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Matt O'Riley: Can new Celtic midfielder be surprise Old Firm star?

Matt O'Riley: Can new Celtic midfielder be surprise Old Firm star?
Scottish Premiership: Celtic v Rangers
Venue: Celtic Park Date: Wednesday, 2 February Time: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen to live commentary on Sportsound and follow live text updates on the BBC Sport website and app

"I don't sign players, I sign people". They were Ange Postecoglou's words as Matt O'Riley arrived at Celtic Park.

Two games in and the 21-year-old has certainly got people talking, and now he could be set to be the surprise star in the heat of the Old Firm derby on Wednesday.

Celtic go into the game against their fierce rivals Rangers aiming to end the night top of the Scottish Premiership.

After slipping through the entrance almost unnoticed then being handed his chance amid injuries and international call-ups, is the thought of dropping the Hounslow-born midfielder unthinkable?

Lightning start for Celtic

O'Riley came through the ranks at Fulham before moving to League One MK Dons in January 2020, scoring nine times - seven this term - in 52 games.

Capped by England at under-18 level, he became Celtic's fifth January signing for a fee of £1.5m, following Japanese trio Daizen Maeda, Yosuke Ideguchi, Reo Hatate and Irish teenager Johnny Kenny.

O'Riley did not have time to ease into his career at Celtic. Signed on 20 January, less than a week later he was in the starting line-up away to third-placed Hearts.

Within six minutes he was denied a debut goal, but went on to create eight chances - nearly as many as the rest of the team combined - and provided an assist in a tireless midfield shift as Celtic secured a 2-1 win in the capital.

Three days later O'Riley made his bow in front of the home support against Dundee United and again dazzled.

He had five shots, created five chances, put in nearly double the number of crosses (16) than the next highest Celtic player on the list (Jota) and had more touches in the opposition box than anyone.

Only Carl Starfelt had a better passing accuracy. But while 53% of the Swede's passes went to fellow defenders, O'Riley's were spread around the team.

Defensively he put in the most tackles, won the most tackles, and won back possession the joint-most times alongside Nir Bitton, as Celtic claimed a late win to close the gap on leaders Rangers to two points.

'The type we want at Celtic'

Celtic boss Postecoglou has made it clear he wants his side to play quick attacking football, with players able to switch positions and move the opposition defence about.

It's a style that players need some getting used to and Celtic took their time to adapt as they struggled initially under the Greek-Australian earlier in the season, but O'Riley has made a seamless transition.

"Matt can play in different midfield positions and I like that area to be very fluid for us," said Postecoglou. "I want players who can move about and Matt fits that perfectly.

"He can play in the deeper-lying role as he has a great passing range, but he also has a goal threat and can play further up.

"Matt is only 21. He has really good attributes and will fit into the way we play. That can help us in different areas and he will be able to play in a couple of roles for us.

"I don't just sign players, I sign people. That is important and I had a great conversation with him. He is a very mature young man and credit to his parents for his upbringing.

"He knows what he wants to do and what his priorities are right now. Matt has a burning desire to reach the very top and that's great. Those are the types we want at the club."

'O'Riley's issues have gone'

Former Celtic midfielder Peter Grant was O'Riley's coach at Fulham as the-then teenager began his journey in the game.

His career nearly stalled in its infancy due to back problems, but Grant is confident those days are behind him.

"There was a bit of training missed as he was growing up," Grant told the Daily Record.

"One thing he always had was a lovely left foot - when he was on the ball, he was terrific. But he always felt he couldn't get to the levels he wanted if he couldn't get that run of games or training sessions and it was difficult for him because of those back problems.

"People say kids play too much, but Matt was maybe the opposite. You felt he wasn't getting enough games.

"That's the biggest thing I see when I look at his games now and the way he is playing. You know the talent he has and now, with the run of games, you know the issues have gone."

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