After a miserable international break which saw the pressure heaped on Scotland boss Alex McLeish following a 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan followed by an unconvincing 2-0 win over San Marino, the Scottish Premiership resumes with an Old Firm meeting which may well decide the title race.
Celtic can establish a surely unassailable 13-point lead with a win over Rangers on Sunday afternoon. Victory for Steven Gerrard’s men, however, would make things interesting; a seven-point gap with another derby clash still to be contested before the end of the campaign.
As the rivals gear up for another Glaswegian battle, we preview Sunday’s game.
Neil Lennon’s return to the Parkhead dugout has produced positive results – three wins and a draw from four games with only one goal conceded – but less than convincing performances.
The Hoops did well to grind out wins away to Hearts and Hibernian, the latter sealing a place in the Scottish Cup semi-final, but Lennon’s first game back at Parkhead yielded only a 0-0 draw with Aberdeen, after which the coach claimed his players were ‘psychologically fatigued’.
Having been made to wait until the 90th-minute for a winner against relegation strugglers Dundee, it’s fair to say Celtic have not been firing on all cylinders following Brendan Rodgers’ departure to Leicester City.
Rangers’ form over the last month has been worse. Since comfortably dispatching Dundee 4-0 at Ibrox at the end of February, Steven Gerrard’s have embarked on a four-game winless run which has included being dumped out of the cup by Aberdeen.
Last time out, at home to Kilmarnock, the Gers needed Alfredo Morelos’ second-half strike to salvage a point. Suffice to say, visiting fans to Parkhead on Sunday will hope the men in blue can rediscover the devastating form that saw them score 14 times in three games during February.
The 1-0 scoreline in September’s encounter at Parkhead was deceptive; Celtic dominated from start to finish.
Rodgers favoured a 4-2-3-1 system that allowed the full-backs and wide men to cause Rangers myriad issues. Kieran Tierney was excellent on the day while James Forrest teed up Olivier Ntcham’s winner.
It could not have been more different at Ibrox, however, as Rangers battered their rivals from the first whistle. The scoreline again read 1-0 but Celtic had keeper Craig Gordon to thank after a string of excellent saves prevented Rodgers’ first Old Firm defeat from being much heavier.
Gerrard outclassed his former manager that afternoon, his high-pressing 4-1-4-1 system proving too much for Celtic, who were overrun in midfield and outfought across the park. While Rangers have struggled to maintain performances of such vigour, Gerrard will be quietly hopeful of executing another carefully constructed game plan and clinch the club’s first away derby win in the league since 2010.
Head-to-head: Edouard v Morelos
Sunday’s clash will feature two of the Scottish Premiership’s deadliest marksmen this season in Odsonne Edouard and Alfredo Morelos.
The Frenchman has struck 13 times for the Bhoys while Morelos’ 17 sees him top of the scoring charts, with Aberdeen’s Sam Cosgrove in between the pair on 14.
Edouard has 18 goals in all competitions this term and struck the winner last time out against Dundee. However, the 21-year-old will hope to have more of an impact than in his two previous appearances against Rangers; he was substituted after 66 minutes in September’s win and came on for the last 30 minutes during the defeat at Ibrox.
He did, however, bag a brace in Celtic’s 5-0 derby win here in April 2018.
Morelos has not yet scored against Celtic but the 22-year-old Colombian has been in scintillating form this season, with 29 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions.
The South American is fresh off a goal against Kilmarnock and while he did not find the net in December, his indefatigable display attracted praise from supporters, having pressed the Celtic centre-backs relentlessly.
Another spirited display seems likely but Morelos would love to improve an already outstanding campaign by becoming an Old Firm matchwinner.
Celtic have dominated this fixture in recent times, winning 16 of the last 26 meetings (Rangers have five, with five ending in draws).
As mentioned earlier, Parkhead has not been a happy hunting ground for the Gers either, losing each of their last three visits with an aggregate score of 10-0.
Interestingly, given its reputation as one of the feistiest derbies in world football, the last three Old Firm meetings in the league have ended without a red card. In fact, the last Rangers player to be sent off in a league game against Celtic was defender Philippe Senderos, who received his marching orders after two bookable offences in September 2016.
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