Rangers face Celtic in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup on Sunday in a match which will be seen as almost season-defining. The build up has almost seemed muted, but the level of anticipation will be huge come Sunday afternoon. The teams have faced each other 50 times in the Scottish Cup, and it’s Celtic who have the stronger record of results. To prevent their rivals having the chance to win a treble in consecutive seasons, Rangers will need to buck both historical and recent trends.
CELTIC SCOTTISH CUP RESULTS
Brechin (home), 5-0 win
Partick Thistle (home), 3-2 win
Morton (home), 3-0 win
Celtic’s top goalscorer in the cup is James Forrest, on 4 goals. For Rangers, Jason Cummings has 4, and Josh Windass has 5.
RECENT CELTIC FORM
Since the league match at Ibrox, Celtic have won 2 and drawn 2 of their 4 league games. Both draws were 0-0, one away to Motherwell and the other at home to Dundee. Their wins have been against Hamilton and Ross County. They’ve conceded only one goal in four matches, and saw goals coming from numerous players.
LIKELY APPROACH AND SELECTION
This one is a bit harder to call than last time. Celtic have a number of players back from injury, and have rotated the team in the last few matches. They’ve used the back three in matches again, but it’s unlikely they’ll play that way on Sunday. Even without a natural right back, they changed to a back 4 at Ibrox. With Lustig available to play, I’d imagine they’ll do the same again.
The match at Ibrox was probably the most pragmatic we’ve seen Brendan Rodgers line up in his time with Celtic. They used Ajer at right back, and played McGregor wide in an effort to nullify Tavernier. Rangers don’t go into this match in the same sort of form as they were in at that point. It may be that Rodgers feels he can be a little more expansive this time. However, I think there’ll be a similar approach where they mix attacking threat with a bit more defensive nous. I suspect Gordon will start in goals, with a back four in front of him. Ajer will play next to Boyata, with Lustig and Tierney flanking them. A midfield trio of Brown, Ntcham and Rogic will provide a platform for Forrest and McGregor, with Dembele up front.
There’s a chance they’ll mix things up somewhat. Patrick Roberts may start, or Armstrong could come into the midfield. I just feel that they’ll see that team as balanced and they’ll have plenty of options from the bench if required.
WHAT CAN RANGERS TARGET?
Celtic have faced the least amount of defensive duels in the league this season with 1742 so far. They have an average success rate of 25.49%, which is the strongest in the league. Given they usually dominate possession, neither of these statistics is surprising. It’s also difficult using that statistic to point to a weakness defensively. What has been clear all season, though, is that the vast majority of chances Celtic concede come down their right-hand side. With that in mind, the performances of John and Murphy will be key to Rangers chances of winning.
Another area that has caused them some issues is pressing certain players. Boyata likes to take a touch or play a risky pass very often, which led to the Windass opener in the last encounter. Brown is also a player who requires an extra touch when he receives the ball facing his own goal. Both of these players will be put under pressure in certain moments.
HOW WILL MURTY PLAY IT?
There’s been a lot made of Murty’s team selections since the turn of the year. The manager stated in a recent interview that he only now feels like he has the options to change things. With Dorrans and McCrorie back from injury, there are stronger players available to offer flexibility. Despite having those options, Murty stuck with the same shape in the last few matches. Many feel he’ll look to play either Windass or Miller just off of Morelos, but I have a feeling he’ll change things this time around. The defensive partnership of Alves and Martin hasn’t worked, so I think McCrorie will stay in that position. In midfield, I believe that Goss may come in to help out Dorrans and Docherty, with Morelos up top and Candeias and Murphy wide. Players like Miller, Windass and Cummings will offer options from the bench.
PREDICTED RANGERS STARTING TEAM
Rangers were unlucky not to take something from the match when the sides met at Ibrox. They also looked a bit stronger when Celtic were coming out to attack and they could hit them on the counter. Form, statistics and logic suggest that Celtic will win this game. I’m going to predict something of a shock, though, and go for a 2-1 win for Rangers. It’s nothing more than a feeling, or even just something of a hope. I think the team is due a win in one of these matches, though, and determined to make up for a frustrating season.
How do you see the game going on Sunday? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts and we’ll be happy to discuss!