Rangers boss thinks 'it's easy' - why they can't afford to contemplate big changes against Celtic

There is no such thing as a free pass for a Rangers manager going into an Old Firm match, even when it isn’t the most important fixture on his immediate schedule.

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst is facing a testing selection dilemma for Sunday's Old Firm match at Celtic Park. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst is facing a testing selection dilemma for Sunday's Old Firm match at Celtic Park. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

If Giovanni van Bronckhorst had the luxury of being able to consider the bigger picture when selecting his team for Sunday’s trip to Celtic Park, he would clearly be tempted to rest a clutch of key players ahead of next Thursday’s momentous Europa League semi-final, second leg showdown with RB Leipzig at Ibrox.

But given the consequences of the result against Ange Postecoglou’s side, that really isn’t an option for van Bronckhorst. If Rangers lose on Sunday, the Premiership title would be clinched in all but name for Celtic who would stretch their lead at the top of the table to nine points with three games remaining and increase their already unassailable goal difference advantage.

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That’s an unpalatable prospect for those connected with the Ibrox club and one which places the onus on van Bronckhorst to try and ensure Celtic’s widely anticipated coronation is at least delayed a little longer. For so long as a glimmer of hope remains in the title race for Rangers, they are duty bound to pursue a victory this weekend which may just place a seed of doubt in the minds of their great rivals.

Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack, pictured applauding the travelling support in Leipzig on Thursday, could be one of the players rested this weekend ahead of next week's second leg of the Europa League semi-final. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Back in 2007-08, the last time Rangers reached a European final, Walter Smith faced a similar scenario when the last Old Firm game of the season at Celtic Park took place in between the two legs of the semi-final against Fiorentina. Smith kept his changes to a minimum but Rangers still lost 3-2 as Celtic seized the initiative in a title race in which they would ultimately triumph.

But would the Rangers supporters that year have swapped the rare experience of seeing their team appear in a European showpiece occasion for another domestic crown?

As he gears up for next week’s attempt to overturn the 1-0 first leg deficit against Leipzig, it’s not a conundrum which van Bronckhorst will spend too much time wrestling with.

“I think it’s easy,” he said. “I had my team talk after the game. We closed the Leipzig tie after the game on Thursday night.

Rangers players (left to right) Fashion Sakala, Calvin Bassey, Scott Arfield and Glen Kamara look downcast after the 1-0 defeat against RB Leipzig in Germany on Thursday night. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

“We are going to prepare again for them next week. Our focus is now on Celtic.

“That’s what the players know. We have the recovery and the session today and tomorrow we will have the last session to prepare our players for the game on Sunday.

“It’s still too early to say who’s going to play or not. Especially in these weeks where you have so many games, you have to rotate players at some point. But how many players? I will know tomorrow."

Van Bronckhorst’s options for tinkering with his starting line-up are limited in any case. With Leon Balogun suspended and Filip Helander injured, there is no scope for him to rest any of his key defenders. In midfield, there could be places for Steven Davis, an unused substitute in Leipzig, and Scott Arfield who came on in the second half.

While he waits to discover if Kemar Roofe will recover from a knee injury in time to play against Leipzig next week, van Bronckhorst must find another solution up front against Celtic. Fashion Sakala could start, while Cedric Itten may come back into contention after recovering a debilitating illness which sidelined him for several weeks.

Whatever combination he picks, van Bronckhorst is determined that Rangers will be on the front foot as much as possible at Celtic Park. He feels his players have put their 3-0 defeat their in February firmly behind them and are buoyed by their display in beating Celtic 2-1 at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final earlier this month.

“The belief is there,” he said. “We won an important semi-final to reach the cup final. You see this season we won two, we lost two (against Celtic) - so overall it’s even, it’s in the balance.

“Of course, it’s not in the balance the way we are in the league. They have the advantage and we have to make sure we do everything we can on Sunday to get the difference back to three. Otherwise it will be very difficult for us to become champions.

“We have to win this game. On Sunday and also next week (against Leipzig), we have to win our games so it’s going to be a different approach. In that way, we have to go out and make sure we do everything for the win.

"What I have seen in those months that I have been here is the focus and the preparation towards games from this group has been amazing. To be involved in Europe so far in the season and to every week prepare for only two, three days for a game, I think the players have done really well.

"You want to play big games in a good ambience and we have had plenty of those games in recent weeks. This is the third time against Celtic in so short a time but it is an Old Firm, you have to enjoy it and do everything to make sure you get a good result. It is a great game to be involved in.

"I think we have learned, of course. The two Old Firms after that were different from the one we played in February. On Sunday, we have to see and we will prepare the game well and the team well to go out and make sure we do everything we do to get a good result. I think the players and the team have developed from that moment. I think we are in much better shape and momentum now.”

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