The first of a two-part special looking forward to Sunday’s game, Craig Fowler examines what the home side needs to do in order to pick up their first victory against Celtic since 2016.
Alfredo Morelos has to be ruthless
For every goal he scores the Colombian can miss a few sitters. But while his club would like him to be more clinical, they must be pleased with his attitude as he never hides and continues to get into the right areas time and again.
That determination will be in evidence again on Sunday despite Morelos passing up three great chances, and a couple of decent others, in his two games against Celtic so far. Unlike the rest of Scottish football, if Morelos misses an early opportunity against the reigning champions there is no guarantee he’s going to get another. He’s got to make it count.
Sean Goss has to find time on the football
The midfielder has been a big part of Rangers’ recent strong form. As Graeme Murty has pointed out, his poise and passing ability in the centre allows the Light Blues to dominate possession and pin opponents back near their own area. He won’t be able to do that to Brendan Rodgers’ side to such an extent, but he’ll still need to be a significant factor in the match if Rangers are to earn all three points.
The knock on Goss coming up from QPR was that, for all his technical prowess and composure, he often failed in the physical battle. Scott Brown plays too deep within Celtic’s own system for him to be the man charged with keeping the loanee quiet, but look for the energetic Callum McGregor to start in place of Tom Rogic if the visiting manager sees Goss as a problem worth preparing for.
Regardless of who he is up against, if Goss finds space he can help Rangers get the better of the possession battle, which could be key to the full-time result.
Bruno Alves needs to be protected
With Russell Martin struggling with a back injury it looks more than likely that Alves will start alongside David Bates. The Portuguese international hasn’t quite lived up to the heights expected of him following his move from Cagliari as he’s struggled at times to keep elusive attackers under wraps. In that respect, it’s good that he’s facing Moussa Dembele and not Leigh Griffiths as the former will look to engage physically more than the Scottish international, though he’s still adept himself at evading centre-backs.
Alves’ skill lies in his heading ability and he’s been at his best for Rangers this season, most notably the win over Hibs at Easter Road, when asked to defend the penalty box from crosses out wide. The home side will want to get Celtic on the back foot, but they can’t be too cavalier as to let Alves get caught out in space against a quicker attacker.
If Martin plays then the Norwich City loanee just has to keep his concentration for the full 90 minutes. Overall his presence has been a positive, as his mobility helps Rangers in the open field, but he’s made a number of mistakes that have led to goals. These have come in matches in which Rangers have won regardless, as they’ve outscored the opposition, but they won’t want to enter into that sort of contest with Celtic.
Stop Scott Brown from dictating play
This is an obvious one. Brown is not only a terrific spoiler in front of the defence, he’s often called on to dictate the pace and flow of the game. Take him out of the equation and Celtic don’t quite function as smoothly, especially this season with a number of their star players playing below their best.
It’ll be interesting to see how Rangers line-up - whether they continue to go with the 4-4-2 with a second striker dropping off Morelos, or if they go full 4-5-1 with Jason Holt perhaps coming into the side. That decision could depend on the fitness of Jamie Murphy and whether Josh Windass is needed out wide on in the hole. If it’s the latter it’ll be his responsibility to work hard off the ball and disrupt Brown whenever he can.
James Tavernier must win the rampaging full-back battle
Two of the game’s more devastating attacking options come from the defensive corps. James Tavernier has enjoyed a terrific season buccaneering down the right flank, and while Kieran Tierney hasn’t quite hit the heights of last season he’s still undeniably one of the best players in Scottish football.
Celtic have been playing with a three-at-the-back formation with greater frequency over the past couple of months and it’ll be intriguing to see if Rodgers stays with that shape or alters it to give Tierney some assistance on the flank. The 20-year-old is a terrific defensive full-back, but it might be too much to ask him to keep an eye on both Daniel Candeias and Tavernier down the right.
As for the Rangers right-back, he was excellent in the 0-0 draw at Parkhead in late December and would have been one of the biggest contributors to a victory had the visitors managed to break through in the second half. Another performance like that and Murty’s men will surely fancy their chances.