WHEN two old friends meet after a long time they are expected to embrace and tell tales of old times gone by. This Sunday however, expect two friends to embrace in very different terms.
Celtic will face Rangers for the first time since February 2015 in which Celtic ran out 2-0 winners against Kenny McDowell’s men with Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons netting for the Bhoys on that occasion.
It was the first time the sides had met in almost three years due to Rangers demotion to the old third division due to their liquidation in June 2012. It was a dull affair in which Celtic got into a comfortable lead and let the game fizzle out as Rangers failed to register a single shot on target. Rangers fans on the morning of that game would’ve took 2-0 in fear it could’ve been a humiliating defeat to Celtic.
Fast-forward 14 months and Ronny Deila’s Celtic have been extremely inconsistent. Deila who on the last occasion sauntered down to Hampden Park’s East Stand to unite the Celtic fans in a victorious ‘Ronny Roar’ as Rangers started a path to the stability the club needed under Dave King and Mark Warburton on the field.
Since then Celtic sealed a double in the 2014-15 season giving Ronny Deila a great foundation to build on. In the Summer his plans began to unravel; Virgil van Dijk moved to Southampton for £13million as well as no renewal in Jason Denayer’s loan move. Celtic made moves to fill the hole in their defence with Dedryck Boyata and a loan move for Manchester United youngster Tyler Blackett however these moves would prove uninspiring and uneasy for Celtic fans.
Celtic moved past Starjnan & Qarabag in a hope to finally gain Champions League football under Ronny Deila. However, in August 2015 Ronny Deila suffered the first nail in his coffin as a Celtic manager losing on aggregate to Swedish side Malmo. Deila suffered serious criticism in which many fans believed he was far too out of his depth. This would not be the first time this season this would happen.
Training ground busts ups, a humiliating home and away reverse to Norwegian side Molde and the serious title challenge of Aberdeen including a lifeless performance at Pittodrie in February.
However, as Celtic fans are already looking to life without Ronny Deila in the summer and speculating on who Celtic will appoint next they have their old rivals to face on Sunday as Deila looks to secure a double and convince the Parkhead hierarchy he is still the man.
Meanwhile on March 6th 2015; Dave King & Paul Murray took over at Rangers and promised the fans change was coming and more importantly the Rangers were coming. Warburton took charge in June 2015 bringing Davie Weir back to Ibrox as his assistant.
Warburton made shattering changes round Ibrox seeing the likes of Darren McGregor (Rangers POTY), Kris Boyd and Lee McCulloch surplus to requirements as he brought in the likes of James Tavernier, Danny Wilson, Andy Halliday and Martyn Waghorn to bring exciting fluid attacking football to Ibrox
Rangers started the season in excellent form banging in the goals and enthralling fans at Ibrox. Warburtons’ men in blue were challenged by Stubbs’ Hibernian in the Scottish Championship however, Hibs would take a serious collapse in February 2016 and would never recover.
Rangers sealed their return to the Premiership in April 2016 as they also secured their second trophy of the season under Warburton with the Petrofac Training Cup after 4-0 win against Peterhead.
Focus now switches to the clash of the two old rivals in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park on Sunday. It is promising to be a compelling match with Celtic having trouble to be consistent all season and Rangers flying high in the Championship. Many Rangers fans will tell you they are relishing the match up against Celtic. Many Celtic fans will tell you they believe Celtic will prevail victorious as this is the game their inconsistent side will be finally ready for.
As for the players to watch on Sunday; Leigh Griffiths will ultimately be Celtic’s biggest threat. Griffiths has netted 37 times for Celtic in all competitions this season and got two last week at Motherwell. Rangers’ defence will be severely tested against Leigh Griffiths after a very shaky March in which they lost 10 goals in 4 consecutive games.
It will be extremely interesting to see how high up and attacking Rangers play against Celtic. Tavernier and Wallace have been critically acclaimed and criticised for their full back play this season. Going forward they have been ruthless with an unbelievable 23 goals scored between them from the full back position however their defensive frailties have been a focus of debate. Rangers will have to do without their 27 goals hero Martyn Waghorn who missed out due to injury having not played since the Scottish cup clash with Kilmarnock.
Rangers were also dealt with another selection blow as Harry Forrester misses out with a hairline fracture in which Mark Warburton described as “disappointing”. This adds to the woes of the cup tied Michael O’Halloran & Billy King as well as Martyn Waghorn. The pressure on 36 year-old Old Firm veteran Kenny Miller intensifies.
It will be truly an interesting encounter on Sunday one of which wouldn’t surprise anyone if it went all the way to penalty kicks. In the past it has been known for Celtic to be the attacking team and Rangers to be the conservative team. On Sunday – traditions could be put to bed and roles could be reversed.
Warburton vs Deila may be a one occasion thing. Regardless of what happens on Sunday it will be the opening of a very interesting chapter of Scottish football with the return of Rangers and realisation that Celtic will have to work for their coveted dream of 10-in-a-row.