Celtic v Rangers: How will rivals line up for Old Firm match?


Leigh Griffiths may miss the match because of a hamstring injury, his place in the Celtic team most likely taken by Moussa Dembele

Rangers and Celtic approach Saturday’s Old Firm game from different circumstances. Amidst the emotional clutter of the encounter, these contrasts will help to shape the outcome.

Mark Warburton has spent 15 months building his Rangers team, while Brendan Rodgers has only been in charge of Celtic for four months; yet Warburton was starting essentially from scratch and Rodgers was taking over a title-winning side.

It is the Ibrox manager, though, who might wish that the first league meeting between the two sides in four years was delayed a little further.

Both teams are effectively still works in progress – Rangers have occasionally seemed unconvincing at the outset of this Premiership campaign, dropping points to Hamilton and Kilmarnock, while Celtic have won three out of three.

Neither side has kept a clean sheet in the league so far, which tells of defensive issues, but Rodgers is more sure of his strongest starting line-up.

Managing change

Some recruitment decisions have been straightforward. Rodgers identified the need for pace in attack, experience and reliability in defence, and a change in goalkeeper.

The signings of Scott Sinclair and Kolo Toure addressed the former issues, while the latter led to the arrival of former Dunfermline and Swansea goalkeeper Dorus de Vries.

The outcome has been a stronger central defensive unit and threatening penetration out wide from Sinclair and the rejuvenated James Forrest, who with three goals apiece are the team’s top scorers in the league.

Celtic and Rangers fans gather at Celtic Park for a league game in April 2012. Celtic won 3-0

The extent of the worth of Rodgers’ coaching and man-management might best be seen in Leigh Griffiths continuing to flourish as the central attacker.

He has two league goals so far, but no player in the Premiership has delivered more assists than his three. If he misses the game through injury, Celtic will be less sprightly and accomplished in attack.

There is a clear sense that Celtic are stronger, more tactically coherent and more effective than last season under Ronny Deila.

The evolution of the Rangers team has been more troublesome. It was clear at the end of last season that the side needed an experienced centre-back who could be commanding in the air, and a centre-forward who could stretch the game.

An influx of midfielders arrived, leaving Warburton yet to be sure of the right blend in the centre of his team. Joey Barton has been an assertive personality in the dressing room but less influential on the pitch, and the team’s tempo and pressing game has diminished.

Striker Joe Garner is still finding his feet at Ibrox after his move from Preston

There are problems to solve, not least because the centre-back signing, Philippe Senderos, arrived at the end of the transfer window and hasn’t played since May, while the centre-forward, Joe Garner, has also not had enough time to establish himself since his £1.5m move from Preston.

Decisions, decisions

De Vries is likely to start, and Rangers have a reliable number one in Wes Foderingham. Celtic’s defence will likely be Mikael Lustig, Toure, Erik Sviatchenko and Kieran Tierney.

For Rangers, a choice needs to be made between Senderos, Rob Kiernan and Danny Wilson, which will result in either an untried centre-back pairing or one that has looked ill at ease at times, particularly defending set-pieces.

Dorus de Vries is likely to be in goals for Celtic, ahead of Craig Gordon

More pressingly, Warburton must decide upon his tactics, since Rangers normally play with advanced full-backs, leaving the centre-backs exposed.

The pace of Sinclair and Forrest then becomes even more dangerous, so the positioning and movement of James Tavernier and Lee Wallace will be vital.

Analysis of the midfield might be reduced to the confrontation between Scott Brown and Barton, but others may be more likely to affect the outcome.

Tom Rogic, playing as a number 10, can be Celtic’s most creative outlet, and is threatening from long-range shots, while Rangers need to restore some of the vibrancy of last season to their midfield.

The return of Andy Halliday to the starting line-up would help, and he is able to lead in a less demonstrative and verbal but just as effective way as Barton. Warburton is keen on the abilities of Josh Windass, who may be fit enough to start the game, while Jason Holt ought to be available also.

Celtic striker Moussa Dembele races for the ball with Motherwell’s Richard Tait

Celtic’s attack selects itself, with Moussa Dembele a straight replacement for Griffiths if he is not fit enough to play. Griffiths’ range of movement would be more tormenting to the Rangers defenders, but Dembele is another quick, direct striker.

For Rangers, the question is whether Kenny Miller starts through the middle, or Garner. Miller is on form, but his tendency to drop deep often leaves the attack without a figure at the apex. Garner is busy, enthusiastic and hard-edged, so his work-rate alone might warrant his inclusion.

Barrie McKay will be entrusted to recover his form of last season, leaving a choice between the returning Martyn Waghorn or the creative promptings of Harry Forrester.

The comparative performances and result will tell us much, but more questions lie with Rangers in the build-up to the game.

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