The first Glasgow derby of the season kicks off on Saturday afternoon and while there will be some in Scotland giving the game the cold shoulder for various reasons, but many more in the UK and abroad glued to the game as Rangers travel to the East End to take on Scottish champions Celtic.
After last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final clash, which Rangers won on penalties, Celtic manager Ronny Deila announced he would leave at the end of the season. His replacement, Brendan Rodgers, has transformed Celtic significantly in a short space of time. Not only has he galvanised the squad by changing up things on the training ground and strengthening areas of the team that was much needed – he has given the team belief again.
Rangers may have won the tie last season on penalties, but that was a shell of a Celtic side beleaguered and downtrodden which had seemingly had enough of Ronny Deila, John Collins and their methods. Despite the poor showing from Deila’s men that day, it still took Mark Warburton’s side 120 minutes and penalties to secure their Cup Final spot.
This is a much-changed Celtic side from the one that Rangers beat last season and have quite rightly been made favourites to win the game. They currently lead the league by one point with a game in hand over Rangers after three wins out of three against the three sides that finished second, third and fourth last season.
Rangers start to the season has been mediocre to say the least, playing against three out of the four teams that finished in the bottom half of the Premiership last season. Draws against Hamilton Accies and Kilmarnock – who were tipped for the drop this season – has piled the pressure on a management team which had a fairytale debut last season but has faced the struggles of facing tougher opposition this time round.
The only thing that you can say about a derby match is that you can throw the form book out the window, all that matters is what happens on the park that day. Players who have been stand-outs before can freeze due to the occasion and the atmosphere created by the fans. Others live for such games and grab it by the horns, becoming instant legends.
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths is a doubt for the game on Saturday as he is struggling with a hamstring injury, although left back Kieran Tierney who pulled out of the Scotland game against Malta last week is fit to start.
Meanwhile, Rangers welcome back Martyn Waghorn and Josh Windass following injuries and could be called upon by Warburton. Lee Wallace, who missed the Scotland game, is also fit and Danny Wilson who was suffering a slight calf strain is back.
New signing Philippe Senderos, who played in Rangers’ friendly win over Linfield last weekend, could make his debut. But Joe Dodoo is out for five weeks with an ankle injury and Matt Crooks is still recovering following ankle surgery.
The managers have their say….
Brendan Rodgers, who will be experiencing his first Glasgow derby as Celtic manager, is taking the build up to the game in his stride and claimed that no matter who Celtic play the objective is to win the game – whether they are favourites or not.
Rodgers said: “We are not running away to say that we don’t want to be the favourites for the game. Whether we were playing Rangers, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Hearts, whoever we play at home, the objective going into the game is to win.
“It’s a huge game, a big game, but one that we want to win, like every game at Celtic Park. More importantly, the way the team is playing, the energy and ambition of the team has given the supporters something to be proud of so far and the atmosphere will be incredible.
“Every derby is different. Having experienced derbies before there is a uniqueness to each one and this is iconic throughout the world. I am really looking forward to it.”
Across the city, Rangers manager Mark Warburton called on his players to concentrate on their own game and be ‘brave’.
Speaking to the official Rangers website, Warburton said: “This is the first league encounter, last season’s semi-final had 50/50 in terms of fans but Saturday will be heavily weighted one way so it will be a different type of atmosphere and a different weight of expectation.
“We just have to play our game, if you read the bookies odds there would be no point in us turning up which is fine but it’s about us preparing well and be consistent in our preparation, which we have been and training at the right intensity and quality. We are looking forward to it, it’s a tough place to go but we are absolutely relishing this encounter.
“It’s the same scenario as last season in terms of being underdogs, we had analysis with the players and it’s been pointed out by many of them.
“We were going to get beaten by three or four, I read four minimum somewhere from one very wise pundit and I have read all the comments from ex-players and ex-managers but it is about us and it’s about Rangers.
“It’s about doing what we do and if we go in there and we are brave and we get on the football and we move it quickly and do what we do well then we will be fine. If we don’t and if we’re sloppy then we will have a tough afternoon. What I expect is a good game of football, I hope a high-quality game of football and I hope it is one that goes our way.
“We can’t control things away from here, we just look at Rangers and things are getting better and we are in a good place. It is a feisty atmosphere, a local derby with 60,000 fans, 52,000 of which will be on one side and we will recognise that.”
Craig John Shields: With one eye on a trip to Barcelona on Tuesday, Celtic’s strength-in-depth should be enough to see off a spirited Rangers side. Barton will huff ‘n’ puff, Miller will be a thorn in the Celtic defence, but the sheer quality that Celtic have will prove too much for Warburton’s team. Prediction: Celtic 3-1 Rangers.
Calum Clark: It will be a very tight affair, but it could hinge on whether Leigh Griffiths is fit or not as the focal point for Celtic’s attack. If the striker fails to make it then the Celtic forward line will be blunted. As for Rangers much will come down to whether or not Warburton can get the balance of the starting line-up sorted as the Ibrox side has not looked like the side from last year despite improvements in the squad. Prediction: If I had to stick my neck out I would say I can see this being another 2-2 just with no penalty shoot-out this time.
Andy Muirhead: Some Rangers fans are overly confident ahead of Saturday’s game, claiming this Celtic side is mediocre. However, this Celtic side is a different animal to the one that the Ibrox side faced last season and qualification to the group stages of the Champions League has given the club and supporters as a whole a major boost. Rangers’ start to the season has been poor and despite the rhetoric of some, going by both team’s form in the league the Ibrox side could be onto a hiding. But I have watched enough derby matches over the years to know that the form book is pointless and that anything can happen. Prediction: Celtic 3-0 Rangers.