Rangers insist they have every chance of winning at Celtic Park, despite bookmakers and the majority of onlookers favouring their hosts to emerge victorious from the first Old Firm game of the season.
We look at the five main reasons Mark Warburton’s side could escape with a victory when the two sides meet tomorrow.
The element of surprise
Some pundits believe Rangers are going to get a caning and not without reason. Struggling to gel as a team, if the visitors put in a similarly disjointed performance witnessed in the draw at Kilmarnock but retain their desire to attack throughout, then Celtic will pick them off at will. But that’s assuming Warburton doesn’t have a trick up his sleeve (or in his hat - boom, boom). Brendan Rodgers will expect Rangers to play their usual 4-3-3, but the visitors could catch Celtic off-guard with a defensive oriented gameplan that will look to hit the hosts on the counter.
Rangers caught Celtic cold in the semi-final last season. The favourites didn’t think a second tier side could produce an effective performance while sticking to their season-long principles. They were wrong. They’ll be ready for such an approach tomorrow, but will Rangers serve one up?
If there’s no Leigh Griffiths
The presumption is that Celtic’s talisman will not play. Though Celtic are remaining noncommittal on his chances of making the match, sending their top goalscorer for a scan would indicate a problem unlikely to clear up by Saturday. If that’s the case they will probably rest the player, or at least place him among the bench in a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ option, rather than risk aggravating the injury further and putting Griffiths out for the foreseeable future.
In this scenario, Rangers’ chances of pulling off an upset will increase. It’s hard to put in a peak-level performance when your best player is missing.
It’s a derby
“You can throw the form book out of the window.” Well, you can’t. The form guide is a great indicator for who is going to win any match, derby or not. Players don’t suddenly develop temporary amnesia when they see the colours of a hated rival. However, it’s fair to say the form book matters a little less in derby games than any other type of match. Prior to the last league derby at Ibrox in 2011/12, Rangers had lost three of their previous four games, including defeats at home to Hearts and Kilmarnock. Celtic, meanwhile, had saw a 17-game winning run come to an end with a 1-1 draw at Aberdeen the match before. And what happened? Rangers won 3-2. A score-line that flattered the visitors who netted twice in the closing stages.
Not the Joey Barton who Rangers fans have witnessed so far. He’s not winning any games on his own, let alone one at Celtic Park. However, if the Barton who was named in the English Championship Team of the Year last season manages to show up, then his side have a fighting chance. This game was part of the lure which brought Barton to Ibrox. Maybe it’s the type of highly charged contest he needs to get himself going.
Celtic’s new boys may struggle with the pressure
There is a greater cohesion around the Celtic team than the Rangers starting XI, but that advantage may evaporate if the new additions in the Parkhead dressing room fail to handle the pressure of playing in an Old Firm game. Dorus de Vries admitted he tried to do too much in his debut against Aberdeen and may do so again; Cristian Gamboa may be too keen to make an impression if it’s his first game; Moussa Dembele has disappointed a little thus far, and Scott Sinclair, as excellent as he’s been, has already shown himself capable of being a little inconsistent, as evidenced by the away leg against Hapoel Beer-Sheva.
Celtic are definite and deserved favourites, but if two or three key players underperform on the day, it could tip the scales in Rangers’ direction.