First Touch

New SPL Focus For Celtic & Rangers

With no European football for either Celtic or Rangers following the World Cup break, all focus will be on domestic matters for Glasgow’s big two. Winning the SPL will guarantee a spot in the Champions League group stages again in 2023-24, which means both will have everything to play for.

Celtic stadium shot

The Full Scottish by Brian P.. Dunleavy

The final Champions League tables make for ugly reading from a Scotland perspective.

In Group A, after five matches, Rangers sit bottom of the table with zero wins, zero draws and a goal differential of -18. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men have scored one goal in the competition.

On the other side of Glasgow, the story isn’t much better. Celtic also have zero wins in Group F, but do have two draws. With three goals scored, their goal differential of -7 is at least somewhat respectable—if we’re being kind.

Both clubs can point to key injuries as a reason for their poor showing. At Ibrox, forward Kemar Roofe has been in witness protection for much of the season due to fitness issues. He hasn’t made a single appearance for ’Gers in Europe, with only cameos against Dundee and Livi under his belt.

On Friday, van Bronckhorst, whose seat is getting warmer by the minute, announced that Roofe would miss “a couple of weeks” with an injury picked up, presumably, during training. The news is particularly grim, given that the Dutchman’s squad sits four points back of leaders Celtic heading into weekend action and has limited attacking options, primarily due to injuries.

That they face rivals Aberdeen at Ibrox on Saturday without a fit Roofe can’t be making van Bronckhorst feeling any more comfortable in his chair.

McGregor Out

Celtic, meanwhile, lost captain and midfield talisman Callum McGregor to injury in the middle of their Champions League run, and his absence was clearly felt against continental opposition. With McGregor out, Matt O’Riley played in a deeper role, where he was more than adequate—though it also meant he wasn’t in his more advanced position and, therefore, engaged in the attack, where he is clearly more effective.

Reo Hatate is an exciting player for sure, but at 24 and a neophyte at Champions League level, he was clearly overmatched and overwhelmed.

Looking ahead to next season, while being at the big table with the big boys of Europe is better than not being there, whichever club that qualifies (if not both) will have to do better, won’t they?

Won’t they?

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