With everything that’s been going on, you could be forgiven for not really feeling like Sunday is the first Old Firm clash of the season. European drama and transfer deadlines have taken a small part of the focus away from this match. The way Gerrard has dealt with the build-up in the media has also meant there’s been little said by the club about this one. When Rangers kick off at Parkhead at 12 pm on Sunday, it’ll be the 13th competitive match of Gerrard’s reign. He’s unbeaten so far, and there’s certainly no plans for that to change any time soon.
It’s a match considered by many to be the biggest test of the new squad so far. For all the talk of reducing gaps or momentum, the match will be won or lost in the usual manner. The team best able to control their aggressive approach, be composed enough to show their ability, and get that slice of luck you always need will be the one to get a positive result.
CELTIC RECENT FORM
Suduva (Europa League, Home), 3-0 win
Hamilton (League, Home), 1-0 win
Suduva (Europa League, Away), 1-1 draw
Partick Thistle (League Cup, Away), 3-1 win
AEK Athens (Champions League, Away), 2-1 defeat
The 5 matches above have been those after the 1-0 defeat away to Hearts in the league. It’s been a mixture of ability and pressure in terms of the opposition, and it’s difficult to tell just where they are in terms of form at this time.
CELTIC TEAM NEWS AND STATISTICS
Celtic announced the signings of Benkovic and Mulumbu on transfer deadline day. Striker Moussa Dembele has left the club to sign for Lyon. In terms of injuries, the most notable of late has been Odsonne Edouard, but I’m unsure if he’s now available for selection or not.
In recent Old Firm matches, Rodgers has set up a little differently from his usual preferred approach. Callum McGregor has played on the left-hand side to allow a midfield 3 of Brown, Ntcham and Rogic. It’s unlikely either of their new signings will be ready to start the match. I suspect that they’ll line up in this manner again on Sunday, using the 4-3-3 shape. Griffiths will start up front, with Forrest on the right-hand side. In defence, a back 4 of Lustig, Boyata, Ajer and Tierney would be what I’d expect to see.
In the 3 league matches so far, Celtic have scored 4 goals and conceded 2. They have the highest Expected Goals rate in the league at 7.67, so have clearly not been taking the chances you’d expect them to so far. Their possession has averaged 67.4%, with 56 shots at goal. Surprisingly, Celtic have played the most crosses in the league with 73. They were often one of the lowest for this last season, so that may represent a slight change in approach. Kieran Tierney, James Forrest and Mikael Lustig have been the players to hit the most crosses in their side.
With 139 attempted dribbles at a success rate of 78%, Celtic lead the way in that statistic. They’ve averaged almost 595 passes per match, and have the lowest amount of long passes at only 36 per 90 minutes. With all of this possession, they understandably have fewer defensive duels than anyone else, averaging 45 per match with a success rate of 20%.
RANGERS TRANSFER NEWS AND INJURY UPDATES
Rangers confirmed the signings of Joe Worrall on loan and Eros Grezda on a 4-year deal. Worrall hasn’t played so far this season, and Grezda has been recovering from injury. At best, you’d expect Worrall to be on the bench. On the injury front, Lassana Coulibaly was able to take part in training on Friday so may be considered for this match.
Longer-term absentees Dorrans and Rossiter are still not ready to be involved. Borna Barisic will be available after being cup-tied for the European qualifiers. In the press conference, Gerrard suggested there were no new injuries from the match on Thursday. The team will have been focused on recovery, with players not involved pushing in training to get noticed.
PREDICTED STARTING LINE UP
I’d expect Rangers to use the 4-3-3 shape they have in almost every match for this one as well. There are a few areas of the pitch where a decision needs to be made in terms of who to pick. I believe the starting line up will be as below.
Using Lafferty wide left will be seen as less of a risk as Celtic are likely to have Lustig at right back. The Swedish defender isn’t as comfortable getting forward as others, so Lafferty will be able to stay higher up the pitch and offer another outlet. Ryan Kent had a great game against Ufa, but I suspect Candeias will be preferred for this one on the right due to his strong partnership with Tavernier. In midfield, I don’t see any changes as Coulibaly is just back in training after a few weeks. Flanagan struggled in the match against Ufa, so I believe Barisic will start, but be asked to be a bit more defensive in his approach. His set-piece delivery will also be a huge asset against a team who don’t seem to defend them very well.
From a Rangers perspective, this one is a very difficult match to call. Recent exertions have certainly stretched the squad, and most of the players who will start have had a lot of games in a short time. However, fitness is definitely high among the squad and there’s been a real sharpness developed as almost every match has presented a challenge. Celtic haven’t had quite the same sort of intensity in their recent games. This one will start with Celtic looking to impose themselves on the game from the first minute, and Rangers needing to be strong defensively. If players like Goldson, Jack, Arfield and Morelos can settle, Rangers will definitely compete in terms of possession and dictating the tempo. The threat of Lafferty will be a focus as he’s scored in his last 4 matches against Celtic. In what I believe will be a tight match, the available players on the bench for both sides will be important as well.
I predict this match will finish in a 1-1 draw. How do you see it going? Tweet us @abouttherangers with your thoughts.