CELTIC V RANGERS | MATCH PREVIEW

CELTIC F.C. V RANGERS (SPFL Premiership)

SUNDAY 2nd SEPTEMBER 2018 

CELTIC PARK, GLASGOW

 

Celtic have gotten the best of Rangers in recent years, repeatedly and often hilariously.

But just as Brendan Rodgers’ appointment brought a breath of fresh air to Parkhead, his old Liverpool frenemy Steven Gerrard has given Rangers a bit of real success they are not used to. The first Glasgow derby of the 2018/19 season may only see 800 in the away support, but they will have the confidence of ten times that. Celtic will look to stamp their authority on this year’s iteration of the Scottish Premiership and can go four points clear of the Ibrox club with a win.

Celtic, while having beaten Suduva easily and in a bit of style to gain entry to the Europa League groups, come into this fixture in some degree of turmoil. Their transfer window has been roundly criticized from many corners, the play on-field has been lacking verve and bite, and at least two of the starting eleven have vocally expressed their unhappiness at their perceived treatment by the club. Big derbies have a way of focusing a squad, however, and the green half of Glasgow hopes that will be the case come Sunday.

Rangers, it must be said, have their tails up as they head over to the east side of the city. They have qualified for the Europa League group stages and although that success came through some pretty negative football, it represents a clear improvement over the efforts of Rangers teams of recent years. They have completely remade their defense and and have settled down into a certain kind of stuffy, workmanlike side lacking any shining individual talent, but more than capable of frustrating Celtic. Following the long trip back from Russia and a bruising 3-3 draw at Fir Park last weekend, fatigue will surely be an X-factor for tyro manager Gerrard as he sets his squad up for a major domestic fixture.

 

Stats Corner:

  • Since Rangers’ introduction to the Premiership in 2016/17, Celtic have won nine, lost none and drawn two against them in all competitions, outscoring Ranger 30-6 in total.
  • Rangers are unbeaten in all twelve matches this season, foreign and domestic.
  • Rangers players have seen four red cards in those twelve matches.

 

Last 5 matches:

 

Line-ups:

Rangers have been playing a fairly settled side and is expected to show up at Parkhead with much the same squad that went to Motherwell last weekend, with much the same intent – physical football and the long ball to Kyle Lafferty.

There are many new faces in the Rangers squad, something that hasn’t helped the grousing of Celtic fans over their relative inactivity in the market. However, only Lafferty and Allan McGregor, hoping their employer will be more solvent this time round, are household names in those new faces. Left back Borna Barisic can put in a mean cross and will need to be marked carefully.

Ovie Ejaria, the young striker on loan from Liverpool, has shown some flashes and I believe he will be preferred up top over Alfredo Morelos, who has disappointed time and again against Celtic, and is a disciplinary liability to the extreme. Ejaria is an unknown quantity against a top side like Celtic; although Lafferty is both known and dangerous.

Rangers are a bit lightweight in the midfield especially if Gerrard chooses a more offensive squad, relying on Lafferty’s sometimes-excellent holdup play. The overthinker in me feels that Ross McCrorie will get the start in midfield over Lassana Coulibaly; McCrorie was badly beaten in a couple derbies last year and sent off in one and Gerrard might want to see if he can exorcise those memories.

As usual, Celtic go into this derby match the overwhelming favorites on paper. However, in terms of morale and positivity the teams are going in two different directions at the moment and that may be a major equaliser on Sunday. But if Celtic play to their capability their superior talent will win out.

At the time of writing Moussa Dembele is still a Celt, despite a scuttled move to Lyon and some passive-aggressive tweeting from the Frenchman. If this evening’s deadline passes and he is still wearing green and white, he should most certainly lead the line for the Hoops if his head is right. He has shown himself to be one of Rangers’ most feared opponents and they will breathe a sigh of relief the day he leaves Glasgow for bigger and better things.

The rest of the side, as usual in big matches, picks itself. I think Rodgers wanted to move to a 3-5-2 this year but was stymied in the transfer market so we are looking at perhaps more of a 4-2-3-1 formation; Sinclair and Forrest on the forward wings with Rogic, hopefully fit enough for 60-70 minutes, in the middle. Brown and Ntcham will mix it up in the midfield; Tierney at left back wouldn’t miss this match for the world, and I believe that Lustig will be preferred at RB although I would much rather see Gamboa.

 

Key battles:

  • Celtic vs Celtic: It’s been a rough two weeks for the Hoops and their fans over the perceived transfer-window bunglings and Rodgers’ clear disappointment about efforts to improve the squad. However, there’s nothing like your bitter rivals visiting to bring everyone together. Surely the support will back the eleven.
  • Rodgers vs Gerrard: With all the hue and cry over transfers and European ties, this is one facet of this match-up that has shockingly not been played to death in the media. Both managers will be thinking they can get one over on the other.
  • Celtic and Rangers vs Willie Collum: I personally think he’s the best or second-best of a very, very bad lot of Scottish referees. However, he is notorious for being card-happy and getting over-involved in the drama and he can definitely have a major say in the outcome. Willie, or won’t he?
  • Rangers vs Rangers: As I have said before privately and on Twitter, Rangers are to be taken seriously and have improved considerably over the admittedly very poor sides of the past few seasons. But Celtic, especially at home, will be a tougher opponent than they’ve faced. Will they overcome the last hurdle? Or will it be yet another Beautiful Sunday for the men in hoops?

 

Advanced Stats (from ModernFitba.com):

Expected Goals (xG) Table

  • The quality of the chances created and conceded by a team is measured in the Expected Goals value (xG) of those chances. Rangers is only 7th in league when it comes to their xG, three lower than their actual league position.
  • Celtic have the best xG difference so far this season, one position lower than their current place in the league table.

 

Goals and Chance Quality

  • Celtic have produced the most shots of all teams in the league so far, and the second lowest against. It’s the same for chance quality; Celtic having the highest xG for and second lowest xG against.
  • Rangers have only taken one more shot than they have conceded, and they are 8th in the league both in shots for and the chance quality of those attempts.

Chance Map:

  • While Rangers have almost the identical amount of attempts for and against, this graphic show how they have taken the majority of their shots from good positions within the penalty box.
  • Rangers have been fairly good at not conceding too many chances within their own Danger Zone, but there is a notable exception: they’ve already allowed 10 headers from very dangerous positions in and around the 6 yard box.
  • Rangers have conceded a lot of chances at the end of their three league games so far, six in total after the 80th minute.

 

Finishing

  • Celtic is underperforming when it comes to all three finishing metrics; the rate of shots that hit target, the % scored from all shots and ratio of goals scored from shots on target are all far below the expected rates. This can be quite common over such a small samples of games, and is actually a positive in one regard: Celtic will (highly likely) start moving to towards ‘expected rates’ over the next few games; no surprise if we see a higher % of shots hitting the target and a higher % of all shots being scored.
  • Rangers’ finishing has been very effective so far, especially when it comes to getting shots on target. Again, this is not necessarily a positive for the upcoming period as they are likely to ‘regress to the norm’ soon. If Rangers want to keep up their current scoring rate, they simply need to produce more shots; their current rate of getting 51% shots on target is unsustainable.

Prediction: Celtic 3, Rangers 0


Matt Evans is a recent transplant to the UK from the US. Celtic was passed down to him by a rogue soccer-loving Irish-American uncle in the 1980s and by the time European nights started being shown on satellite and streaming worldwide he was hooked. An editor by trade, he edits the 90MC publication, The Cynical, among other football publications. His all-time favourite Celt is Artur Boruc, and if he were a tree he would be a palm tree.


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