The last Old Firm encounter back in October saw both sides entering the match with an almost 100% win record in the league, therefore the importance of a victory over their rival would not only bring bragging rights but also create a small modicum of daylight between the two in the league standings.
The biggest news surrounding the match was the late omission of Nir Biton and Odsonne Edouard from the Celtic line up, both being ruled out to due Covid-19 quarantine procedures they had been placed under after representing their countries. This would appear to have given Rangers the psychological edge in the match, however they themselves were missing Joe Aribo, Ryan Jack and Kemar Roofe from the starting 11, all of whom were recovering from injuries.
With Rangers winning the October match 2-0 I wanted to breakdown the game further, and see if it could shed any light on what we can expect to see in this weekends New Year Old Firm derby.
Build Up Play
Celtic set up in a 352 system in October, however have since shifted between a 4231 and a 442 diamond system. In this match we saw Celtic build using short entry passes to draw Rangers to one side, then make use of the high positioning of the wing backs on the opposite side of the field (Laxalt on the left and Frimpong on the right) to create a crossing opportunity into the box. In any system Celtic have they also have the dribbling ability of Kristopher Ajer, who is very comfortable in carrying the ball into the midfield.
Twin Striker System
In the opening Old Firm game Celtic lined up with Klimala and Elyounoussi as a forward pair, which at the time was viewed as Celtic’s significant squad depth due to the quality of these players given Edouard (Covid quarantine) and Griffiths (Deemed unfit) were unavailable. In any two man system it relies heavily on movements to compliment each other, something that wasn’t evident at all in the opening 45 minutes.
While there began to be a better understanding in the second half of the match, it’s likely the pair of Edouard and Griffiths will start this coming weekend, who have demonstrated against Dundee United recently of their attacking potency.
A staple of Gerrard’s set up in big matches has been the use of a narrow 433 system. The compact spacing between the forward and midfield lines offers defensive protection, but also the ability to quickly counter should play turnover. We have saw Gerrard use the same set up to devastating effect in the Europa League also, with the basic premise being to set traps for the opponent that allows Rangers to force turn overs and counter attack to goal. Here we see how well they compacted the space between the 1st and 2nd lines of pressure, almost goading Duffy and Ajer into passing into the gaps and allowing the midfield to keep the game in front of them.
While Rangers still very much attempt to build from the back, their defensive strategy creates lots of counter attacking opportunities. This therefore places an importance on the attackers movements to support the ball, but also requires the ball carrier to make quick and incisive decisions. In this match Rangers were less clinical than they had been in previous encounters from transitional moments, but in this video we look at where play broke down.
What further strengthens Rangers resolve is their desire and work rate in the moments after turning the ball over (transition). In this clip we see them covering the length of the field to prevent Celtic from entering the final 3rd freely.
Should Celtic break Rangers forward press it was important that the remaining 7 players (3 midfielders and the back four) remain connected to prevent Celtic’s attacking crosses from wide areas and entry passes into the two strikers. Rangers did this by having central midfielders shuttle across to assist the full back and have constant ball pressure in wide areas.
Rangers have enjoyed a remarkable upturn in goals from set plays this season (Crosses from corners and shots from distance) therefore headed into this weekends game they will feel confident they can replicate this form. Since the previous encounter Celtic also continue to lose goals from set plays almost as frequently. This coming together could prove pivotal in what promises to be a game decided by marginal gains.
Rangers enter the game as evens favorites for the win, however the recent upswing in Celtic’s form would suggest that any over confidence from Rangers may come back to bite them.
Conversely, Celtic’s increase in quality, through Edouard & Griffiths, will naturally bring an increase in attacking potency but its the mental fragility of Celtic that Rangers will be looking to capitalize upon should they get the opportunity.
Whatever the outcome there is a long way to go in this seasons campaign, but in a match of the magnitude it will certainly give us some indication as to which side has the mental wherewithal to last the pace.