Midday on Saturday. Our first game against Celtic of the season. The pantomime of the Old Firm gets going again. After the numerous defeats at their hands last season, the game holds extra focus in the eyes of Rangers fans. The usual madness will be on display in the stands. Will the game match up to that?

Last season, far too many of these games were non-events. Rangers looked beaten before the game started quite often. When a big match like this is devoid of players squaring up to each other, heavy challenges, the ball taking a leathering as both sides press each other aggressively or stuff like that, you have to question the desire of the teams involved. I like watching a good game of football far more than a slug-fest, but the latter should be expected when the passion is running high.

Brendan Rodgers is yet to taste defeat in a domestic match. Their run is very impressive, but the fear of losing that to us will be a factor we’ll hope to play on. Recent form suggests Celtic are scoring goals pretty easily.

LAST 5 LEAGUE GAMES:

Partick Thistle 0 v 1 Celtic
Kilmarnock 0 v 2 Celtic
Celtic 1 v 1 St Johnstone
Hamilton 1 v 4 Celtic
Celtic 4 v 0 Ross County

There’s little point in trying to identify a few players who are dangerous. From middle to front, the Celtic squad is strong, quick and talented. The pace and movement of Sinclair, Roberts and Armstrong is particularly dangerous to opposing sides. Forrest has started the season in form, and Ntcham has offered a better balance to their midfield. The only potential weakness in the Celtic team at the moment is in defence. Due to injuries, they haven’t been able to play their best back four this season. Boyata is just back from injury, and Simunovic is struggling to be fit for Saturday. If both make it, you’d expect they won’t be at their best in this regard.

For Rangers, it’s a game we shouldn’t be expected to win, but we should play to do so. There’s a lot of focus on the strengths of Celtic and how we should nullify them from fans. That’s understandable, but we don’t have enough strength in defence just now to rely upon that sort of approach. The pace of players like Candeias and Windass going forward, along with the Morelos goal threat, are our strengths, and a team has to play to those.

At the time of writing, there’s been no confirmation on the fitness of Alves or Declan John. Lee Wallace is out for the next 8 weeks or so, which is a blow. During his press conference, Caixinha mentioned that he won’t be playing a 4-4-2 diamond system. Some seemed to take that as confirmation we won’t go 4-4-2, but that’s not quite what he said. There are some difficulties in predicting the side, but I believe it will be the following which starts:

Foderingham

Tavernier
Cardoso
Alves
John

Candeias
Jack
Dorrans
Windass

Miller
Morelos

Miller will be asked to make it difficult for them to have easy possession around their defence. There’s a chance Peña or Herrera may start, but I feel with Wallace injured that Miller will play. If Alves and John don’t make it, McCrorie and Hodson will step in.

I guess the key battles are really all over the pitch, but three that will be focused on are:

TAVERNIER v SINCLAIR

Many fans are very worried about this one. Sinclair is playing well, and we saw in a few games against us last season what he could do. However, Tavernier has started the season well. He’s taken the blame for a few of the goals we’ve conceded, but overall his form is good. This battle will be largely decided by which player’s team gets more secure possession. Both players are very good on the break, so if one team is loose in their forward play, the other player will have a lot of work to do.

DORRANS v BROWN

Scott Brown absolutely strolled the games against us last season. He was allowed to slap our midfield around, figuratively and literally. I feel with Dorrans in our team, that won’t be the case.

That’s not to say it’s a given that Dorrans wins this battle. Unlike most Rangers fans, I believe that Brown has some ability. I’ve seen him play very well in big games for them, and he is clearly an important player for their style of play. He’s let his reputation as some sort of hard-man build up, but he’s not really that type of player.

In Dorrans, we have a player with ability and a nasty streak. He won’t let Brown bully anyone on the pitch, and is good enough to win the football battle too. If the rest of the team can play well enough, Dorrans will thrive in this game.

CANDEIAS v TIERNEY

I’m not sure if Tierney will play left back or left of a back three. Either way, he’ll be facing up to Candeias more often than not.

Tierney is definitely a good player, but he can be got at. He’ll often press an opponent to leave space in behind. If opposing players are composed, the ball into the channel for an overlapping player is dangerous. In this respect, the partnership on the right of Candeias and Tavernier has a chance to cause him some problems.

Our Portuguese winger has clearly been our most creative outlet so far. He has the pace and work rate to at least match the sort of runs Tierney makes. It’s his direct play on the counter that will give him the best chance to win this battle, though. He’ll look to get the ball into the box early as always, and try to force mistakes through his pressing. For those who love statistical analysis of the game, I’m willing to bet this match-up is the one they’re looking forward to most.

You’ll already have heard plenty of fans saying “all I ask is that the players give 100%” or something similar. My only issue with this phrase is that it’s rarely accompanied by “ah well, they gave everything, they just couldn’t get the result” after a game if things don’t go our way. The fans will be, in the main, demanding a result. Many would take a draw if offered. Despite the odds being against us, defeat won’t be tolerated in their eyes. I don’t quite fall into this mindset. I’m going to the game expecting to lose, and hoping to be proven wrong. I believe we haven’t quite settled yet, and confidence is still trying to be found. The gap in ability isn’t as big as it was, but Celtic still have a better side.

But maybe, just maybe, we can upset the odds. It’s hard to say if we’ve seen the best of most of our players yet. In terms of attitude and desire, we certainly have a good bunch of players. Will they find levels of performance we haven’t seen yet? Could a quick start or an early goal get the stands rocking and inspire them?

I’m falling into the trap. In just the space of two paragraphs, I go from “no chance” to “we’re going to do this!”. That’s a huge part of the beauty of these games.

We need to play well. We need to hope they don’t play to their best. Backing from the stands, fair refereeing, luck – all of it needs to be there, and more. I don’t see Saturday as season-defining, but we’d certainly go a long way to finding that confidence I mentioned earlier if we could get that win.

What are your expectations for Saturday? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts!

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