Ryan Christie is on the precipice of a career defining season.
At 22 years old, Celtic have loaned him out to Aberdeen, where he successfully spent the second half of the 2016/17 campaign. Deemed not good enough to regularly trouble the Celtic starting team, Christie will be given a starring role at Pittodrie as the Dons look to build on last year’s second place finish.
The attacking midfielder is now entering his peak years. When he returns to Parkhead in May, he will only have a year left on his contract. His performances in the intervening period will determine whether Christie’s future lies at Parkhead, or elsewhere.
This article will focus on what Christie must achieve this season at Pittodrie in order to go back to Celtic with high hopes of fighting for a first team place. What’s he good at that he needs to do more of? And what are his bad habits that he needs to cut out?
Christie has been raised to treat a football well. You’ll rarely see a poor touch from him, as he consistently exhibits excellent control of the ball. This is at its most dangerous when he’s making angled runs at pace. He won’t necessarily come up with any flicks or stepovers – his strength in the dribble comes from these effective shuffles. These are so difficult to defend against when combined with a turn of pace.
It is in terms of what he does next where the issue lies.
Being able to dribble into dangerous areas is a rare skill. However, it is more than likely your destination will be even more heavily defended than where you’ve dribbled from. Therefore, making the right decisions once you get to these areas is critical.
You either need to have the vision to pick out a team mate in a better position, or the finishing ability to attempt a reasonable shot at goal.
Unfortunately, Christie has yet to prove that he can make the right decisions in these areas consistently. Last season, he only completed just over 3 passes in the final third per 90 minutes. In the top flight, 171 players played more passes in that part of the pitch. He will need to contribute more than one good final third pass every half hour if he wants to kick on at Aberdeen.
In terms of shooting, there’s no doubt he’s got fantastic technique. Just look at this beauty against Motherwell from last season:
7 goals in 906 minutes is a great rate for an attacking midfielder- just under a goal every game. Extrapolated across an entire season, that would have actually given him 26 goals- 3 more than the league’s top scorer Liam Boyce. Of course, things aren’t that simple, as he’s 100/1 odds to be the league’s top scorer in 2017/18 attest. Nevertheless, while it’s unlikely that we’ll see a repeat of his 30% conversion rate (7 goals from 24 shots), this is clearly a player who is comfortable in front of goal. He should easily achieve double figures in the coming season.
Aberdeen fans would have loved watching Christie in three of their four Europa League qualifiers this season. Two goals and two assists meant that Christie played a hand in every single Dons goal in Europe this term. In the fourth game, he was as anonymous as the rest of his team mates when they were eliminated from Europe by Apollon. However, the fact remains that Christie was at the heart of everything good about Aberdeen across these ties.
With this in mind, it looks certain that Christie will be a key man for Derek McInnes’ side in 2017/18. The departures of McGinn and Hayes from the Aberdeen attack open up the possibility of significantly more minutes for the Invernesian. Restricted to playing 56% of all possible minutes since his arrival from Celtic, it’s telling that he’s now started every game upon his return.
Aberdeen are enjoying a successful period in their history. There’s stability from the boardroom to the training ground. Derek McInnes has built a solid core of seasoned professionals who know how to win games at this level. There is now an expectation at the club to really give Celtic a push in the title race. Ryan Christie will be given a starring role in this year’s project. Succeed, and a wide range of possibilities open up for the young attacker.