Scottish Premiership champions Celtic take on league leaders Rangers at Parkhead in the first Old Firm derby of the season on Saturday lunchtime, and it’s one of the most eagerly anticipated meetings in years.
The two sides head into the match separated by just a point – albeit with Celtic having a game in hand – and having not lost in the league this season.
The visitors will be boosted by the knowledge they won 2-1 at Celtic Park last December, their first away win in the Old Firm game since 2010.
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard says his players will need to produce a “top-level performance” if they are to make it two wins at Celtic Park in as many seasons.
“It is going to be a tough game,” Gerrard said. “That (December) was the first time we managed to get a win there in a very long time, which lets everyone know how difficult the task is – and has been for many years.
“They are a good team, a strong team, but we went there last year with a game-plan and we performed extremely well.
“The players went there with confidence and belief and got the job done. We are hoping the players can produce a similar type of performance.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon, meanwhile, expects the first Old Firm fixture of the Scottish Premiership season to be “a derby we’ve never seen before”, due to the absence of supporters.
The fixture is renowned for its fervent atmosphere and Lennon is aware his players will have to adapt if they are to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
“The electricity, atmosphere, rawness, noise, colour – all of that’s going to be missing,” Lennon told Sky Sports News.
“We’ll just have to adapt to it as best we can. We’ve played reasonably well over the past couple of months and are on a good run of wins.
“It’s very difficult for this generation of players and what they’re going through without supporters, to get the best out of themselves. We’ve adapted as well as anybody.”
Celtic can move above Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership with victory on Saturday, but Lennon says the result will have no bearing on where the title goes.
“It’s way too early,” said the Northern Irishman. “We had this conversation after winning at Ibrox last year and after we lost at Celtic Park in December. It didn’t pan out the way people predicted.
“We’re on a good run and have got to maintain that consistency. I want to get all my players back fit because we’ve got a real heavy block of games coming up.”
Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard will be assessed ahead of Saturday’s Old Firm game against Rangers at Parkhead.
The French forward returned to Lennoxtown after being in quarantine since testing positive for Covid-19 while on duty with France U21s.
Israel duo Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed are also out after testing positive, with Ryan Christie absent as he self-isolates after being a close contact of Scotland midfielder Stuart Armstrong who contracted the virus – although the Hoops are questioning that decision. Striker Albian Ajeti has recovered from a hamstring injury but winger James Forrest is still out with an ankle problem.
Rangers new boy Bongani Zungu will be denied an Old Firm baptism of fire as he completes a 14-day stint in self-isolation.
The South African has joined on loan from Amiens but only arrived from France earlier this week and must now quarantine under Covid-19 restrictions.
Boss Steven Gerrard is assessing the fitness of the nine members of his squad who were on international duty but the derby is likely to come too soon for Joe Aribo and Kemar Roofe, despite both returning to full training from calf strains this week, while long-term knee injury casualty Nikola Katic remains out.
How to follow
Watch Celtic vs Rangers live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event from 11.30am; Kick-off 12.30pm. Follow the action with our dedicated live match blog including in-game clips, with free match highlights published on the Sky Sports website, app and YouTube channel later that evening.
Former Celtic striker Andy Walker, writing in his latest Sky Sports column:
Nothing is ever won or lost in October, but the fixtures between the two are likely to go a long way to deciding who comes out on top in May.
Both sides can afford the odd slip with a draw here or there, but I don’t see either side losing too many games this season.
With 12 points between these two up for grabs, three wins out of four for either side would heighten their chances of success.
Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd, speaking on the Sky Sports Scottish Football podcast:
“Rangers are confident going into the match, and this is probably a game where the pressure is on Rangers. Serious questions are going to be asked if Rangers don’t put on a performance and come away with three points.
“The whole mindset has changed now Rangers are top of the league. They are confident and the last time they went to Celtic Park they did really well and came away with the three points.
“If, when the time comes to debrief the game, Rangers haven’t come away with three points, serious questions will be asked because everything points towards them getting a victory.
“We saw last time out at St Johnstone that Celtic always find a way to win, so I don’t think Steven Gerrard will go into the game expecting to win, but they will know they need to perform.
“They will probably need to play at a level they have not played at this season, with the exception of the Galatasaray game, but there are no easy Old Firm games, are there?”
Former Celtic striker Andy Walker, writing in his latest Sky Sports column:
“Big players missing will always grab the headlines, but it also offers others a chance to shine and maybe it’s time to really judge the strength of this Celtic squad under Lennon.
“I can see him opting for Vasilis Barkas in goal, a back three of Christopher Jullien, Shane Duffy and Kristofer Ajer. Jeremie Frimpong is a certainty to be right wing-back, although I’m not sure who’ll play on the left. Uruguayan Diego Laxalt was signed to compete with Greg Taylor as a left-back/left wing-back, but given that he hasn’t played since July, I imagine Taylor will get the nod.
“Scott Brown, Calum McGregor and Olivier Ntcham can occupy the central area, while the biggest decision for Lennon will be who to play up front.
“The stage is set for Leigh Griffiths and Patrik Klimala to form an unlikely partnership for Celtic. Griffiths has been over the course before and showed what a natural goalscorer he is by heading in the opening goal against St Johnstone two weeks ago.
“Celtic have a prolific goalscorer on their books, why not trust his instinct and play him from the start? He demonstrated how much he can affect a game when he came on as a sub against St Johnstone and turned a draw into a victory and all three points.
“Fellow sub Klimala also took his goal brilliantly against St Johnstone, I really admired his attitude when he bounced up after being wiped out in a tackle to quickly get back on his feet and finish with some style. It didn’t work out for him when he started earlier this season against St Mirren, but when you’ve paid £3.5m for a striker, there comes a point when you have to see how well he can lead the line against tough opposition.”
Old Firm crackers – re-live some classic goals…
Ahead of Saturday’s clash, take a look at some of the best goals in this fixture including memorable strikes from Henrik Larsson, Pedro Mendes and more…
Opta stats – Old Firm omens?
- Celtic and Rangers have alternated between victory and defeat in each of their last six league meetings (three wins each), with Rangers winning their last such meeting 2-1 in December 2019.
- Rangers are looking to win back-to-back Old Firm derbies in the top-flight for the first time since October 2009 under Walter Smith, and last won back-to-back league away games at Celtic back in March 1997.
- Celtic have won 20 of their last 21 home league games; the only exception in this time was in their last such match against Rangers, a 1-2 reverse in December 2019.
- Rangers have won each of their last four games in all competitions, last winning five in succession in January 2020 (six in a row).
- Celtic have scored more goals (25) and have a better shot conversion rate (14.5%) than any other side in this season’s Scottish Premiership. Meanwhile, Rangers have the league’s best defence so far in 2020-21, conceding just three goals in their 10 games while facing a league-low 46 shots overall, at a combined Expected Goals (xG) value of just 3.7.
- Only against Motherwell (nine) does Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard have more Scottish Premiership goals to his name than versus Rangers (six). Indeed, the Frenchman has been directly involved in six goals in four league appearances against Rangers at Celtic Park (four goals, two assists).
- Since his Rangers debut in February last season, Ianis Hagi has assisted nine goals for the club in all competitions, at least three more than any other player; indeed, excluding penalties, 21-year-old Hagi has assisted three of the Gers’ last four goals in all competitions.
- The only side that Rangers forward Alfredo Morelos has faced more than once without yet scoring in the Scottish Premiership are Celtic, appearing against them 10 times in the competition while attempting 22 shots (eight on target) without finding the net.
Old Firm predictions
Andy Walker: 2-2
“I think there will be goals. I cannot separate them; they are both playing good football.”
Kris Boyd: 0-2
“I think Rangers will win.”
Ian Crocker: 1-1
“I’ve spent 22 years sitting on the fence in Glasgow and I’m not shifting.”