Craig Fowler gives his take on the Betfred Cup semi-final as Celtic emerged as winners thanks to a late Moussa Dembele goal.
Moussa Dembele is on his way to being an all-time great signing
£500k? It looked a steal at the time. Now it’s grand larceny. How do you follow up a perfect hat-trick in a 5-1 win? How about the winner in an Old Firm Hampden showdown? And these are only his first two Old Firm games.
Celtic fans want to keep their star forever. Unfortunately, modern day football is far too cruel to allow that. In the meantime, he’s given them more than enough pleasant memories to keep them going for decades, and chances are he’ll at least be around to help them go for the treble - and potentially four further meetings with Rangers. When he does finally go, whether it’s one, two, three or four years down the line, he’ll recoup them a transfer fee so grand they can go back out into the market and try to repeat the ‘Moussa Dembele trick’ 40 times over.
Celtic have too many weapons to cover
Mark Warburton started with two natural right-backs, Lee Hodson and James Tavernier. It became apparently, fairly quickly, that this was aimed at stifling Kieran Tierney. Even though he’s only 19 years old, the Scottish defender is of tremendous importance to how Celtic play. He’s the out-ball on the left, which allows Scott Sinclair to work inside, attacking the box. It makes sense to put a man on him at all times, which is similar to what Warburton did in the first Old Firm game, when Kenny Miller followed him around. Unfortunately for the Rangers boss, with regards to the final result, it didn’t work then, and it didn’t work now.
Starting with Hodson instead of Tavernier at full-back meant Rangers lacked the attacking impetus from deep on that side of the field, as it limited the options going forward.
Furthermore, even though Tierney was quiet, the same could not be said of Tom Rogic, Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele. Even James Forrest found a little room in which to manoeuvre, though oddly the natural winger developed a Patrick Roberts-esque love for cutting inside in this particular contest. At this present moment in time, there’s just too many weapons in the Celtic arsenal for Rangers to gameplan against.
Griffiths and Dembele can mesh
This very weekend, Brendan Rodgers explained why it, perhaps, wasn’t the best of ideas to play Dembele and Leigh Griffiths alongside each other. This could have been an old manager’s trick of lying to the media so your opponents don’t know what you’re up to, though Rodgers has shown a reluctance to using the pair together since his opening few games as Celtic boss. Therefore, when Griffiths was stripped and ready to come off the bench, many assumed it would be Dembele making way. Instead, Rogic departed. Let’s just say the change had the desired effect.
In addition to the goal, which was impressive enough, the pair linked up on a couple of more occasions. If they can do it at Hampden Park against Rangers, chances are they will be fine as a duo against the majority of teams in the Ladbrokes Premiership. It’s time for Rodgers to experiment with this fearsome twosome once again.
Gap narrowed in score only
Warburton says the game shows how far Rangers have come since the last Old Firm clash. While 1-0 is obviously better than 5-1, there really wasn’t much different about the respective performances. Both times, the men in green and white hoops dominated.
After the last derby, Warburton pointed to the old adage “goals change games”. It can certainly be applied to this contest from a Celtic perspective. Had Sinclair forced the ball beyond Matt Gilks in the 15th minute, would this game have finished by only one goal in Celtic’s favour? Or if another Celtic player had taken one of the 10 or so chances they had from that point until Dembele finally broke the deadlock, would Rangers still have left with a sense of pride. There’s no way of knowing, but it’s highly doubtful.
There’s competition for Rangers No.1 role
It’s a good thing to have. A number of the top clubs have two goalkeepers worthy of being No.1. After only seeing glimpses of Gilks, mainly against lower league sides, we now know for sure Rangers have two stoppers capable of holding the gloves full time. Gilks deserves an opportunity beyond the cup competitions, but even if he does, do Rangers give it to him? Wes Foderingham is a good keeper and, all things considered, has probably been one of his team’s most consistent performers this term. He just hasn’t been quite as good in any one game as Gilks was against Celtic - his brainfart pass directly to Rogic inside the six-yard box, aside. As Warburton continues to look for the perfect formula in the upcoming league fixtures, he may consider a change at goalkeeper.