Arguably one of the greatest derby games in the world, the first Glasgow derby of the season is upon us this weekend, writes Andy Muirhead.
This Saturday will see Rangers welcome Scottish champions Celtic to Ibrox, with the hosts looking to avoid a repeat performance the last time they met at Ibrox – when Celtic inflicted their biggest ever win over Rangers at their home ground.
With six months in charge of Rangers now under his belt, manager Pedro Caixinha has put his own stamp on the Ibrox side after spending a reported £8 million on new signings to challenge for the Premiership title this season.
They may have spent more than Celtic this season in the transfer market, but Brendan Rodgers’ side have spent more wisely it seems with their unbeaten domestic run continuing and have a five point lead over third placed Rangers already.
Defeat to Celtic will open the gap at the top of the table to eight points and pile more pressure on Caixinha who has failed to win a single ‘big game’ during his six months in charge of the Ibrox side.
Another humiliating defeat to Celtic at home could be the final straw for the Rangers board and call time on the Portuguese manager’s tenure.
As for Celtic, they go into Saturday’s game still on a high from winning an ‘invincible’ domestic treble last season and qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League for a second successive year.
The 5-0 defeat to Paris St. Germain was put to the side as they beat Ross County 4-0 last weekend and marched on into the League Cup semi finals with another 4-0 win over Dundee.
Many pundits are expecting Brendan Rodgers to make changes to the side that faced Dundee with an eye on the midweek game against Anderlecht in mind, but the Northern Irishman will take no chances in the derby knowing full well what victory means for the players, the club and above all the fans.
Celtic were undefeated last season against the Ibrox side, winning five and drawing once scoring 16 times and conceding just four goals in the process. So Celtic fans are expecting another dominant performance from their side, despite media reports leaning towards the hope that Brendan Rodgers’ undefeated army trip up after an amazing 56 consecutive domestic game unbeaten.
The visitors have a squad depth and strength that Rangers can only dream of currently, despite what Caixinha, certain elements of the media and their fans say. Celtic’s squad is packed to the gunwales with players who have experienced derby games and knows what it means to win, while Rangers could have a starting eleven that could have as little as four players who have experienced the fire of a Glasgow derby. Better players have wilted in the powerkeg game and tomorrow’s game will test the metal of those debutants.
Last season showcased Celtic’s superiority and with skipper Scott Brown claiming that they are a stronger and fitter side than last year, Saturday’s game should go to prove that once again with a dominant Celtic victory.
Team News – Rangers
Caixinha has signed enough players for a brand new team for around £8 million and despite an early European exit to Luxembourg minnows Progres and just one win out of three league games at Ibrox this season, the Portuguese manager believes that his side has what it takes to end Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run.
Summer signing Alfredo Morelos, has been the best of those recruited by Caixinha, scoring eight goals in ten games so far this season and with the Colombian bagging 46% of Rangers goals in the league he is their most important player and one that Celtic must nullify as a threat early on.
Rangers have been hit with injuries to experienced defenders Bruno Alves, Lee Wallace, Danny Wilson and Declan John, who will all miss out. Youngster Ross McCrorie is expected to make his first start and what a home debut that is for the 19-year-old defender.
Kenny Miller has failed to hit the form he showed last season and could be left on the bench after being rested for the cup win over Partick Thistle on Tuesday night, while Wes Foderingham will take up his regular place between the sticks.
Potential starting XI: Foderingham; Hodson, McCrorie, Cardoso, Tavernier; Windass, Dorrans, Jack, Candeias, Pena; Moralos.
Team News – Celtic
Despite initial reports of Celtic facing a defensive crisis with centre half Jozo Simunovic missing the midweek cup win over Dundee with a swollen knee, the Bosnian international trained this week and will be included in Saturday’s matchday squad, with the expectation of him starting the game alongside Dedryck Boyata who has returned from injury himself.
Striker Moussa Dembele returned to action last weekend against Ross County and despite being rested in midweek, he should take up a spot on the bench with Leigh Griffiths preferred up front by Rodgers despite the French youngster scoring five goals in his last five appearances against the Light Blues.
Unlike Rangers who are looking to be reliant on the goal scoring prowess of Morelos, Celtic’s 16 goals in the league this season have been spread across the team with the likes of Scott Sinclair, James Forrest and Callum McGregor each scoring 19% of the team goals.
Celtic have a plethora of match winners across their side and Rangers will need to play out of their skins to have a hope of getting anything out of the match.
Potential starting XI: Gordon; Tierney, Simunovic, Boyata, Lustig; Sinclair, Ntcham, Brown, Roberts, Rogic; Griffiths.
LDT contributor Craig John Shields: With Boyata and Simunovic fit and available for Ibrox on Saturday, along with the returning Moussa Dembele up front, Caixinha’s men will need to think about bolting the door before moving the caravan down the pitch to score.
If Rangers can perform heroics and catch Celtic on a bad day, then there’s a chance they can grab a point. The momentum is with Celtic right now though. A fully fit squad, returning players in key areas and a 56 game unbeaten record to extend means that barring calamitous defensive errors or refereeing decisions, Celtic will extend their lead over their city neighbours on Saturday. Scorecast: Rangers 1-3 Celtic.
Commentator Paul Mitchell: I learned a long time ago that there is no such thing as a sure thing in a derby and that is the case again as Rangers and Celtic meet.
Celtic are settled and are a fine side capable of winning anywhere in style including at Ibrox. For Rangers to be successful they have to set the tone of the game, shut down space and disrupt Celtic. Scorecast: Rangers 0-2 Celtic.
LDT editor Andy Muirhead: After witnessing how Celtic destroyed Rangers last season and how little Caixinha has strengthened the Ibrox side in the summer – despite the £8 million reportedly spent – Celtic will be too strong for Rangers.
Rangers’ performances, especially at home, have been poor with just one win in three games at Ibrox. They struggled to draw against Thistle in the league and despite Celtic not being on top form against Ross County last weekend they dispatched them with relative ease. With Rangers needing to be in top form to have a hope in hell of getting anything out of the game, Celtic will have more than enough in the tank to dominate and potentially humiliate Rangers once more. Scorecast: Rangers 0-4 Celtic.