The countdown to the latest instalment of the Old Firm derby is well under way, as in a few weeks Celtic will take on Rangers at Hampden Park for a place in the Scottish Cup final. It is a repeat of last year’s League Cup semi-final where Celtic ran out comfortable 2-0 winners, however as the fierce derby approaches, the mood surrounding either camp couldn’t be more different to the game that took place just over a year ago.
Celtic, understandably, will begin as odds-on favourites, Betway have the early price at 13/20 to win in 90 minutes, which for the reigning champions against a second tier side is more than fair on the face of it. Add to that the ease in which they swept Rangers away last year and it is very tempting, but the fortunes surrounding each camp are much different to when they last faced off. The Gers’ have a new manager in the form of Mark Warburton who has brought a stylish way of playing and the squad is unrecognisable to the one that lost at Hampden and dramatically failed at the final hurdle to get back into the SPL. A lot of new faces, mainly young and hungry players from down south, have gelled to form an impressive a side. It would also be naïve to dismiss this Rangers side because of the opposition they face in their league. They have beaten Kilmarnock and thrashed Dundee, both of the SPL, to reach this stage of the competition and have beaten League Cup runners-up and fellow Scottish Cup semi-finalists Hibs in three of the four meetings this season.
Whilst on the green and white half of Glasgow pressure is mounting on Ronny Deila. The Norwegian’s side are involved in something of a title race, with Aberdeen hot on their heels, and although they took a big step towards winning a fifth consecutive SPL title thanks to Tom Rogic’s last minute stunner against Kilmarnock recently, it would be foolish to dismiss the Dons. Add to that the heavy expectancy to win against their biggest rivals and we have the makings of a cup classic. The Hoops have not performed in Europe and also saw their treble dream dashed when they lost to Ross County in the League Cup. So defeat against Rangers and the it’s hard to imagine Deila lasting a day before he was given the boot, a stay beyond the season is open to debate even if they win.
On the day, Celtic will hope their key men shine, marksman Leigh Griffiths has maintained his excellent form this season and will no doubt open as favourite to bag the opening goal, like he did last year. However, unlike last year, expect much more of a contest, Rangers didn’t lay a glove on their bitter rivals last time out and frankly didn’t have the quality nor belief to pull off a win. But if Celtic continue to falter like they have done this season, they will find out the Gers’ are a totally different animal this time around.