The first Old Firm derby of the new season takes place on Sunday as Steven Gerrard takes his Rangers side across Glasgow to take on his former manager, Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic team. Gerrard has made a reasonable start to his tenure in charge at Ibrox, with a win and two draws in his opening three league games. He has also managed to successfully negotiate the Europa League’s qualifying round to take the Teddy Bears into the group stages.
Rodgers’ time at Celtic has been almost perfect. In his first two seasons he won domestic trebles while also reaching the Champions League group stages. This season Celtic were eliminated in the Champions League groups but will now join their city rivals in the Europa League group stages.
Laying down a marker
Gerrard has plenty of big game experience from his playing days. He played in cup finals, including two Champions League finals as well as Merseyside derbies and Liverpool v Manchester United games. However, this will be the biggest game of his managerial career and it will present a huge challenge as Rangers look to end Celtic’s dominance.
Gerrard will most likely be tempted to take the game by the scruff of the neck so as to lay down a marker that his team are a genuine contender this season, but it might be in his best interest to approach the game in a cautious manner. Rangers have shown in their European games that they have a stubborn side and can be difficult to break down.
When you compare that to their domestic games they look to leave gaps when they attack. This has led to both Aberdeen and Motherwell scoring against them in the games that saw the Ibrox side drop points. With all due respect to those sides, Celtic have players of a much higher standard than those two, and if Rangers leave gaps they will be punished.
This season has been a mixed bag for Celtic with the Champions League exit overshadowing their summer. A big issue at the moment looks to be breaking teams down. In each of their games, the Bhoys have enjoyed the majority of possession, but when they get to the final third they seem to run out of ideas. The current tactic looks to be to keep playing sideways across midfield before eventually crossing in to the lone striker who has four or five defenders around him — it’s clearly not working. The late sale of Moussa Dembele on deadline day clearly won’t help things either.
Based on how the two sides have began the season, Gerrard finds himself in a predicament. It’s probably in his best interests to sit deep and be difficult to break down, yet he will instinctively want to take the game to Celtic and send a message out to his own supporters, as well as the rest of Scottish football. Similarly, Rodgers would probably be happier to see Rangers come to Celtic Park and have a go. While his team look to be struggling in terms of breaking teams down, they are perfectly built for the counter attack so if Rangers come at them then Celtic’s pacey attackers should be able to do the damage to ensure another derby win.
You can be sure there will be plenty of mind games in the build up to the game. For the first time in a long time, there are a number of people who think Rangers might have closed the gap on their rivals, but for now it’s Celtic who are at the summit of Scottish football and it’s up to their rivals to find a way of walking the walk when the game gets underway on Sunday.
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