|Venue: Ibrox Arena, Glasgow Date: Saturday, 2 January Time: 12: 30 GMT|
|Protection: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport site and app.|
The brand-new year starts with a colossal Old Company derby on Saturday as the leading 2 of Scottish football satisfy at Ibrox.
Despite their contrasting seasons up until now, both Rangers and Celtic remain in form and loaded with motivation for the most flammable component on the calendar.
These two might start an argument in an empty space, so their second face-off behind closed doors is not likely to be a timid affair.
Here, BBC Scotland examines the key concerns for a match packed with appealing subplots.
Champions are not crowned in January, however the significance of this latest derby can’t be underplayed. While not rather a title decider, the outcome will shape the months to come in a historic campaign.
Rangers, having actually enjoyed their most significant competitors lord it over them with 9 successive titles, are now in the ascendancy and will be 19 points clear if they beat Celtic for the third time in a row.
Even with three video games in hand – and two more Old Company contests to play – it would be a yawning gap. And the evidence recommends it would be overwhelming. Rangers are unbeaten in the league, have won 13 consecutive matches, and have dropped simply 4 points from 63 in their finest start in practically a century.
Celtic have swept in and out of crisis and revealed brand-new vulnerabilities, but they go to Ibrox on the back of four succeeding league victories. Put simply, this looks a match they can’t afford to lose in their faltering mission for an unmatched 10 th title in a row.
Can Gerrard win tactical battle again?
If ever Celtic boss Neil Lennon needed to show he can tactically outmanoeuvre Rangers equivalent Steven Gerrard, it is this weekend.
Celtic – damaged by the absence of six players since of Covid-19 and injury – were outclassed on their own pitch in the previous meeting and stopped working to register a shot on target in a meek 2-0 defeat.
Rangers’ dominance was plain, but no one-off. They have actually been the better group in four of the previous 5 derbies – the exception was Celtic’s 2-0 win at Ibrox in September 2019 – as Gerrard’s tactical set-up has actually sapped Celtic’s strengths.
Gaining a stranglehold of midfield has actually permitted the Ibrox side to dictate and Celtic’s 3-5-2 development was severely exposed in October as Rangers ran amok down the flanks in a well-drilled 4-2-3-1.
However, with Celtic having released a midfield diamond as part of a 4-4-2 in current matches – helping strikers Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths grow – Lennon will hope he has found a strategy to turn the tables on Gerrard.
Who will get the huge choice calls right?
Both managers deal with pivotal decisions. Rangers forward Ryan Kent – whose blistering early-season type has actually dipped – was dropped for Wednesday’s win over St Mirren. However with Kent’s fondness for prospering on the Old Firm celebration, can Gerrard manage to keep the 24- year-old on the bench on Saturday?
Alfredo Morelos went back to the beginning line-up in Paisley and netted his very first objective in nine matches. The Colombian striker has yet to score against Celtic in 13 looks – and has actually been listed below his best this season – yet his physicality and quality has agitated defences from Porto to the Premiership.
Lennon, on the other hand, must select whether to bring back captain Scott Brown to midfield. Age seems to have actually caught up with the 35- year-old this season and his replacement, Ismaila Soro, has excelled.
The 22- year-old had not begun for Celtic till this month. He has now been picked for five of their past 6, and scored his very first goal with a belting strike in Wednesday’s victory over Dundee United.
Even though Brown’s leadership and experience have actually been a staple of Old Company showdowns, it would be a substantial call if Lennon plays him at Soro’s expenditure.
Somewhere else, the most likely absence of Christopher Jullien leaves Lennon with a gap to fill at centre-back. Will Shane Duffy – who has endured an error-strewn loan spell – get approval ahead of Nir Bitton?
Will Rangers’ defence stop Celtic revival?
Just over a month earlier, a couple of hundred fans stood outside Celtic Park and called for Lennon to be sacked. The 2-0 League Cup loss to Ross County had snapped advocates’ persistence amidst a run of simply 2 wins in 12 and the manager looked doomed.
Yet, from the depths of misery, the Northern Irishman has pieced together a recovery. Celtic head to Ibrox on the back of six successive wins in all competitions and with no goals yielded in 4 Premiership games.
Their efficiencies have yet to fully persuade – the Scottish Cup final success over Hearts finished the historical quadruple treble but just came after Celtic let slip a two-goal half-time lead.
Lifting that trophy helped keep Lennon in a task, and now comes the acid test. With the manager’s position to be reviewed in the new year, the outcome against Rangers could identify his future.
To improve his potential customers, Celtic will have to pierce a Rangers defence that is stacking up some stunning stats. Gerrard’s males have yielded simply 5 league goals – compared to 13 at the same phase last season – in 21 video games and have kept 17 clean sheets.
At Ibrox, they have been essentially impenetrable with simply one objective conceded in 10 straight wins. Another nothing would guarantee a point and edge Rangers closer to their first major trophy in a years.
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