Rangers face Celtic for the third time this season on Sunday. For the first time in a long time, though, there’s a feeling among the fans that this one could be a game Rangers can win. The excitement, nerves, fear and hope have all been at fever pitch since the final whistle against Falkirk. When this game kicks off at noon on the 11th, as much as many won’t admit it, all of Scottish football will be taking an interest in proceedings.
CELTIC LEAGUE FORM
Celtic are currently top on 64 points after 28 games. They’ve taken 32 points at home, and the same number away. Their two defeats this season have come in away matches, however. They are the second highest scorers in the league behind Rangers, with 56 goals. It should be noted that they have that game in hand, though. They also have the best defensive record in the league, conceding only 18 goals so far.
Celtic’s top scorer this season in the league is Scott Sinclair, with 9 goals.
LAST 5 LEAGUE RESULTS
Hibs (home), 1-0 win
Hearts (home), 3-1 win
Kilmarnock (away), 1-0 defeat
St Johnstone (home), 0-0 draw
Aberdeen (away), 2-0 win
JANUARY TRANSFERS, SUSPENSIONS AND INJURIES
Brendan Rodgers added to his squad in January by signing Marvin Commper, Jack Hendry, Scott Bain and Charly Musonda. They also signed Lewis Morgan, and loaned him back to St Mirren.
Mikael Lustig is suspended after his red card against Aberdeen. Celtic also have a lengthy injury list at this time. Gordon, Biton, Boyata, Armstrong and Griffiths are all set to miss out. Patrick Roberts is back from injury, but hasn’t had much game time of late.
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TACTICS AND APPROACH
Of late, Celtic have been playing a 3-4-3. Their preferred system is usually a 4-2-3-1, but it seems Rodgers may be either changing this, or adapting due to the injuries. They’ve been using James Forrest as a wing-back, with Tierney on the other side. Players like Sinclair, Musonda or Rogic have been supporting Dembele up front, with Brown and Ntcham sitting in midfield. It’s difficult to say for certain if they’ll approach the match on Sunday with this shape. If they do, the game is bound to be very open.
Celtic average around 66% possession per game in Scotland. They are miles ahead in terms of passes per 90 minutes, averaging 600 every 90 minutes. They also have an accuracy of 89% there. By comparison, Rangers average around 410 passes at a success rate of 81%. It’s clear that Celtic look to dominate possession and move the ball around a lot.
Despite having loads of possession, Celtic have the 4th lowest amount of crosses per game in the league, at 15. They’ve had 534 shots in their 28 matches, with around 36% being on target. In terms of 1v1 and dribbling situations, they average around 17 per game, second only to Hibs. They’re also second to Hibs in terms of fouls suffered. All of this shows that they’re a team who play patiently, try to open up spaces with passes and runs, and don’t cross too often. Celtic have been very strong on the counter-attack under Rodgers, especially when winning the ball high up the pitch.
This is also highlighted by how few aerial duels they have per game, which is only at 35. It’s the lowest number in the league, and highlights their style of play. They have the lowest number of long balls per 90 minutes as well.
With the best defensive record in the league, it’s obvious that they’re doing something well there. If you were to look at statistics only, you’d be forgiven for questioning that. Celtic have the least amount of aerial duels, defensive duels and interceptions in the league. Their defensive style is very much “attack is the best form of defence”. The defence is protected by the high amount of possession they have.
WHAT CAN RANGERS TARGET?
When you look at the statistics, it’s hard to pinpoint weaknesses for Celtic. In the matches where they’ve struggled, domestically or in Europe, one thing is clear, though. If you can set up to press them at the right time, they can find that difficult. Scott Brown is their main link between defence and midfield, and he has more passes per game than anyone else in the league. When he receives the ball facing his own goal, he does tend to need an extra touch. That’s where some teams have had success when they time the high press correctly. In the draw just before New Year, Rangers created chances by doing this.
Brendan Rodgers is a manager who almost never sets up his team with a defensive mindset. When you look at the attacking options they have, it’s clear to see why. However, this can be a weakness when they don’t play well, and Rangers will look to force mistakes and take advantage of the spaces they allow.
And in goals, Dorus de Vries is clearly not as good as Craig Gordon. He’s had a few mistakes that people have highlighted, and you’d imagine that Rangers will hope to put pressure on him from very early.
HOW WILL THEY APPROACH IT?
As mentioned earlier, it’s not entirely clear how Celtic will approach the game in terms of formation. Regardless of how they play, they’ll be set up to dominate the game. The shape of their defence is the interesting choice. If they stick with the back 3, Rangers will feel confident of getting space out wide. If they move to a back 4, it’s not clear who will play at right back. They clearly don’t trust Gamboa in there, as he’s hardly played all season.
There’s also a chance they will look to put an extra midfielder in. Despite being their top scorer, Sinclair has found himself on the bench quite often of late. They may look to bring in someone like Kouassi to give them an extra body in midfield.
RANGERS LIKELY APPROACH
Rangers are almost certainly going to play the 4-2-3-1 of late. There’s been some debate as to whether or not Jason Holt should come into midfield to help with that battle. In this case, with the form the front four has been in, I can’t see Murty doing that. It’s risky, but there are no guarantees with a more defensive-minded approach either.
Reports suggest that Russell Martin may miss out. Lee Wallace, Declan John, Jamie Murphy and Graham Dorrans are back in training. It’s unlikely that Wallace and Dorrans will be involved though. Despite his hat-trick against Falkirk, I suspect Cummings will be back on the bench.
RANGERS PREDICTED LINE UP
I reckon this match will be an open and entertaining one as both teams are set up to be very attacking. You’ll hear the line “it’s a derby match, form goes out the window”. A decent investigation of that will tell you it’s a nonsense statement. With that in mind, it’s clear Rangers are in better form just now.
The fact is that Celtic are a better side when they play well. They haven’t been playing well for a while, though. If Rangers can match or exceed their recent levels, and get the luck required, they can take a result from this match. in terms of a score prediction, I’m going to go for 3-2 to Rangers.
Looking forward to Sunday? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts on the game!