On Saturday, Rangers go to Parkhead to face Celtic in what is deemed the Traditional New Year Derby. The game kicks off at noon, but the usual build-up has been going on for weeks. These matches are the ones where football fans outside of those who support Scottish football sides take an interest in the game up here.
It was always unlikely that Celtic would match their results of last season, but they’re not too far off. The recent defeat to Hearts made many wonder if things were starting to slide, or if some over-confidence was having an effect. Since that match, they’ve won three games in a row and not conceded a goal. In some ways, it was arguable that their unbeaten run was starting to become a burden.
CELTIC LAST 5 LEAGUE RESULTS
Hamilton (home), 3-1 win
Hearts (away), 4-0 defeat
Partick Thistle (home), 2-0 win
Aberdeen (home), 3-0 win
Dundee (away), 2-0 win
The defeat to Hearts has seen many believe that there’s some sort of easy formula to beating Celtic. In truth, that match was as much about Celtic’s mistakes and poor play as it was about Hearts doing well. Most sides who try to press them high and match them for energy will struggle in Scotland.
Celtic come into the match with a few injury issues in central defence, and Rogic out long term. Despite this, they’ll be only a player or two short from what would be deemed their best eleven. Most of their side is easy to predict. The only areas where they’ll have choices to make are in central midfield and centre forward. Dembele tends to play well against Rangers and get the nod, but they’ve been rotating the strikers for weeks now. In midfield, Ntcham was dropped to the bench in the game at Ibrox, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s trusted more for this match now.
Regardless, it’s a nigh-on full strength Celtic side who have bounced back well from a recent defeat. It’s worth noting that they haven’t actually won 4 league games in a row this season so far. They’ll obviously see this match as the chance to rectify that. We have to hope that this fact adds a bit of pressure, and there’s some sort of hangover from the Hearts defeat that’s yet to be tested.
MORE RANGERS STORIES
Whilst Celtic will be making choices on their team from a place of strength, Rangers are potentially looking at youngsters having to play. The press conference revealed that Lee Wallace isn’t fit for this game, and he was about the only player we were believing could be back from injury. If Ryan Jack misses out, which hasn’t been confirmed, the numbers in midfield are very light.
For me, there are three potential approaches Rangers could take. The first is the most likely, which is a 4-5-1, Candeias and Windass on the flanks, and try to play on the break. The second is similar, but to go with a 4-4-2, forget trying to win midfield, and play Windass up front to hit early and use his pace.
The third approach would be bolder, and the most surprising. That would be to stick with the 4-4-2 shape of recent matches, attempt to win midfield, take the chance of them not creating much from the flanks or dealing with any cross balls, and taking the game to them. If Rangers were going into this match on good form and with a fully fit squad, that would be something many would advocate. Given everything we’ve seen this past month, most would consider it lunacy right now.
Without the likes of Wallace, Dorrans, Miller and potentially Jack, we’re not only light on numbers but experience. If we look to play a five-man midfield, it’s possible Barjonas will start the match. There’s going to be a lot riding on the performances of players like Wilson, Holt and Tavernier. We’ll have debutants to this fixture in Alves and John. Wes Foderingham will almost certainly need to be excellent. This would have been a very big challenge even at our strongest right now.
PREDICTED STARTING LINE UP
With the experience issue being such a big factor, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kranjcar start the match. That would depend upon what Murty deems as more important to the team.
In the build-up to these matches, you’ll hear the “form goes out the window” line. It’s never backed up by any evidence. The form side tends to win, but like any game of football, shocks are possible. It’s a line used by the favourites to shield from a poor performance, and by the underdogs to provide some sort of hope. From Rangers perspective, we’ll require a lot of luck to get a positive result. We could pick the best team available to us, get the best performance possible out of them, and still lose by a few goals. We need Celtic to not be at their best, which has only happened once in the games Rodgers has managed against us.
But in that game, it was caretaker Murty who got the draw. And I’m falling into the trap, starting to believe something is possible. I think back to matches like the draw there when Amoruso had to marshall a back 3 with Malcolm and Ross beside him. I remember all the unlikely results over the years when we had squads stretched by injury. I’m even given some encouragement by the semi-final penalty shoot-out win, the most unlikely win over them we’ll ever achieve. With very little justification over a gut feeling probably inspired by hope and a hangover, I’m going to predict a 1-1 draw in a rather poor match.
What’re your predictions for Saturday? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts!