How much of an impact will the Covid-5 have?
A bone of contention between the two managers has popped up over the past week with interim Celtic boss John Kennedy unhappy with Steven Gerrard and Rangers over their justification for appealing the bans handed out to each of the five players who broke Covid-19 rules during lockdown. Gerrard, talking about Nathan Patterson in particular, didn’t think it was right for talented young players to be banned for as much as six games. Furthermore, Rangers’ appeal of the suspensions will not be heard until after Sunday’s match, meaning they’ll be free to play. But is this just another Old Firm distraction that’ll be blown out of proportion?
Dapo Mebude is on loan at Queen of the South and therefore can’t feature, while it’s also implausible to think youth goalkeeper Brian Kinnear will play any part. Calvin Bassey has played just once in 2021, while Bongani Zungu hasn’t started a match in over two months. It’s really all about Patterson and what impact he’ll have. That could be “none” if captain James Tavernier passes a late fitness test and returns to the starting XI, but that looks unlikely as the right-back continues to rehab a knee injury.
Patterson doesn’t have much experience – he made his Old Firm bow as a substitute in the recent 1-1 draw – but he’s shown this campaign that he’s a talented player with a big future ahead of him, and if he plays any positive role in a Rangers victory then it’s certainly something that will rankle with Celtic.
How historic will this campaign be for Rangers?
Gerrard’s men have won the title and are favourites to finish the league season undefeated and take the Scottish Cup, especially if they are able to knock out their biggest rivals for football’s oldest trophy. Coming into the campaign, it was all about stopping Celtic’s march to ten-in-a-row. Therefore, even if the Ibrox side fail to meet any objectives they have between now and the end of the season, fans will still be absolutely delighted with what has occurred in 2020/21.
However, the incredible dominance of the Ibrox side will only be truly reflected if they finish what they’ve started: by securing an undefeated campaign and a league-and-cup double. It won’t quite match up to Celtic’s unprecedented dominance of recent seasons, but two trophies and an unbeaten league campaign is still something special in Rangers’ history. Also, supporters won’t want their side to even allow a sliver of bragging rights to their rivals.
Celtic will still have the opportunity to halt the invincible league season when they come back to Ibrox for the final league meeting, but if they lose this contest you’d have to think it’d be too much of a mental blow to overcome.
Can Celtic build on the ‘success’ of the last two derbies?
One draw from two games is far below what a Celtic supporter considers acceptable from their club in Glasgow derbies these days. Nevertheless, there is no doubt the performance in both of those games was improved on the pitiful showing when the sides met earlier in the season at Celtic Park – and probably a better performance than several showings against Steven Gerrard’s men since the Liverpool legend became the boss at Ibrox.
Across the last two games, Celtic bettered their rivals in shots attempted (29 to 19) and shots on target (11 to three) and yet contrived to score one fewer goal. They need to be more ruthless in this contest, while not giving anything cheaply at the other end. For starters, they could do without conceding a goal from a set-piece. Three of the four goals Rangers have netted in derbies this season have come direct from set-pieces, while the fourth came in the second phase after a corner was only partially cleared.
Have Celtic finally found the right tactical blend?
Scoring six goals against a Livingston side who usually make things tough for either half of the Old Firm was a particularly good warm-up for John Kennedy’s side as they finally produced the kind of showing supporters wanted on a weekly basis throughout most of this season.
The return of James Forrest was a key factor and his fitness will likely be crucial to Celtic’s chances this weekend. It gives the Parkhead side something they’ve lacked for a lot of this season – a reliable threat from the right flank and balance to their attack. Forrest patrolling one wing opened up space for Mohammed Elyounoussi to excel in his preferred role on the other flank and the Norwegian struck a double in a man-of-the-match showing against Livi.
There is something for Kennedy to ponder though: did they compete so well in the last two Old Firm games thanks to the 4-4-2 diamond? Was it the perfect antidote to Rangers’ attacking prowess and ability to dominate games in possession? It’s certainly something to consider, especially if Forrest doesn’t recover in time.
Can it be two-in-a-row for Morelos?
No player must’ve tallied up more column inches after Old Firm meetings than the Colombian over the past four seasons: the misses, the goal drought, the off-the-ball antics etc. Therefore, it was something of a damp squib when he finally ended his long wait for a goal against the Celtic Park side in a fairly pedestrian, meaningless 1-1 league draw in front of an empty stadium. Of course, the latter circumstance won’t be any different this weekend, but his legacy in the history of this famous derby will be boosted significantly if he can repeat the feat in this match and dump Celtic out of the cup.