Prior to the first Old Firm game this season, BBC Scotland caused a bit of a stir by having Joe Miller and Derek Ferguson debate who would get into an Old Firm select XI. The two eventually settled on a 3-4-1-2 system with Lee Wallace included ahead of Kieran Tierney, Joey Barton alongside Scott Brown in centre-midfield, and Barrie McKay partnering Leigh Griffiths in attack. The rest of the side was made up by Celtic stars.
Ferguson drew criticism for attempting to shoehorn a massive six Rangers players into the team. It was a curious opinion even at the time. Rangers had dropped points to Hamilton and Kilmarnock, while Celtic held a 100 per cent record going into the match. It’s possible Ferguson was intentionally exaggerating the amount of Rangers players he felt deserved to be in the squad in the hope of inspiring debate. Regardless of his reasoning, even the former Ibrox winger would struggle to argue for any of Mark Warburton’s side to feature in a combined XI now.
For the second Old Firm clash in succession, Rangers were vastly outplayed. They defended better than the last contest, but it came at the cost of threatening Celtic at the other end. Though the game remained in the balance until the 87th minute, only a combination of poor finishing, great goalkeeping and some bad luck kept Celtic from scoring. Had it been a boxing match, it would have been stopped long before Moussa Dembele flicked the ball past Matt Gilks for the game’s only goal.
Looking at a combined Old Firm XI now, there’s only really one or two positions you could debate. Gilks could be considered if he plays like he did at Hampden every week, but we’d need to see more before pushing the Rangers stopper above Craig Gordon. Kieran Tierney is already ahead of Lee Wallace, both in the Scotland set-up and this team. James Tavernier could rival Mikael Lustig if the latter hadn’t rediscovered his form under Brendan Rodgers, something that can also be said of Scott Brown and James Forrest. Even if you don’t rate Forrest, and he definitely has his detractors among Scotland fans, you have to concede the quality of Patrick Roberts in reserve. Barrie McKay would have earned consideration if his form hadn’t dropped off a cliff, and there’s no way you can leave any of Dembele, Tom Rogic and Scott Sinclair out of this select XI. As for the centre-backs, well, Chris Sutton probably put it best.
What that leaves is a spot beside Scott Brown in midfield. Andy Halliday was outplayed by the Celtic skipper yesterday - making it a round apiece after last season’s semi-final was won by Halliday - but his drive, determination and skill on the football would make him a terrific partner for Brown at the base of the midfield. Nir Bitton has more technical ability than most players in this league, but he continues to play with too much passivity in the Celtic side. When he shows some aggression, as he did in the 5-1 game and the 3-3 draw with Manchester City, he becomes a more effective player. Unfortunately, that’s not his default setting. He was too slow in his play yesterday, both with and without the ball, and Celtic visibly improved when Stuart Armstrong took his place.
Rangers have a number of good players in their side that we’ve yet to mention - Kenny Miller, Jason Holt and Josh Windass to name a few - and they are improving as the weeks go by. But until they can close the gap that really matters, the quality of the respective squads, we’re not going to see much change on the pitch or ground gained in the league table.
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