Today’s Glasgow Derby at Ibrox represents the first major challenge for Brendan Rodgers since his return to Celtic in the summer. Despite an indifferent start to the season that has seen Celtic drop out of the League Cup at the first hurdle, the Hoops hold a one-point advantage over the Rangers going into today’s game.
Ravaged by injuries in defence and faced with the prospect of handing debuts to this week’s three new arrivals – Luis Palma, Nat Phillips, and Paulo Bernardo – Brendan Rodgers side must also face Rangers in front of a packed Ibrox with no away support to cheer them on.
The full backing of the crowd, coupled with Celtic’s injury list, probably elevates Rangers to the position of slight favourites ahead of the game. However, with their own form of late up for debate, a solid start from Celtic could see this being one of the most evenly contested Glasgow Derby’s for a long time.
Today’s fixture may be the biggest Glasgow Derby since the last one. The outcome of the game may set down a marker for the season ahead, but win, lose, or draw the result of today’s game guarantees nothing in the long term. The prize on offer is the short-term City of Glasgow Bragging Rights Cup, the only ‘trophy’ currently residing in Edmiston Drive, but hopefully not for much longer.
New Bhoys to Start
With three new faces arriving through the gate of Celtic Park between Wednesday and Friday’s transfer deadline, Brendan Rodgers now has the dilemma of who and how many of the new boys should start today.
Nat Phillips, who was given an excellent write-up on Friday’s ACSOM Bulletin by John Gibbons of The Anfield Wrap, is likely to start at centre-half alongside Gustaf Lagerbielke. The on-loan Liverpool comes with a good pedigree and a self-described ‘old-fashioned’ defender and should take this fixture like a duck to water.
The explosive Luis Palma is also expected to start out wide on the left with Daizen Maeda, so often the tormentor of James Tavernier, the most likely to drop out of the starting side. Palma’s direct play and unpredictability could be exactly what Celtic need when hitting Rangers on the break. The Honduran has contributed 3 goals and 2 assists for Aris already this season, adding to the 14 goals and 6 assists from last season.
While Phillips and Palma are both expected to start the game, I would suggest that Paulo Bernardo will most probably find a place on the bench. Having arrived late on Friday and with the midfield such a key area to win in these fixtures, I would expect Rodgers to start the game with an experienced midfield and call upon the Portuguese in the second half.
3 Keys to Winning the Game
Emerging victorious from Ibrox this afternoon will not be an easy feat. If the Hoops are to do so, we will need to win the key battles, something we failed to do on our last visit to the blue side of the city.
Back in May, Rangers won the game largely due to Celtic’s ineptitude and out-muscling the away side on the day. Rangers have not changed their approach since then and Celtic will need to rise to the physical challenge of their opponents.
The inclusion of Nat Philips at the back should help partially solve that problem. The Englishman will be able to cope with Rangers aerial threat at set-plays a lot better than Kobayashi, for example. However, the bigger threat will come in midfield where Callum McGregor will need to step up his recent performance levels to drive the Celts on.
For this reason, Tomoki Iwata would be a good candidate for a starting berth, especially considering how he helped shore up midfield in April’s win in Paradise. But with the Japanese midfielder yet to start a competitive game under Rodgers, it seems too much of a risk to throw him in for this match.
Going forward, Celtic will need to improve on their dynamic movement which has been sorely lacking in recent games. The forward play has already become predictable in the opening fixtures with a lack of movement pulling defenders out of position or runs into space limiting Celtic’s attacking threat.
The arrival of Luis Palma could help with this and perhaps also the inclusion of Yang could offer an unpredictable threat in attack.
But the biggest obstacle to overcome is that of silencing the 50,000-strong home support. Playing in front of home-only fans can be an intimidating prospect therefore Celtic need to keep the game tight in the early stages to silence the crowd,
Do that, and maybe even score the opening goal, and the home advantage could quickly turn to a disadvantage if the natives become restless.
Rodgers has gone to Ibrox and won against the odds in the past. He can do it again today.
As always, you can join ACSOM’s matchdays coverage 30 minutes before kick-off as we look ahead to the game and again at both half-time and full-time as we dissect the key talking points of the match.
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