Old Firm Review – Rangers Triumph over Uninspired Celtic
Rangers have taken a 4-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership after a 2-0 win over arch-rivals and current reigning champions Celtic in the first Old Firm match of the season.
The game was a strange affair, with the two Glasgow teams playing in front of an eerily empty Celtic Park. Without any raucous fans to spur them on, this was without a doubt the quietest Old Firm match in history.
Despite Celtic’s current run of 9 league titles in a row, Rangers were considered by many to be the pre-match favourites.
Both teams had yet to be beaten in the league, with Rangers dropping points in draws away at Livingston and Hibernian. Meanwhile, Celtic had won every game up to this point.
However, Rangers have arguably been performing better, having only conceded 3 goals in the league. Celtic have scraped through results, leaving it extremely late to score against St Johnstone in their previous outing.
Celtic 0-2 Rangers
2 goals, 1 in each half, from former Brighton centre back Connor Goldson sealed the win for the Ibrox side.
The first goal came from a well-timed header from captain James Tavernier’s 9th minute free kick, going into the net past a hesitant Vasilis Barkas.
The second goal came from a scrappy piece of play following Scott Arfield’s low drive into the box. Goldson knocked the ball in the net through on-loan Brighton defender Shane Duffy’s legs on the second attempt.
Throughout the game, Rangers played with good composure and an organised structure, with Ryan Kent looking threatening on the Celtic goal throughout the game, while Finnish midfielder Glen Kamara ensured the Celtic midfield could not make a clear attempt on goal.
While readers who are unfamiliar with the Scottish Premiership may doubt Steven Gerrard’s managerial capabilities until he inevitably has a chance to manage in the EFL or the Premier League, there is no doubt that he has transformed this Rangers side over the last three years to become a serious title contender once again in Scotland and a tricky side in Europe.
Meanwhile, Celtic’s performance was much less inspiring than expected. Neil Lennon’s men recorded 0 shots on target throughout the entire game. Their best chance came from a Mohammed Elyounoussi chip clearing the crossbar.
A second half attempt by substitutes Albian Ajeti and Leigh Griffiths that was also smothered by Gers keeper Allan McGregor, who had a very quiet game in front of goal.
Midfielders Olivier Ntcham, Callum McGregor, and Scott Brown were mostly ineffective, with the only notable moment from either midfielder coming in the first half, where Brown taunted Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos, only to receive a light slap on the ear from the Colombian forward.
A long injury table
Celtic will feel aggrieved that their team was depleted before the match, with Ryan Christie, Nir Bitton, and Hatem Abd Elhamed all having to isolate due to Covid-19 restrictions during the international break.
Additionally, injuries to regular starters Christopher Jullien and James Forrest and star striker Odsonne Edouard lacking match fitness due to his isolation over the international break left Celtic with several key players missing.
However, considering Celtic have invested in their squad this summer, they had plenty of players to field, with new loan signing Diego Laxalt starting his first game at left wing back.
£3.6 million striker Patryk Klimala started alongside on-loan £16 million Southampton striker Mohammed Elyounoussi.
Celtic have boosted their coffers through winning the league and qualifying for the Champions League for 9 seasons in a row, so there is not much excuse to cover a few injuries considering the squad depth they currently possess.
Additionally, Rangers themselves were without key players, with former Leeds striker Kemar Roofe and young Croatian stalwart Niko Katic still out injured, while midfield maestro Joe Aribo only fit enough to make a cameo appearance at the end of the match.
Changing of the guard?
This was Rangers’ match to make a statement of intent for stopping Celtic’s 10-in-a-row challenge, and unless Celtic can improve going forwards, this season should be Rangers’ for the taking.
Celtic need to improve their quality and creativity if they want to stand a chance, while Rangers need to ensure they carry this momentum going forwards. In the previous two seasons, Rangers have maintained a close title race throughout the first half of the season, experiencing a dip in form following a New Years’ Old Firm win and a Winter Break in each season.
With no Winter Break this season to interrupt proceedings, Rangers have a better chance of maintaining their momentum. If they can continue to grind out results against the other teams in the league and maintain control during the remaining Old Firm fixtures, then title number 55 will be theirs for the taking.
They now have an opportunity to pile pressure on Celtic by establishing a 7-point lead if they can beat Livingston, Hamilton, and Kilmarnock before the next international break.
Meanwhile, Neil Lennon’s men must play away at Aberdeen and Motherwell in the league, in addition to playing Aberdeen at Hampden in the Scottish Cup Semi Final, delayed from the previous season.