Gordon Smith: For Celtic and Rangers, the Old Firm will be critical – but for very different reasons


For both teams and the results of this season, today’s Old Firm game has huge consequences. You can’t really claim the league is over if Rangers win, but to be honest, the chances of Celtic keeping the title will be extremely slim.

Neil Lennon’s men didn’t start the season poorly, but their form went downhill after the October derby loss and vital points were lost. Meanwhile, more and more wins and draws were being earned by Rangers.

That day in October, the distance between the two teams was plain to see, because Celtic had been so bad. They were fairly consistent up until that game, but they’ve crashed since then and while they’ve completed their fourth straight treble, they’re not the team we’ve seen in recent years anymore.

However, it must be said that we have seen a change over the past month in the shape of the Parkhead club, so Lennon is optimistic that today his side will win.

Rangers vs Celtic: Is the game going to be shown on television? May I watch it free of charge? Kick-off time, news for the channel and the squad.

Also, the team itself has been changed. Young David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro deliver a fresh and explosive style of play that has been difficult for opposing teams to deal with. Lennon will be quietly hopeful that this will be the case against Rangers, as it seems to have weakened the power Celtic had in midfield for a few seasons.

The perfect example of this is Scott Brown. He dominated the midfield until last December and Rangers were regularly unable to deal with the Celtic captain.

But since then, the men from Ibrox have totally outplayed their city rivals in the three games, and while Celtic won the League Cup in one of those games, the contribution of Brown has been diminished. He is still a top player, but Lennon will be very conscious that there is now a need for a new approach to this game, and that’s why I assume Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Soro and Turnbull will be the midfield back four.

Gerrard is going to play in midfield with three players, so I expect Steven Davis and Glen Kamara to be in the starting eleven for sure. This is no doubt a concern for Gerrard, with Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield unavailable due to injury. However, as a third starter in midfield, the Rangers boss will have to determine whether to field Joe Aribo or Bongani Zunga.

With the Hoops keeping a close eye on the Sparta Prague winger, Celtic are considering an offer for Karlsson.

Aribo is more of an attacking choice, but he would certainly have taken into account the midfield improvements Lennon has made and how in recent games they have been a positive force. If Aribo starts today, it’s a sign that Gerrard thinks about the offensive capabilities of his own squad more than he cares about what Celtic has to bring.

For both teams, this is such a vital game that both managers’ tactical choices would be critical. Obviously, Rangers are heading into the game with more confidence given how well they have performed this season in the league. It is truly remarkable to concede just five goals in 21 games and this may well be described as a title sort.

I don’t think they have played as well in recent weeks as they did at the last Old Company, even though they go into the game as heavy favorites. To be honest, when they met in October, both teams won regularly and that outcome was a significant turning point for Celtic’s season.

Recently, the Premiership winners have progressed and the improvements made by Lennon have been optimistic. I’d say they’re under more pressure than their Ibrox counterparts because Rangers are all but assured of the title of the championship and can only throw it away if they lose.

If they win, the rangers will get such a boost. I can’t see them losing it. On the other side, to have a chance of launching a worthwhile challenge, Celtic requires a win.

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A win today will give Lennon and the players a major psychological boost with the enhancement they have shown in the last seven games, making them believe that the points gap can be closed.

I think it’s a difficult game to predict, but in order to win this game, Rangers need to be highly motivated to not only win the league, but also z.


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