For the first time in nearly five years, the Old Firm derby returns to the Scottish Premiership as Celtic and Rangers get set to go head-to-head after the international break. The Hoops may be firm favourites to take the points in the two side’s first league meeting since April 2012, but here we take a look at five reasons as to why this is one to watch.
THE BIG RETURN:
Celtic and Rangers may have met in two cup competitions in recent seasons, but neither of these encounters was as highly anticipated as their date at Celtic Park on September 10th.
Fans have missed the two titans gunning for the league championship, and that is what Old Firm games are based upon – getting an advantage for the league title.
There is certainly a more traditional feel when the two teams meet in league fixtures, and this is notably the first game between the sides in four-and-a-half years at one of their own stadiums.
Both previous encounters came at Hampden in League Cup and Scottish Cup semi-finals respectively, but there is no better atmosphere than when the fixture takes place at one of their own hotbeds.
The atmosphere is sure to be the most intense than it has been in the last few years, and that alone is the reason to watch this bitter rivalry resume next month.
THE TACTICS GAME:
One of the most intriguing aspects of this game is how both teams will set up. Brendan Rodgers has been setting up his Celtic side to play fluid and attacking football in a 4-2-3-1 system that plays more like a 4-3-3. In this formation, the two forward wingers joining 40-goal striker Leigh Griffiths in the attack, with Scott Brown and either Nir Bitton or Callum McGregor pushing forward for the most park.
Celtic set up to blow teams away, and as they are the currently the five-in-a-row holders and are brimming with confidence – they will no doubt set up the same way against Rangers.
The real interesting point is how Rangers will set up. Mark Warburton has been vocal about how his side will attack anyone they come up against in Scotland and likes his side to play an attacking 4-4-2. However, that could be suicidal against a Celtic team which is so quick to get the ball forward and exploit the gaps.
The sensible option for Warburton would be to pack the midfield with five, using their wingers and wing-backs to do the damage on the flanks. Rangers are likely to have new signing Joe Garner ready to play this time, and his power and presence in the box could benefit Rangers’ strength down the wide areas.
THE RUBBER MATCH:
In the last couple of seasons, Celtic and Rangers, as previously mentioned, have played each other twice. The first match was played at Hampden Park on February 1st, 2015 in the League Cup semi-final, as Celtic dominated the full game and won 2-0 in a solidly convincing performance.
It looked at this point as if Celtic were streets ahead of Rangers, then managed by Kenny McDowell. Bragging rights were firmly in the East End of Glasgow, as Celtic fans rejoiced at having their dominance over Rangers consolidated. The Light Blues were still trying to get out of the Scottish Championship, a division below the Hoops.
However, fast forward a year and the two sides met again. On April 17th at Hampden, the Old Firm clashed once again, this time in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Confidence was high on both sides of the city, with Rangers now reinvigorated and cruising to the Championship title under Warburton.
That confidence allowed them to take the game to Celtic, and eventually win 5-4 on penalties after the match ended 2-2 after extra-time.
It was an absolute classic, but it made the score 1-1 in terms of wins. Many in Scotland are seeing this fixture as Celtic vs. Rangers III – the rubber match. They may meet another three times this season, but both sides will be going all in to prove that they are the superior team.
Celtic will be desperate to show Rangers that their Scottish Cup win over then Ronny Deila’s Celtic was a fluke; whereas Rangers will want to lay down an early marker to Celtic that they will be serious title contenders this season.
MASTER VS APPRENTICE:
What many fans may not know about coming into this game is that both Rodgers and Warburton have a history together. The two skilled tacticians have been long-time friends before either of them showed up in Glasgow.
When Rodgers was the manager at Watford in the English Championship eight years ago, he came to a setup that included a then inexperienced Warburton in the youth set-up.
He entrusted the Englishman to create talent for his first-team and nurture the youth, deciding to keep him on as he saw something unique in the Rangers’ manager and knew that he had an eye for a player.
It is said that both men had a terrific working relationship and discussions they had with each other down south were always open and informative.
However, now they see themselves at opposite ends of a bloody war between two clubs who simply can’t stand each other. They had a friendship in the past, but there wasn’t an intimacy there that will stop either man going for the other’s head in these derbies.
There’s a strong mutual respect between the two, but there’s no doubting that Warburton is by far the more inexperienced of them. Rodgers has managed in the Championship, English Premier League, and Champions League.
Warburton, on the other hand, has only sampled Championship life with Brentford, and a campaign cruising to the second division title in Scotland. It’s very much a battle between the master and the apprentice at Celtic Park, and it’s anybody’s guess who could come out on top.
GOALS, GOALS, GOALS:
In the past, some Old Firm derbies have been criticised for lacking the entertainment to match the red-hot atmosphere. When both teams were evenly matched on the field, some of the clashes could be slightly cautious, and this led to several 0-0 and 1-0 games since around 2009.
That’s one problem fans won’t have to worry about this time around. There is a strong sense amongst Celtic fans, and no doubt the Celtic staff, that they’re now well ahead of Rangers.
The Hoops are in a much better place than they were in April, with a bunch of big-name signings such as Scott Sinclair, Kolo Toure, and Moussa Dembele improving the quality of the squad ten-fold.
Celtic now play free-flowing attacking football, and so far have swept aside all before them in Europe and domestic football. They’ll be confident of adding Rangers to that list.
On the other side of the city, performances may have so far been shaky, but Rangers have secured a healthy and respectable seven points out of a possible nine.
Another victory over Kilmarnock on Friday night and Rangers will be going into the Old Firm game quietly confident. Warburton has vented his frustrations in the past about only playing teams who want to defend and not attack Rangers.
He won’t have this problem at Celtic Park, as Rodgers’ men will look to be on the front foot for the entire 90 minutes. This should open up the space that Warburton would like his team to have, and this should lead to chances for the Blue side of Glasgow.
You can bank on this one not being a low-scoring affair. Rangers would love nothing more than to come away with the points and make up for the provocation they’ve been put through since being demoted to the Scottish third division four years ago.
Celtic fans will want them to win by a few goals and prove that their defeat last time in the Scottish Cup was a one-off. It’s sure to be an intriguing encounter that can’t be missed for the average football fan.