Something strange is happening in Scotland. There is, it seems, a genuine title race in the country’s top division. Celtic are not cruising away into the distant horizon, as they have so often in recent years.
As the halfway stage of the season approaches, it is Rangers who sit top. Only a point separates four teams: Rangers, Celtic, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen. And Hearts are not too far behind in fifth.
It is, without doubt, the most interesting season in the Scottish top flight for some time. And that makes the upcoming Old Firm derby the most intriguing in years. At Ibrox on the 29thof December, Rangers could take a massive step towards a first title in eight years.
Old Firm Derby Rangers v Celtic Preview – Stiliyan Petrov
Rangers, since Steven Gerrard’s arrival, have maintained an impressive level of consistency. A couple of recent slipups – defeat at home to Aberdeen, for example, and elimination in the group stages of the Europa League – will have been hugely frustrating, but they remain in good shape to sustain a title challenge.
At Ibrox, Rangers have been largely dominant. That Aberdeen defeat was their first at home this season, and the first time they have failed to score at home. Gerrard’s side have scored the most goals in the division, a significant proportion of which have come at Ibrox.
Celtic’s form has been unusually patchy, particularly away from home. They were beaten 2-0 at Hibernian in their last outing, so they will be determined to respond.
Brendan Rodgers’ side will, given their away record, go into this Old Firm derby as underdogs. Celtic have won three, drawn three and lost three of their nine games on the road so far, a level of inconsistency that suggests they might struggle at Ibrox.
Gerrard has most commonly opted to field a 4-2-3-1 system this season, which has proved extremely effective in an attacking sense. Alfredo Morelos, Rangers’ 22-year-old Colombian striker, will start as the lone forward. He is the division’s top scorer, with nine league goals to his name.
Scott Arfield and Glenn Middleton will provide creativity from behind, while Ryan Jack and Lassana Coulibaly will marshal in front of the defence. James Tavernier and Jon Flanagan provide width at full back, too.
This is a Rangers team with attacking intent, and they are set up with the aim of scoring goals. The aim for Celtic will be to nullify them.
Rodgers, like Gerrard, often lines up his Celtic side in a 4-2-3-1, although he has alternated between that and a 4-3-3. The Bhoys focus on controlling possession and dictating the pace of games. That, though, might prove difficult at Ibrox.
Odsonne Edouard will likely start as Celtic’s lone striker, while winger James Forrest is the club’s top scorer and a key man. The midfield duo of Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie, who should return from injury in time for the derby, will hope to assert themselves on their opposition.
Rangers v Celtic – Stan Petrov on Brendan Rodgers
Alfredo Morelos, Celtic: Morelos is the top scorer in the division for a reason. He is quick and powerful, strong in the air and has an excellent left foot.
His movement off the ball is often difficult to stop and he is rarely wasteful when presented with an opportunity. There are, of course, improvements to be made. Morelos is still just 22 and has struggled with disciplinary issues.
His hot-headedness must be channelled into his football to avoid further issues. When he is at his best, though, Morelos is often unplayable. His performance will be key against Celtic.
James Forrest, Celtic: Forrest has enjoyed a remarkable transformation over the last couple of seasons. Once a pacey winger, good for a few goals a season, he has become one of Celtic’s main goal threats.
Last season, he managed 17 goals in all competitions. He is on course to better that this year, with 11 to his name so far. Expect him to be at the centre of things against Rangers.
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