Celtic are (almost) everyone’s favourites for the first Old Firm game of the new season, which takes place tomorrow lunchtime when Rangers travel to Parkhead.
We look at the five main reasons Brendan Rodgers and his side have every right to feel confident of gaining the result they desire.
Exploitation of away defence
Celtic can take advantage of the visiting back-line in terms of personnel and the unit’s positioning on the park. It’s no secret Mark Warburton prefers a high line as it compliments an attacking, high-pressing system, but it leaves them susceptible to runners in behind. In Scott Sinclair, James Forrest and Patrick Roberts, Celtic have three attacks more than capable of taking advantage.
Even if the visitors decide to drop deep and look to hit their rivals on the break, it remains to be seen whether Clint Hill, Danny Wilson or Rob Kiernan will be able to handle such attacking pressure. And how will Philippe Senderos fare? An Old Firm derby at Celtic Park would be one helluva way to make his debut.
Rangers are still in flux
There is a lack of cohesion within the current Rangers side. Manager Mark Warburton even admitted he’s yet to find the right balance following a influx of new signings over the summer. Many are wondering whether he’ll have to move away from his preferred 4-3-3 formation for this match in order to combat the issue. Celtic, on the other hand, are fairly set in personnel and style. There are a few questions to answer: will Dorus de Vries start over Craig Gordon? Will Patrick Roberts come back into the side? Can Leigh Griffiths shake off his injury? But, overall, home fans have a good idea of how their team will look come Saturday. The same cannot be said of the visitors.
While it says nothing about the current teams, prior to Rangers’ collapse in 2012 only two away sides had emerged victorious in 14 Old Firm derbies. A raucous home crowd can make all the difference to a derby, and after their side made it back to the Champions League group stages, there is a real sense of positivity around the Celtic Park support.
So far this season there’s been little doubt with regards to who has been the stronger side, despite only one point separating them at present. That’s because Celtic have amassed a 100 per cent record despite travelling to St Johnstone and Hearts and hosting Aberdeen, a tougher start there could barely have been, while Rangers have drawn with two relegation candidates and have failed to register a clean sheet thus far. Then again, neither have Celtic, so expect goals from both sides tomorrow.
Score to settle
Brendan Rodgers hasn’t quite made the kind of wholesale changes fans expected when he arrived this summer. Of the 14 players that featured in last season’s derby, only Gary Mackay-Steven, Stefan Johansen and Dedryck Boyata won’t be in contention for a starting spot tomorrow. Many of the very same players who were embarrassed by Rangers in April will have their chance at gaining revenge.