Old Firm Preview: Rangers - Celtic

Both sides struggling for goals as derby clash looms...
Kick Off: Sunday, October 4th, 2009 – 12.30pm BST.
Ibrox, Glasgow


It is meant to be Scottish football's most eagerly anticipated match. A fixture that, love or loathe it, is impossible to ignore. A derby that even has English fans, brought up on the champagne football of the Premier League, glancing upwards through jealous eyes - fascinated by a rivalry that is always capable of reducing even the most cultured player into a raving lunatic.

This Sunday sees the arrival of the first Old Firm game of the season. In Glasgow, they don't do derbies with little riding on the game. Whether its October or May, make no mistake - Rangers and Celtic will see every encounter with each other as a league decider.

Should Celtic be victorious this weekend, then even with the season still in its infancy, the resulting seven-point gap will have some betting shops preparing to pay out early winnings to confident punters.

This week though, the build up to the Ibrox crunch is a little different than normal. The usual hurricane of frenzy has been reduced to a mere breeze. 

Whisper it, but for all the chest-thumping the players and fans will do over the next few days, both these clubs would rather be facing different opposition.

In midweek, both clubs hosted European ties inside their respective coliseums. The visiting gladiators had no need to fear this time though.

Rangers were dealt with efficiently by a second-half torturing from Sevilla. Celtic promised an intimidating atmosphere for the return of Rapid Vienna to Parkhead, but were silenced early on by an Austrian low blow, and although the Hoops would have cleaned up unanimously on any boxing scorecard for their efforts, Vienna were still standing at the end.

Truth be told, neither side are enjoying their football just now, and neither manager wants a derby defeat on his record this early into the season.

More than five hours of SPL football have passed since Rangers last netted in a league game, and even then that was from defender Steven Whittaker. Kris Boyd is generally the man relied on for goals, but he has found himself on the bench in recent weeks. His chances of starting on Sunday appear slim due to an astonishingly poor record against the Bhoys.

Kyle Lafferty could be the surprise pick if he's deemed fit enough, making his first appearance of the season. Many fans have marked his absence as the reason for their woes in front of goal.

For Celtic, the 90 minutes of frustration in the Europa League will have given manager Tony Mowbray something to think about. With Scott MacDonald seemingly back on form though, it is likely the Australian will lead the line at Ibrox, with Georgios Samaras and Chris Killen vying for the supporting role.

The right pairing for both sides will be crucial, with the form guide all pointing to a likelihood of one goal settling the match.

FORM GUIDE

Rangers

Sep 29: Rangers 1-4 Sevilla
Sep 26: Rangers 0-0 Aberdeen
Sep 23: Queen of the South 1-2 Rangers
Sep 19: Kilmarnock 0-0 Rangers
Sep 16: Stuttgart 1-1 Rangers

Celtic

Oct 1: Celtic 1-1 Rapid Vienna
Sep 26: St Mirren 0-2 Celtic
Sep 23: Falkirk 0-4 Celtic
Sep 20: Celtic 2-1 Hearts
Sep 17: Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-1 Celtic

TEAM NEWS

Rangers

Steven Davis and Sasa Papac both returned against Sevilla after missing the Aberdeen game last weekend. Both games came too soon though for Kyle Lafferty; however, he could be a surprise inclusion by Walter Smith for this one.

Maurice Edu (knee) and Kirk Broadfoot (foot) are long-term absentees.

Possible Starting XI: McGregor, Whittaker, Weir, Bougherra, Papac, Davis, Mendes, Thomson, Rothen, Novo, Naismith.

Celtic

Paddy McCourt and Andreas Hinkel were both rested for the Rapid Vienna clash, but both should be fit for Sunday.

Aiden McGeady was a doubt for midweek with an ankle injury. Despite his late substitution in that match, Mowbray expects him to be okay for the trip to Ibrox.

Possible Starting XI: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Fox, McGeady, Brown, N'Guemo, Maloney, McDonald, Samaras.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Rangers - Kris Boyd

Likely to start on the bench, with his impressive strike rate never quite extending to the Old Firm clash. However, he has come off the bench in the last two games, and if used as an impact sub here he could be the man to settle a tight affair.

Celtic - Danny Fox

The former England U21 international has split public opinion on him this week with the news George Burley has called him into the Scotland squad. The left-back has wasted little time in making an impact at Celtic, but this is his first taste of the Old Firm derby, where even the best have failed to shine on their debut.

It will be interesting to see if Fox and fellow derby debutants Landry N'Guemo (Celtic) and Jerome Rothen (Rangers) can all keep their compusure.

PREDICTION

It is certain to be a fiery encounter as always, but will both sides opt for caution, with defeat unthinkable even at this early stage? It certainly bodes for an intriguing tactical battle.

Both sides are struggling for goals, with Celtic frequently finding themselves chasing the game after losing an early goal, a frustratingly common occurance for boss Mowbray. 

The Hoops have been the slightly better side of late, but Rangers' home advantage should be enough to grab a draw and deny their rivals a seven-point lead at the top of the table.

Rangers 1-1 Celtic

Andrew Southwick, Goal.com UK