This Sunday sees Part Two of an Old Firm quadrilogy taking place during the course of this month and next. A combination of league, Scottish Cup and League Cup Final fixtures have thrust the Glasgow rivals together to battle it out big time in early 2011.
Part One, held earlier this month at Ibrox, was a rip roaring Scottish Cup fifth round tie. A 2-2 battle royale with spectacular goals, obligatory sending off(s) as well as the usual argy bargy has wetted the appetite for more of the same.
On Sunday the next instalment takes place at Celtic Park and is all about important league points. Both sides occupy the top two positions in the SPL, as usual, with Celtic leading their Glasgow rivals by 5 points although Rangers have two games in hand.
With Part One providing so much intrigue and entertainment, what price we get a repeat showing this weekend?
It can be exceedingly difficult to predict Old Firm games but we will probably see a similar set up from both sides although Rangers are likely to adopt a more cautious philosophy away from home.
Rangers will probably opt for a conservative 4-5-1 formation as per usual at Celtic Park. They will look to sit in, soak up pressure, stifle the midfield and try and pick Celtic off on the break when the opportunity arises. It’s a tried and trusted philosophy that has served Walter Smith well over the years.
Given the current league standings Rangers don’t need to go searching for the win. A draw will suit them just fine. A loss, although not terminal, would certainly do considerable damage to their title aspirations. So keep it tight, take a point is the mantra for Rangers.
Celtic however will feel this is an opportunity to start hammering the first nails in the Rangers coffin. A win will put them 8 points clear at the top and despite Rangers having 2 games in hand it is difficult to grind down such as lead.
Celtic played very well and were the better team at Ibrox a few weeks ago, despite playing with ten men for much of the game. This will give them much encouragement and confidence and we would expect to see the Hoops again doing most of the attacking on Sunday. Lennon is likely to deploy his troops in something close to a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation allowing their attack minded players a bit of freedom to express themselves particularly the in form Kris Commons.
Old Firm games are not for the faint hearted. They are more often than not bruising, energy sapping encounters played at hurricane pace with plenty of blood, sweat and tears thrown in for good measure.
It’s therefore to Celtic’s advantage that they will be refreshed and rested coming into this fixture. Rangers meantime will go into the fixture on the back of a crucial Europa League tie against Sporting Lisbon the preceding Thursday night (17th February).
Although bolstered in the transfer window by the likes of El Hadji Diouf, David Healy and Kyle Bartley, the Rangers squad continues to lack the strength and depth of their Old Firm rivals, leaving little slack for squad rotation for two season defining games in four days.
This may well prove crucial in determining the outcome on Sunday.
Both sides are in good goal scoring form notching up easy victories in their only league fixtures since the last Old Firm game. While Rangers demolished Motherwell 6-0 at home with Nikica Jelavic scoring a hat-trick, Celtic took care of Dundee Utd with a 3-1 win at Tannadice with Anthony Stokes on the score sheet.
Both sides are missing players due to injury with Lee McCulloch a long term absentee this season for Rangers while Celtic are without full back Cha-Du-Ri, who is nursing an ankle injury.
Celtic: Scott Brown
Back to his best after a period of lethargy and inconsistency , Brown was magnificent at Ibrox last time round. Grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck he dictated the play and scored a fine equaliser. Celtic will again need Brown at the top of his game on Sunday to rally the troops and gain control of the midfield.
Rangers: Nikica Jelavic
With Kenny Miller gone a lot rests on Nikica Jelavic’s shoulders this Sunday. Miller carried out his lone striker duties to the letter scoring on numerous occasions at Celtic Park and providing a much needed outlet for the Rangers defence with his running power.
Although there is little doubt of Jelavic’s finishing ability he does not have the running power of Miller and will have to dig deep and take the hits from Majstorovic while endeavouring to hold up the ball to allow Rangers midfield join the attack.
Celtic 2-0 Rangers