Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Aperitif Of European Football And Then To The Old Firm

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Kenny Stewart
Chief Football writer for The 4th Official. Always honest and won't shy away from the truth.

The four Scottish clubs left in European competitions face huge games this week. All four have a very decent chance of progressing to their respective group stages in the Europa League and Conference League, respectively.

Celtic travel to Holland to face AZ Alkmaar two goals ahead after the first leg last week while Rangers travel to Armenia one goal ahead against Alashkert. I think both should have enough to get through to the Europa League group stages.

Aberdeen are at home to Qarabag, and if they perform as they can, they should get through that tie also. St Johnstone had yet another fine result away to Lask in Austria last week, and if they can get the win on Thursday, then that would be a monumental achievement for the Perth side.

It’s then onto Sunday and the Old Firm game. There were rumours doing the rounds that capacity could be cut due to a spike in Covid cases, but that’s WhatsApp for you. Utter nonsense, of course, and Sunday should see some game of football.

Celtic are playing some free flowing football and scoring for fun at the moment, while Rangers look to be beginning to find some form, at last, having scored ten in their last three games.

Celtic have rattled in six against Dundee and St Mirren and have scored twenty four goals in their last six games.

To be honest, both defences look a bit shaky, and the pair of them can certainly be got at. It’ll be interesting to see what Thursday’s games take out of both teams, but I’m expecting a very open and exciting game of football with two teams trying to win the game.

It’s far too early to say this match will define either club’s season, but it’s a very important game for the two teams obviously.

For Rangers, a win will be laying down a marker and showing the early season form was just a blip, showcasing why they’re champions, whereas, for Celtic, it’ll prove last season is just a distant memory and that they can look forward to this campaign with genuine optimism.

I have a hunch both teams will actually play well, and there will be goals in the game. For all of Celtic’s exciting brand of football, if Rangers can play through their high press, then I would expect them to exploit the gaps that Celtic obviously have. In saying that, I expect Celtic to score due to the sheer number of chances they’re creating at the moment, particularly when you take into account the knowledge that just about every defensive mistake Rangers are making leads to a shot at goal at the moment.

Ange Postecoglou
Ange Postecoglou F. Marinos, JUNE 9, 2021 – Football / Soccer : The Emperor s Cup JFA 101st Japan Football Championship 2st round match between Yokohama F. Marinos 23-52 Honda FC at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium in Kanagawa, Japan. Noxthirdxpartyxsales PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxJPN 162236714

The game will lay down a marker for the season ahead, nothing more. If Celtic can turn up at Ibrox with a new side and cause Rangers a lot of problems, then I would expect that to be a serious wake-up call for them. On the other hand, if Rangers win and expose the defensive frailties their Glasgow rivals have, then Postercoglou can point to them being a work in progress.

I’m genuinely excited for this game; the way Celtic play suggests it could be one of the most exciting Old Firm games in years, but as I said, if they play as far up the pitch as they have been, then I do think Rangers will cause their defence some serious issues.

Both teams will fancy their chances, as will both sets of fans. I hope it’s pulsating and played at a pace that will showcase both team’s abilities. My belief here is that Celtic will find it a bit harder to cut through Rangers midfield as they have done with Dundee and St Mirren.

Rangers will have to defend well to do that obviously and cut out the brain freeze, but if they can, then I do quite fancy them to come out at two o’clock on Sunday with the three points.

Let the battles begin; it’s Old Firm week with an aperitif of European football thrown in this midweek to get the taste buds salivating. I think all four Scottish clubs can get through, and I feel it would be a wonderful achievement for our country’s game if that were to happen.

Thursday will see all four of our teams put to the test, Rangers having to travel to Armenia to play in ninety-degree heat then get back before trying to recover for Sunday’s massive game.

Celtic will face a very stern test again a good AZ Alkmaar side that finished third in The Eredivisie last season. They threw Celtic a fair few problems last Wednesday and really should’ve scored one or two goals in the first game.

St Johnstone will have a job on their hands playing an Austrian side with bags of European experience, but they’ve been superb so far in their three games in Europe so far this season.

Aberdeen have a great opportunity to be in Europe till Christmas too, Qarabag are beatable, and if Aberdeen play to their best, then they can get through the tie and look forward to some glamour ties in the Conference League.

My mind is already on Sunday’s game though, if I’m honest. As a Rangers fan, I fancy them strongly, but that comes with an “if”… if they play to their potential, then I expect Rangers to win an exciting, attacking game of football.

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