The Rangers gameplan tweak that caught out 'inbetween' Celtic

Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor has conceded that Rangers essentially out-thought their opponents in altering their approach for the first derby.

Celtic's Callum McGregor is tackled by Rangers' James Tavernier (left) in the 2-0 derby defeat for the Scottish champions (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Celtic's Callum McGregor is tackled by Rangers' James Tavernier (left) in the 2-0 derby defeat for the Scottish champions (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

And, in stewing on the 2-0 defeat to Steven Gerrard’s men, the Scotland international candidly ventured that Neil Lennon’s side need to move away from a half-baked approach in the fixture now too often leaving them second best.

“Credit to Rangers as they changed their game-plan,” he said. “Every week we see them with their two full-backs really high. But today they sat in and protected the middle of the pitch. So they did their homework as well, and we have to be honest in that sense. They set up their game-plan and they carried it out well to win. For us, we have to be more on the front foot when it comes to these games. We’re a little bit inbetween at the minute, albeit we were missing a lot of key players.”

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McGregor recognises that the recriminations from the Celtic support will leave Lennon and his squad scorched by friendly fire as they prepare for the visit of AC Milan in the Europa League on Thursday night with the club faithful concerned only with the dent to their 10-in-a-row prospects.

‘Massive reaction and bigger picture’

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“The fans will be frustrated and as players we’re hugely disappointed,” he said. “They have every right to point fingers and we have to accept that because in these games the bigger picture is never seen. There will be a massive reaction and we have to deal with that. What I would say is that we have to stay calm and we have to stay together. The sooner we can get them back into the stadiums too, the better, as they are a massive help to us. We have to keep the faith, trust the team and trust the manager and what we’re doing.

“We have been here a load of times before and have a load of experience. We are by no means out of it. We have guys in the changing room who have just lost their first derby and it’s a horrific experience. For the rest of us, it’s that same feeling. It’s up to the experienced boys, manager and backroom staff to get around them and stick together. We all have to accept the responsibility when we don’t play well. Internally we have to sort a few things and then we kick on. We really need to put our foot to the floor and the good thing is we have a massive game on Thursday to get up and running again. Then a big run of fixtures.”

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Absentees showed at times

McGregor didn’t reject the suggestion that Celtic lacked belief with their patchwork side that was denuded of Odsonne Edouard, Ryan Christie, Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed as a consequence of Covid-19 situations, and missing injured pair James Forrest and Christopher Jullien.

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“I think at times that probably showed, yeah,” he said. “We were missing quite a few key players, guys who play at the top end of the pitch who can make things happen for us and provide that bit of magic. Sometimes when you are missing those key players then subconsciously you do have that little doubt that shouldn’t be there. We never showed enough quality from middle to front to break Rangers down.”

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