. His all-round game is something that will likely be overlooked in favour of boiling down his talents to ‘power’ as happens to many black players.
Leading the line
But if we look at his link up play, we see a player who is more than able to drift and affect the game outside the area. His first touch is nearly always true, and he does well to turn with the ball when receiving it.
If used as the focal point against a low block Bayo will also be useful in acting as a bounce pass at the edge of the box as he regularly pins defenders who get too tight to him. Zsolt Kalman is the standout creative force for DAC and they developed a good understanding with one another. The Hungarian would often play disguised passes into his feet for Bayo to bring others into play. Bayo can look disinterested for the couple of seconds before this but he then jumps onside to receive just as the player shapes to play the pass.
Considering the number of willing runners (James Forrest, Burke and Weah) and midfielders who thrive in tight areas (Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic) Bayo will have a support structure that will bring out the best in his combination play, especially flicking the ball into space for those running beyond him.
The couple of weaknesses in his link up play come when he has a lot of time to consider his options. That has led to him overhitting some simple passes, or when readying himself to set the ball off to someone he has not noticed their change of direction.
His finishing in one versus one situations is the one major flaw in his game. Strangely it is not that he is rash in these positions that sees him fail to convert, it is that he telegraphs his finishes.
Instead of feigning or giving the keeper the eyes, he tends to open his body up and make it obvious which side he is picking rather than reversing at the last moment.
It is not something that cannot be improved though as he is composed and opts for his instep which is always optimal. Simply forcing the keeper to make his move first and then using his hips to disguise his finish would add the clinical edge he is lacking.
Scottish football fans, on the whole, can be unforgiving towards players whose body language is languid or self-indulgent, but they will have no problem in this regard with Bayo.
He is a very expressive player who is prone to an outburst after missing a chance, but it is his pressing that will have also sold him to Rodgers. Rodgers spoke about how Celtic had improved their counter-pressing during their purple patch in November and Bayo will certainly help with that. Think about how important Firmino’s backwards pressing is to Liverpool’s game and it becomes an important attribute.
Bayo’s natural desire to win the ball back is infectious, and Rodgers will probably have to rein back his work rate as after losing possession he seems to take it upon himself as a personal challenge to regain possession – even if that means sprinting 50 yards towards his own goal.
He, without fail, presses the goalkeeper as if his life depends on it, but It’s not just blind running or running for cheap applause from the fans that serves no purpose. Bayo is intelligent with how he cuts off goalkeepers’ options and forces centre-backs to play forward by curving his run. A simple thing but often not done well.
One thing is for sure, Bayo probably won’t win any friends from the opposition with his style of play. He is aggressive in the air but that has led to opposition defenders claiming the use of elbows when jumping. One player who knows this better than most is MFK Ružomberok defender Filip Twardsik, formerly of Celtic, who went down three times after aerial challenges.
Bayo will also have to rein in his petulant side with the media likely to devote a disproportionate amount of coverage to flailing arms and incendiary reactions as with Alfredo Morelos. Opponents this season did exaggerate on numerous occasions and that is something he will have to take into consideration.
How does he fit in?
Rodgers has largely side-lined the 3-5-2 that was used last season, mostly due to a lack of forward options, but the addition of Bayo will give him the option of pairing Edouard with the Ivorian. Edouard has proven to be at his best when dropping into midfield to exploit space created by Celtic’s midfield and is a more intricate option to Bayo.
The luxury of Bayo is that he is the equivalent of an all-weather vehicle. Play him against a team who press high and he can dominate with flick-ons, make the ball stick or run in behind. Play him against a low block and he is like a magnet to crosses into the box.
He is not a limited striker who thrives in only one type of game, he has the presence to carry the forward line on his own and could be a big asset as the lone striker in Europe next season.
Assistant coach John Kennedy said:
Bayo referenced his countryman Didier Drogba as his inspiration, and while he has some way to go if he wants to emulate the former Chelsea striker, he has all the ingredients to make Celtic even more money than Dembele did.
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