Craig Fowler gives his take on the first Old Firm game of the season as Celtic ran riot at Parkhead.
1. Moussa Dembele is a fine replacement for Leigh Griffiths
After Celtic qualified for the Champions League group stage, some wondered whether Brendan Rodgers would look to bring in another striker. Leigh Griffiths began in good form but Moussa Dembele had suffered through a stop-start beginning to his Parkhead career. Perhaps further reinforcements would be needed to challenge on both the European and domestic fronts. Instead, Rodgers trusted Dembele to come good and today he was rewarded for his patience. The striker had a slow start to the afternoon, but once he got his head to Scott Sinclair’s 33rd minute cross, directing it into the back of the net, he burst into life. Not only was he responsible for Celtic’s first four goals, scoring three and assisting the other, he also played a huge part in Rangers going down to ten man. Philippe Senderos was booked for a challenge on Dembele, and it was the striker’s run in behind that tempted the centre back into committing a deliberate handball which saw a premature end to his afternoon.
2. Celtic are too strong for Rangers to play their normal game
The hosts smothered Rangers right from the off, pressing them all over the park. Even when goalkeeper Wes Foderingham was lining up to take a goal kick, there were three home attackers stationed around the penalty area denying him the option of a short-pass to begin a Rangers attack. The visitors had some joy in the opening 20 minutes with mid-range passing, knocking the ball behind the high press and looking to hit on the counter, but it didn’t last. They soon gave the ball away with greater frequency, either pressed into errors or being forced to lump it forward.
Rob Kiernan’s performance on the ball epitomised that of his side. He kept his cool in the early stages, but soon made mistake after mistake, and his afternoon was done shortly after the hour mark. Other than one brief spell (which we’ll get to) Celtic dominated the midfield area throughout the game.
3. Niko Kranjcar was not ready for an Old Firm game
Few players struggled more than the former Croatian international. Considered languid in style, Kranjcar took to this game with a real sense of purpose, snapping at the heels of Celtic attackers to show he was more than just a playmaker. Unfortunately, after a moderately successful start, he soon began to toil badly with the pace and would surely have been sent off if Mark Warburton didn’t mercifully withdraw him at half-time. It’s no coincidence Rangers were at their best in the midfield area when Andy Halliday came on for Kranjcar, providing more urgency on the ball and energy off it. As for his midfield partners, Joey Barton didn’t fare much better, even if his run forward helped create the only Rangers goal. Josh Windass showed a bit of a promise, often dragging his team up the park through direct running. His performance was one of very few positives for Rangers.
4. Brendan Rodgers is proactive in his substitutions
The withdrawal of Tom Rogic seemed strange at the time. The Celtic playmaker had enjoyed a superb first 45 minutes, bamboozling the opposing midfield with his skill on the ball and shrugging off markers with his size and strength. However, the move to bring on Stuart Armstrong gave Celtic the lift required to restore the two-goal cushion and eventually secure a famous victory, with Armstrong himself grabbing the fifth. Rodgers later admitted he felt the team was flagging and needed renewed energy in the centre. Rogic, having played for Australia during the international break, was the man to make way.
5. Philippe Senderos did not solve Rangers’ defensive woes
It’s one game, so it would be harsh to immediately write off new boy Senderos, but the centre back endured a horrendous start to his Rangers career. He was done by Dembele’s dummy in the build up to the second goal, hurtling into a block before sliding away from the striker who had cut inside. He then failed to track the run of Scott Sinclair for Celtic’s third, choosing instead to focus on Dembele despite the attentions of two other Rangers defenders. And then, to top off a miserable day, he was booked for clattering into Dembele off the ball and saw red for a handball a short time later. It’s nine goals conceded from five league games for Rangers so far this season with zero clean sheets. Today’s evidence would suggest it’s not going to improve a whole lot before January.