In their build-up to the final Old Firm fixture of the season, Sky Sports breathlessly trailed it as part of their “Heavyweight Week” which also included the titanic clash of Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley.
The action at Ibrox, however, was akin to a powerful super-middleweight being put in the ring with a skinny flyweight. This total mismatch saw Celtic ruthlessly expose the chasm in quality which now separates them from Rangers.
It was a painfully embarrassing day for the Govan club both on and off the pitch. Outclassed in suffering their heaviest home defeat against Celtic since 1897, they were also let down by some of their supporters in incidents which saw Scott Sinclair racially abused, Scott Brown confronted by a pitch invader and objects thrown at Leigh Griffiths.
In a season in which Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has set a standard in terms of team transformation which Pedro Caixinha must somehow aspire to at Rangers this summer, the Old Firm rivalry is in danger of losing its footballing relevance.
The 36-point gap between the teams in the Premiership table tells its own story. Celtic have bookended their six games against Rangers in all competitions this season with a pair of 5-1 victories to underline their vast superiority over their old sparring partners.
From the opening moments on Saturday, Rodgers’ side displayed a speed of movement and thought which left Rangers reeling. Robust defensively, dominant in midfield and consistently threatening up front, Celtic were miles in front of Rangers all over the pitch.
“The way we played was quite brilliant,” observed Mikael Lustig, scorer of Celtic’s fifth goal on an afternoon when eight or nine would not have flattered them. “I don’t know if this proves the gap is getting bigger. There were two teams out there but let’s just talk about our performance which was brilliant. They tried something new and they couldn’t touch us. They tried a different style of play from last week but we proved that we are too good at the moment. The way we played for that full game was very pleasing.”
The change in tactics from Rangers which Lustig referred to saw Caixinha adopt a 4-3-1-2 formation, primarily aimed at limiting the ability of Celtic captain Brown to dictate play. But the Portuguese coach’s players were simply not good enough to carry out the plan to any significant effect.
This is a Rangers squad in need of a radical overhaul and it remains to be seen what level of resources will be available to Caixinha in order to make the changes required. He is also dealing with the legacy of Rangers’ recruitment last summer which, for a variety of reasons, has proved to be wretchedly ineffective.
“The summer is going to be crucial for us,” admitted veteran striker Kenny Miller who, yet again, was Rangers’ best performer on the day. “I’m not even looking at Celtic and saying ‘we need to do this or that to get closer to them’. We just need to get better. Our best run in the league this season has been four wins in a row and that’s not good enough to be up there challenging at the top. There’s a lot of work to be done for us to be in a position to be better next year.”
The added concern for Rangers will be that Celtic are only likely to improve further under the relentlessly demanding leadership of Rodgers, who is assured of firm backing in the transfer market this summer. The Northern Irishman is not a man to rest on his laurels, as plentiful as they have been in this remarkable campaign.
Celtic are now unbeaten in all 42 of their domestic games under Rodgers and are just five matches away from achieving the historic feat of winning the treble as an undefeated side. The burning desire to maintain their momentum, despite the league title having long since been clinched, was evident from kick-off here.
It took them just seven minutes to take the lead, albeit with the help of a preposterously rash and unnecessary foul from Rangers’ teenage full-back Myles Beerman on winger Patrick Roberts. Sinclair sent Wes Foderingham the wrong way from the penalty spot and the pattern was set.
Griffiths doubled the lead in 18 minutes, rifling a left-foot shot high into the net from a difficult angle. Celtic were rampant and the only criticism which could be levelled at them was the standard of their finishing at times. Sinclair missed two good chances and the 2-0 advantage barely reflected their control of proceedings at half-time.
Caixinha replaced Joe Dodoo with Andy Halliday at the break in a bid to shore up his toiling side but Rangers remained firmly on the back foot. Callum McGregor and Griffiths both passed up decent opportunities before McGregor did make it 3-0 in the 52nd minute with a cool finish after a one-two with Roberts.
It took Rangers an hour to register their first attempt on target, a Miller shot comfortably held by Craig Gordon, before Celtic got their fourth in the 66th minute. Dedryck Boyata took advantage of confused defending by Rangers to head home a Griffiths free-kick from close range.
Miller provided a crumb of consolation for those Rangers fans still in the ground when he scored with nine minutes remaining, a smart finish after an exchange of passes with Joe Garner, but Celtic almost inevitably had the final word.
Lustig seized on a loose ball, which summed up Rangers’ incoherent performance, and waltzed through to guide a precise shot beyond Foderingham. The mismatch was complete.