Rangers Vs Celtic – Match Preview

Celtic travel to Ibrox  to face Rangers in the first Old Firm fixture of the season. As is customary in the buildup to these occasions, the red-tops are busy stirring up as much off-field drama as possible (with this despicable incitement from the Daily Record), but here we can strictly focus on what lies ahead on the pitch.

Celtic options

If anything on the SPL calendar approaches the level of pressure and difficulty as the

Celtic 4-2-3-1 against Atletico Madrid

tougher European ties, it’s the away trip to Ibrox; and therefore Neil Lennon will be tempted to adopt the more conservative ‘Plan B’, which is the in vogue (at least on the continent) 4-2-3-1.

The main argument against, as discussed in the Atletico Madrid report is that the system doesn’t really suit Lennon’s approximate first 11 to 15 players. The effectiveness of Ki Sung-Yeung, Gary Hooper and Georgios Samaras is diminished as per their starting positions on Thursday, and so if the formation isn’t going to change, the personnel should.

On this front, the return of Badr El Kaddouri (cup-tied midweek)  poses a mini-dilemma – keep the same back four that faced Atletico Madrid, or more likely pull someone from the back-line, with the most likely contenders Charlie Mulgrew or Glenn Loovens. Mulgrew started at left-back on Thursday, and if the more dynamic El Kaddouri does come in, Mulgrew will either be shifted to centre-back, left-midfield, or out of the starting eleven entirely.

His removal would likely be fairly unpopular, as Loovens is seen to be inferior in most ways (at least by fans). But Lennon will be swayed by the fact that Loovens is a bona fide ‘natural’ centre-back, rather than a utility player who can do a job. Resting on the minds of the support, will be Loovens’ dreadful performance in the corresponding fixture last season – and while Kenny Miller may be gone, Nikica Jelavic will provide a similar level of threat.

The return of Scott Brown further complicates the midfield question, being club Captain it’s hard to envisage Lennon leaving him out if fully fit (which he reportedly is). This could see a return to the supremely narrow four man midfield that accommodates all of Joe Ledley, Beram Kayal, Ki and Brown. This would also open the door to Samaras moving into his more familiar position up front.

This could perhaps be unfair on James Forrest, who had such a good game against Motherwell, albeit a quiet one against Atletico. Anthony Stokes (often the first to be dropped for Old Firms) is available again but perhaps unlikely to feature so soon back from injury.

Rangers

Last fixture - Dundee Utd 0 - 1 Rangers

Ally McCoist has a fairly settled side, but with the return of Nikica Jelavic from injury, one of Greg Wylde, or more likely Juan Ortiz will have to make way. Assuming McCoist sticks with the 4-5-1 / 4-4-1-1 used most often this season, Kyle Lafferty is put into a similar situation as Georgios Samaras – namely, his preferred position is as striker, but is happy to provide a decent level of input from the flanks.

A worry for Rangers will be the two centre-backs who are both likely to be making their Old Firm debut. Past seasons have seen a consistent, experienced pairing, but the two new signings will be put to the test on Sunday. David Weir and Kyle Bartley are out injured, although with Sasa Papac passed fit, there’s a minute chance that Kirk Broadfoot will be moved inwards with Papac assuming his regular left-back slot.

Possible second option 4-4-2

While it’s fairly unlikely that Rangers won’t field the familiar 4-5-1/4-4-1-1, there is another option designed to get around a regular problem.

Their key player Nikica Jelavic has been left stranded in previous fixtures, when it has been Steven Naismith’s job to get forward and support. Considering it is a home game, it might be expected that McCoist throw caution into the window and start aggressively – especially considering Celtic’s flakey and subdued early game form.

It would also provide double the aerial threat up front, and it’s in the air that Rangers will feel they have the advantage with a number of strong headers of the ball (Papac, Broadfoot, Bocanegra, Goian, Edu, Lafferty and Jelavic) which is a reasonable advantage over Celtic’s comparatively smaller team. McCoist will have perhaps viewed Thursday with interest.

Conclusion

Rangers team selection shouldn’t spring any surprises considering who’s available, the primary question is the positioning of the front four. The safest bet will surely be a 4-4-1-1 with Wylde on the left, Naismith in the middle supporting Jelavic and Lafferty on the right – and watch out for a potential key battle between Lafferty and El Kaddouri (if he does play) – the former is one of Rangers poorer players at tracking back, but at the same time has a height advantage and may be used in that particular matchup as a long-ball option.

Possible 4-4-2

That is an argument for playing Charlie Mulgrew at left-back and keeping the same back four as from Thursday. There is a level of rapport and awareness generated that comes from playing together consistently, and with these stakes El Kaddouri may miss out.

That leaves the question of who (or if someone) will make way for Scott Brown? The answer will determine the choice of formation.

The dangers for either side won’t have changed from last season. Celtic need to watch out for Jelavic’s clever hold-up play and Naismith’s piercing runs in behind. Wylde will be considered the most dangerous supplier, although David could play in an even deeper role to make us of his better range of passing than more limited “destructive” type Edu.

Celtic could end up with more possession due to the nature of (possibly) playing with four central midfielders, but there’s the danger that the lines between attack and midfield are separated. Samaras may bridge that gap to some extent if used as a striker-cum-left-winger, but the real priority is converting that possession into quality passes to Gary Hooper, the most likely goalscorer.

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About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
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4 Responses to Rangers Vs Celtic – Match Preview

  1. Mark Jason67 says:

    I have been giving a lot of thought to how both sides are going to line up, I took interest in McCoists interview describing how he is going to go into this game with a very attack minded formation/starting X1…

    This got me thinking about last season where him and Smith mentioned how they didn’t know how to cope with our attacking wingbacks, but mentioned they where going to try something different for the cup final…

    I am sure you are aware of the tactics applied by them during that cup final, it was basically the long high ball out of defence targeting Jelavic, and he was knocking down for the runners who where in and around his vicinity to pick up the second ball, Naismith and Lafferty usually picking up…

    Young Rogne and Mulgrew couldn’t handle Jelavic that day, his strength along with his theatrics caused them to have a very uncomfortable afternoon, this is where I think our tactics failed us that day, as we went with the 2 up front with Hoops and Samaras, Hooper how he lasted the full 120 minutes had me baffled, when Lenny done a like for like substitution with Rogne being replaced by Loovens I was screaming at the TV .. “Get Hooper off…”. I was seeing the struggle we where having due to these tactics and was wanting 3 central defenders instead with Sammi playing the lone striker role ….

    Another tactic that day that restricted our attacking game was our 2 wing backs on Izzy and Wilson where being pressed high up in our own half, any time We had possession in both those areas Wylde was all over Wilson like a rash and it was Lafferty doing the same over Izzys side, this restricted them hitting the line to stretch their midfield and draw their defence out of position, it was well thought out by the Rangers coaching staff…

    When teams sit of this Celtic side and allow us time and space then we will flourish, but when we get harried and closed down tightly like that day in the cup final that’s when things don’t work out for us, the possession gets lost to easily, silly passes, bad attitudes creep in, players start hiding not taking responsibility and usually ends up 90 minutes of watching the game peeking through the fingers nervously…

    So anyway this formation and similar type tactics I expect will be deployed by the Orc tomorrow so what I’d like to see is us going with 3 central defenders, Mulgrew left side of CD to cover the left wing back El K, if kelvin Wilson is fit the middle of CD and Loovens right side of CD doing the covering for Mark Wilson, personally id go for young Adam Mathews on the right, but I think Lenny will stick with Wilson..

    A midfield 4 of Ledley on the left, Brown on the right and both kayal and Ki in the centre, one doing the holding midfielder role and the other the creator probably Ki, and the lone Striker I’d have the big Greek, on his own he is more effective, he is no use in a partnership or out on the left…

    The 3 central defenders should be enough to cope with Jelavic and his knock downs etc, and when We in possession them covering left and right back will snuff out their tactic of pressing both wing backs like that day in the cup final, should give both Wilson and El k confidence to hit the line knowing they being covered…

    I’d go with that and keep it tight hitting them on the break…. over to you Lenny. Hail Hail

  2. HailHail says:

    are you starting to do previews every week or just for big games

    • tictacticuk says:

      Generally just the big games as the general SPL games tend to be more predicable (i.e. Celtic field similar teams week in week out)

      But will be posting if I feel there’s a story worth telling!

  3. Pingback: Rangers 4 – 2 Celtic: Lennon’s gamble exposed by consistent opposition | TicTacTic

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