The mission for both Celtic and Rangers on Thursday was advancement into the Europa League group stages. It was job done for both, albeit not as convincingly as supporters of the two Glasgow clubs would have liked.
The Full Scottish with Brian P. Dunleavy
And now, with that bit of foreign affairs work behind them, it’s back to the domestic side of the equation. The first Glasgow derby of the 2021-22 campaign takes place on Sunday. We know that league titles are won in the Spring, not in the Autumn, but the match at Ibrox is still vitally important for these bitter rivals. For Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic, it is a chance to prove they are back in the title hunt. For Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, it is an opportunity to show observers that last season wasn’t a fluke.
Earlier this week, former Hoops gaffer Neil Lennon (dare we mention his name?) was quoted as saying that how the two sides fared in European competition mid-week might be an indicator of how they will perform on the big domestic stage. If that’s the case, the neutrals—and, heck, maybe even the diehards—are in for a long morning or afternoon, depending on where they are at kickoff.
Celtic lost 2-1 at AZ-Alkmaar on Thursday, conceding two incredibly soft goals. They advanced 3-2 on aggregate, but their propensity for shambolic defending (particularly from new man Carl Starfeldt) does not bode well. Rangers, meanwhile, looked dreary in a 0-0 at Alashkertw. That’s not the first time that adjective could be used to describe their play so far this season. To be fair though the Armenian heat likely played a role in this case.
Gerrard’s men advanced 1-0 on aggregate, buoyed by Alashkert going down to 10 men late in the first half. They did what needed to be done, but certainly a more commanding performance would have served them in good stead heading into the weekend.
Normally, based purely on Thursday’s results, we’d expect a 0-0 draw at Ibrox come Sunday. However, the mess that is Celtic’s back four (made more so by an apparent shoulder knock to Greg Taylor) coupled with ’Gers distinct lack of zest in attack (has Alfredo Morelos’ head been turned?) has us scratching our heads.
True, the winner of the match—assuming there is one—will only have a three-point cushion over their rivals. They may not even sit at the top of the table heading into the first international break of the season. That is assuming either Hibs or Aberdeen (or both) win. But the psychological advantage for one or the other could be too much to overcome.