This Saturday sees Celtic entertain our nearest league challengers’ theRangers at Celtic Park. It’s an eagerly anticipated fixture given it’s been 10 months since we locked horns and it will be strange old game with no supporters allowed inside Celtic Park.
So, what of our opponents on Saturday, what has changed in the last 10 months and what can expect to face at lunchtime on Saturday?
It’s probably a surprise to see Steven Gerrard continue as the manager of the Ibrox club this season. Given his lack of trophy success and the post-Dubai collapse of his team, as Celtic won a shortened league campaign due to the Covid-19 crisis by 13 points, it appears it is just that that kept Gerrard on the payroll at theRangers.
As the league campaign was halted Celtic were due to head to Ibrox, and with Celtic in fine form a hefty defeat may well have been the death knell in Gerrard’s reign. There aren’t many managers from either side of Glasgow who could go so long without delivering silverware and not lose their job. As such Steven Gerrard probably already knows that has to change this season. Would a trophy be enough? Unlikely. The pressure to stop the Ten will be all consuming from the Ibrox fanbase and it will probably be win or bust for the man in the hotseat. For Gerrard, Saturday’s encounter is a chance to begin a redemption process in the eyes of a questioning support. It’s going to be a big ask.
READ THIS…Video – “I’m quite nervous, we’ve got a big game coming up. They’re a big club,” Tommy Sheridan
Their summer recruitment
Gerrard had been vocal is his requests to strengthen his squad and it’s fairly debatable at this stage if he’s managed to do just that, but he’s certainly moved some players on and added a few new faces for the season ahead.
The notable players who moved on were, Greg Docherty moving to Hull City, fringe full back Matt Polster to New England Revolution, back-up (wits the) goalie (doin’) Wes Foderingham to Sheffield United, midfielder and squad player Jason Holt, to Livingston , third choice goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, to St Mirren, while Andy Halliday eventually found a club a division below at Heart of Midlothian. The perennially injured Jordan Rossiter joined Fleetwood Town and Jon Flanagan was freed. Florian Kamberi also ended his loan deal with the Ibrox club without a deal for a permanent move agreed.
The incomings started with the loan deals of both Ianis Hagi from Genk and Jermaine Defoe from Bournemouth being made permanent. Central defender Calvin Bassey joined from Leicester City and ‘ keeper Jon McLaughlin signed on from Sunderland.
Leon Balogun left an injury hit time of it behind at Wigan and signed on for this season, while Swiss striker Cedric Itten joined from St Gallen. The most high-profile signing has been former Leeds and Anderlecht forward Kemar Roofe joining the club, while the final bit of business was the loan acquisition of Bongani Zungu from French strugglers Amiens.
If you were to believe the press, you’d be under the impression that Steven Gerrard had a successful transfer window, yet two of the players signed were already there last year.
Of the new signings Calvin Bassey has little or no top flight experience and Jon McLaughlin is not what you’d ever describe as a top-class goalkeeper. There are also serious misgivings when it comes to the fitness of Leon Balogun and Kemar Roofe from their time with previous clubs – something that has followed both to Ibrox, whilst the loan signing Zungu doesn’t appear to come with much in the way of a pedigree at any top level of the game. Gerrard has freshened the squad certainly, whether he’s strengthened it very much remains to be seen.
How they line up
theRangers will play a 4-2-3-1 formation. It’s something they are very rigid about and in Europe in particular this season they have had great success with it. They have played a 4-3-3 formation on the opening day of the season against Aberdeen at Pittodrie and again the following week against St Mirren at Ibrox (where these photographs are from), but in domestic football they only switched from the 4-2-3-1 formation once more and that was when they went to Fir Park and defeated Motherwell.
The width in the team comes from both full backs Tavernier and Barasic pushing forward, while in a slight alteration to last season, attacking wide players Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi have both moved infield a little on occasion, taking up almost number 10 positions behind – when available – Alfredo Morelos as a sole striker. I think that is likely how they’ll take shape on Saturday.
In central midfield Scottish International Ryan Jack is likely to be supported by Steven Davis and there will be a question as to whether Scott Arfield drops out for the more defensive minded Glen Kamara or whether Arfield plays instead of Hagi further forward. I’d be tempted to suggest Hagi may start this one from the bench.
Their Season so far
The domestic campaign has seen theRangers have a solid home record, while away from home they are also without defeat. Its five wins from five at Ibrox, while on the road they have returned with three wins and two draws. In the ten games played so far, they have averaged nearly three goals a game at Ibrox, while away from home they are returning two goals a game. So far this season it’s the defence that’s been receiving the plaudits with only 3 goals conceded in 10 games so far.
theRangers started the season with a 1-0 win at Pittodrie before defeating St Mirren 3-0 at Ibrox. A third straight win came against St Johnstone before dropping the first points of the season in a goalless draw against Livingston at the Tony Macaroni. From there they recovered with three wins on the spin against Kilmarnock, 2-0, Hamilton by the same sore line and a 4-0 home win against Dundee United.
The away hiccups returned with a 2-2 draw at Easter Road before they bounced back to form -with the aid of some very soft penalties- in a 5-1 win against Motherwell at Fir Park. Prior to this weekend’s derby fixture theRangers defeated Ross County 2-0 at Ibrox in what was a functional but far from inspiring performance.
One to Watch
Scott Arfield is clearly the player in form at the moment but over the course of the season so far, the most consistent of the attacking players has been Ryan Kent.
Last season an alleged hefty price tag appeared to weigh heavy on the player and his goal return wasn’t what you’d have expected from your biggest transfer of the season. This season he’s started better and with four goals and three assists from ten games he’ll be the man Celtic will be trying to keep quiet. It’s likely Jeremie Frimpong will be tasked with countering Kent, however it will be for Scott Brown to assist with that task on Saturday.
One to target
Central defence remains an issue for Steven Gerrard. Be it injuries or form Gerrard has struggled to find a partner for Conor Goldson at the heart of the defence. Injury to Nikola Katic forced them into the transfer market for Leon Balogun who hasn’t had his injury concerns to seek, while Filip Helander has neither convinced 100% nor been without his own injury concerns. Even the regular starter Goldson has question marks surrounding his passing from the back, as we saw last season when Odsonne Edouard took advantage of his poor distribution. The exposed nature of the central defensive pairing as the full backs provide the attacking width is an area Celtic can take advantage of.
Ignore their Hype
theRangers have shown so far in both Europe and in the Scottish Premiership that they are capable on their day, they’ve also shown that the old issues are still prevalent. After Celtic drew to Kilmarnock the Ibrox club had an opportunity to ramp up the pressure, yet in their next game they dropped two points at Livingston.
They also went to Easter Road and despite coming from behind to lead, they couldn’t hold on for the win and dropped another two points.
Against Hibs they seemed surprised by the attacking intent and movement of their opponent and the defence seemed to struggle. Against Celtic they will face the same problem but with a far higher standard of player to contend with.
Do they have the mentality for it? I’m not sure there’s any evidence to suggest they do. The same old frailties of bowing under pressure seem just as prevalent now as they did previously.
Celtic have suffered from a stop start season to date but there has been incremental improvements and the will to win remains. These games can often come down to mentality and Celtic have that in abundance. The main areas of danger are theRangers full backs but they aren’t the strongest of defenders and in Diego Laxalt and Jeremie Frimpong we have players who can keep them busy.
READ THIS…Dreams and Songs to Sing – Please join us on Friday evening for a pre-match singsong with Danny Kelly
Playing two strikers may also help the cause. I’d be tempted to start Patryk Klimala and use his energy to defend from the front the and close both full backs as they try to build from the back – though even if the second striker role fell to Moi Elyounoussi he has the tactical discipline to carry out that role.
If theRangers full backs are pushed to pass inside rather than advance down the wing Celtic only need to match the central midfield man for man with three players, rather than the two we’ve had previously under our previous 4-2-3-1 formation and the service to theRangers forward players could be cut of at source. If they do break then Scott Brown will have the job of doubling up with Frimpong and Laxalt in defensive positions to ensure the gaps behind the wing backs aren’t exploited. It’s a job the captain does well.
Going forward, despite our missing players, we have an abundance of talent. With Odsonne Edouard a doubt and Albian Ajeti unlikely to be risked from the start then Leigh Griffiths partnering either Klimala or Elyounoussi makes sense. He’s a player able to play on adrenaline and if he can give us 60 minutes, we can use Ajeti or Klimala from the bench for the last half hour.
We’ve been here before when Celtic have been written off by all outside our club and in adversity, we’ve often found the way. I don’t expect it to be any different on Saturday. Celtic have enough to win this encounter by a couple of goals. Even assuming for the expected penalty award for theRangers I expect a 3-1 home win in this one and Shane Duffy to put the icing on the cake with that final goal.
*Niall J has been profiling all of Celtic’s opponents this season in what is a interesting and informative look at what’s in the lockers of the teams standing between Celtic and success. That said Niall last night for the first time complained about his task!
“Preview for them. Might not do previews for the opposition when it’s that lot in future. Don’t enjoy it as much as the other Scottish teams. Funny that! Anyway, here you go. All the best,” Niall wrote.
And Geo, the Celtic fans media photographer went along to Ibrox in August to help out St Mirren who needed some snaps and in return he was able to attend Celtic’s game in Paisley – the one that got postponed due to Bolingoli’s recklessness. To be fair to the Saints they honoured the deal for the rescheduled match meaning that for the first time this season the Celtic fans media such as The Celtic Star got some photographs of Celtic in action in the Scottish Premiership.
Rant Alert – Look away now Celtic PR Dept
Here’s an idea, maybe Celtic PR Dept could pick up the phone to Geo and offer him access to these games so that the fans media – which has the club’s back much more than any of their ‘pals’ in the MSM – can feature the photographs across all various Celtic sites.
Remember how the media behaved the last time this lot were the visitors? The spoon-fed ITN journalist Peter Smith, claiming he’d seen a video of Celtic fans racially abusing Alfredo Morelos but would not share it. The old guy who fell on the steps was then accused of being hit be an object thrown by a Celtic fan. It was all a pack of lies and it was the Celtic fan media – led on that occasion by The Celtic Star who stood up for the club and the supporters. Rant over…
The lengths we go to. Niall writing about them, Geo having to go to their midden and even myself for having to get this article together for the site! It’s an ugly business and if you need proof here it is…can you see a handsome one? No me neither.