Rangers’ previous match employed the standard European Walter Smith “Wattenaccio” tactic of 5-4-1. This formation is generally reserved for the toughest of matches – not for general SPL fare, and on Wednesday it was on full display against Spain’s Valencia F.C in the Champions League group match, where they dragged out a 1-1 draw.
This builds on Smith’s favoured choice of deep, tough centre-backs with deep protecting midfielders. But instead of the usual two, a striker was sacrificed in favour of a third centre-half – in this case the flexible Sasa Papac is shifted inwards from left-back.
But Smith is unlikely to use this formation on Sunday and instead it is more worthwhile looking closer at the side that defeated Motherwell last weekend.
What may be of surprise is just how similar these formations are – literally a case of removing a striker and adding another defender to the back line. In such cases (like against Valencia) they are able to do this because Kenny Miller is so exceptional at pressing defences and using his stamina to heckle defenders and almost do the pressing job of two strikers.
But against Motherwell, with Lafferty beside him he was able to concentrate his energy more on attack and therefore came away with
Another benefactor to Miller’s extraordinary movement is Steven Naismith – a player who almost does the Shaun Maloney role for Rangers, has been on good form of late picking up a goal for his country midweek against Spain, and also finished this game with his name on the scoresheet. Like Maloney he doesn’t quite have the pace to get to the by-line, instead preferring to cut-in and work moves with his strikers. Indeed for the equalising goal, Naismith came from a very central position to work short passes with Lafferty before bundling the ball home.
Vladimir Weiss is certainly a player to watch – the on-loan Manchester City player is incredibly direct and loves to hit the area behind the opposition full-back. Against Motherwell he skinned 3 players before driving his initial rebound past the goalkeeper, and for Celtic who generally play with very attacking full-backs, Neil Lennon will have to be extremely careful of that flank. (LINK) As shown against Dundee United last week, the runs and overlaps from Marc Wilson (or Cha Du Ri) can have a profound impact on the game, and it’s unlikely to reap the same benefits as the first half last week.
With 2 deep midfielders in front of 2 deep centre-midfielders, we can expect the lions share of possession (as with countless previous Old Firm encounters) to go to the home side. Tony Mowbray in the corresponding fixture last season found to his horror that Rangers are happy to allow the Hoops large chunks of possession and are more than happy to defend deep, tackle hard and hit on the break, with Kenny Miller being so effective in that counter-attacking role.
In the previous derby Walter Smith lined up as follows:
and again there are big similarities to last weeks Motherwell victory. The team above lost 2-1 as Neil Lennon won his first Old Firm, but the league at that point was already over and therefore it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from that game. But even since that day in May, there hasn’t been too many changes to Walter Smith’s favoured SPL 4-4-2 system and I expect to see a similar setup on Sunday. Kirk Broadfoot is back in contention and is much more defensive minded than Whittaker at right-back so is a serious possibility.
Tactics aside, one area that has been of huge contention of late is the performance of the referee’s in this fixture. Celtic fans strongly believe that they have been hard done-by of late and there is certainly a compelling case to answer for. Last week Dougie Macdonald awarded a penalty to Celtic at 1-1 and inexplicably reversed his decision opting instead for a drop ball. Specific to the Old Firm, Celtic have seen numerous clear cut penalty decisions turned away, outrageously harsh red cards and goals chopped off with the littlest of encouragement. The spot-light will no doubt be as intensely focused on referee Willie Collum as either manager.
Back to tactics and to close – the big question mark will be hanging over Kyle Laffery’s head who was sacrificed against Valencia. Could we see him dropped again in favour of Broadfoot (to go in at right-back), Whittaker moved up to right-midfield and Naismith behind the lone Kenny Miller in midfield? I think the best bet will be the classic Smith 4-4-2 – don’t count out a more defensive 4-2-3-1 with Lafferty dropping to the bench but I would certainly count out the Wattenaccio 5-4-1 from Wednesday.