Celtic 1 – 1 Rangers
Celtic Park Stadium
21st March 2021
By Alistair Bain (@allybain)
While mathematically nothing was effectively on the line in this match, there hasn’t been an Old Firm where there aren’t stakes involved. Bragging rights, Rangers unbeaten record, Celtic seeking retribution, however you looked at this game im sure there is a narrative of your choosing, but from a purely technical perspective this game promised alot.
John Kennedy was entering his first Old Firm game as a Celtic interim manager, and with it we saw a continuation of the diamond 4-4-2 system that served to cause Rangers some early headaches in their previous meeting back in January.
The combination of Elyounoussi & Eduoard gave Celtic a potent combination of skill and speed, supported also by the quality of promising youngster David Turnbull in the front 3. The width in the game would come primarily from Laxalt and Kenny, positioned in the midfield line as a means of drawing Rangers players out of their defensive shape, sparking penetrative runs of Elyounoussi and Eduoard to attack the spaces behind Rangers full backs. McGregor and Christie were tasked with lots of dynamic movements to attack spaces as the spare man in midfield, but were also required to carry the ball in moments when Celtic’s full backs were not able to advance the ball forward.
Rangers entered this Old Firm game as confirmed league Champions, but with the travails of Thursday nights Slavia Prague double header taking its toll physically and mentally, it was one to watch out for as to how it would affect Rangers line up and performance in the match.
Gerrard lined Rangers up in their typical 433 system, but without a recognized right back available Leon Balogun would deputize in that position altering how Rangers would attack on the right side.
Barisic, Aribo & Kent gave Rangers terrific attacking options on the left hand side, but without the defensive security Kamara would traditionally give Rangers on that side we saw more of an asymmetrical shape forming. Aribo had creative license to work forward between the lines underneath Kent & Morelos, joined also by Hagi who had the security of Davis & Kamara as a midfield defensive pairing behind. What looked like lots of passing options within Celtic’s defensive structure also appeared a touch narrow with the only natural width coming from Barisic. Given Balogun’s higher defensive strength he was positioned deeper on the right side, which altered the shape of Rangers set up to often look asymmetrical, perhaps by design but also perhaps out of necessity.
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Celtic Build vs Rangers Press – 1st Half:
Rangers narrow defensive shape was tested to the max as Celtic placed both full backs in advanced positions alongside a midfield four positioned in a central diamond. Typically we see Rangers shift well in a narrow set up, applying lots of pressure to the attacking team and preventing them from making entry passes into the strikers. With Celtic adding more numbers centrally this prevented Rangers left & right central midfidlers (Kamara & Aribo) from getting pressure on Celtic’s advanced full backs as they had to also cover an extra man in midfield (Celtic’s tip of the diamond player, David Turnbull).
Rangers Build vs Celtic Press – 1st Half:
Rangers traditional build pattern has been to start play through Connor Goldson at the right center back position, advance the ball forward into the inside right channel, and then spring an attack on the left as Barisic & Kent overload the left wing. Celtic’s forward press prevented this initial entry ball, with Elyounassi covering Goldson and forcing play to Helander, which therefore tested Rangers creativity as both Davis & Kamara (the Rangers midfielders positioned deepest) were tasked with building play but would also be man marked by Celtic’s midfield (Turnbull & McGregor respectively).
2nd Half Alterations:
At half time Steven Gerrard made a similar adjustment to that of the last Old Firm game in January, reverting to more of a flat 442 when in defensive phases to apply more pressure on Celtic’s full backs who sought to make entry passes into the final third. This adjustment also prevented Celtic’s full backs from taking up such a high position on the ball side, so to counter this we saw Turnbull attacking the back line more as a third attacker, but also more movements inside to combine with central midfielders and switch the ball to the opposite side.
With Morelos securing Rangers equalizer towards the end of the first half it placed less onus on them taking the game to Celtic in the second half. The home side would naturally become the aggressor and look to put more men forward in attack, so Gerrard’s half time defensive alteration saw Kent & Morelos position as two strikers and offer themselves as targets during moments of transition. By pulling Celtic’s central defenders out of position, after an initial pass was played into a target striker, there would be less ability to cover Rangers penetrative runs from deep or from the second striker making moves to get beyond the initial receiver.
Both sides provided an attacking threat from set plays, however it would be Rangers who would yet again score from a corner kick. Celtic’s defensive frailties have been exposed a number of times this season from corners, and it was evident again today through Rangers equalizing goal. Here we break down how each side would set up at corners.
Ajer, Welsh, Elyounoussi and Eduoard would provide the attacking threat for Celtic. We saw a variety in the players positioning, however they would run a simple two man fake set up in each effort. This begins by placing two targets on the keeper and back post to take players away from the central zone. Within the central zone there is now three players who jockey for position, with two players attacking the initial cross but the intention is to hit the player making the run toward the edge of the six yard box.
Rangers used a similar pattern, but the three man cluster would stand together in a stationary position prior to the kick and then break to attack the full frame of the goal as the taker advances to the ball. In Barisic Rangers have a phenomenal set piece delivery, so with Helander, Balogun and Goldson available to attack the ball it certainly gives them options. In the first kick we saw Aribo and Morelos attack the posts, and in search of a second ball Morelos finds himself free at the back post for a tap in.
Man of The Match
There could be an argument for Celtic’s Eduoard or Elyounoussi based on their first half display, however I felt the most consistent performer during the game was Ryan Kent. Serving as an inside forward for much of the match Kent worked to balance attacking through dribbles and combinations with crossing the ball and linking with Barisic to feed Morelos. He has made it a habit of performing on the big stage for Rangers this season and has truly established himself as one of the best attackers in the country.