Monday, August 8, 2022

Ready For The First Old Firm Of The Season?

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Passionate fan of Scottish football since 1989, finding my feet in the world of football writing. When you fall in love with the beautiful game it’s easy to write about it. Specialise in Scottish football. Work in construction in the day job.

A colossal week is unfolding in the Scottish Premiership this week. Both Glasgow clubs secured European football on Thursday before facing off in arguably the fiercest rivalry in world football for the first time this season. When Rangers lifted their 55th title last season, and Celtic couldn’t buy a run of form for love or money, the ‘‘quadruple treble winners’’ looked a million miles behind the champions.

However, there’s now an air of excitement emanating from Ange Postecoglou’s followers. In the league, two 6-0 thrashings handed out to Dundee and St Mirren followed their opening day loss to Hearts. Some suggesting the seismic shift of power is now on in a matter of months.

It doesn’t usually take much to light the fuse in this powder keg fixture. The mere sight of each other was often enough to ignite the flames. Events at the weekend saw Rangers fans on a supporter’s bus racially abuse Celtic’s star signing Kyogo Furuhashi. No doubt that will be on the fingertips and lips of writers and supporters alike.

This is sure to translate onto the pitch with the Celtic fans desperate for the Japanese frontman to do his talking on the pitch and silence the bigots. You wouldn’t put it past him with the swashbuckling start he has made in Scotland. He certainly has a swagger about him akin to Alfredo Morelos, although the two couldn’t be further away from each other in terms of style of play. The only similarity that could be drawn between the players would be that they both from the continent to test themselves in Europe.

The latest big news surrounding this weekend’s latest instalment is, of course, the Covid outbreak that has ravaged the Rangers camp. When news broke on Tuesday night, Twitter was awash with rumours questioning which members of the Rangers camp were affected.

On Wednesday morning, all eyes were waiting on the pictures to surface from Glasgow airport as Rangers set off for Armenia in the Europa League. Notable absentees were Gerrard, McGregor, McGlaughlin, Tavernier, Bassey, Wright and Kent. It soon emerged that these 7 were the affected group, either positive or self isolating as a close contact.

Allan McGregor
Malmö FF v Rangers FC, Champions League qualification, football, Malmoe, Sweden Malmo, Sweden. 03rd, August 2021. Goalkeeper Allan McGregor 1 of Rangers FC seen during the warm up before the Champions League qualification match between Malmö FF and Rangers FC at Eleda Stadion in Malmö. Malmö Sweden PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxDENxNOR Copyright: xGonzalesxPhoto/JoexMillerx

Celtic fans were ecstatic with the news, gaining an advantage for the upcoming crunch match. Obviously, in normal circumstances, key players missing a match could be seen as a reason to celebrate. Still, it does seem a little off to do so when the reason in this circumstance is an extremely dangerous, potentially fatal virus.

Following Rangers goalless draw in Armenia, stand in manager Gary MacAllister was quoted as saying, “For Sunday, we’ll have everybody that travelled here tonight, and we’ll be bolstered with 4 or 5. Obviously, we’ve got boys dealing with Covid issues, and we’ve got players dealing with little niggling injuries, so we’ll be well bolstered for the weekend.”

This suggests that Kent and Wright will be back following injury along with a few players who are isolating but may get around that due to being double vaccinated then testing negative in the round of testing to be carried out pre-match against Celtic. It seems the jubilation from the green half of Glasgow about facing a decimated Rangers team may well be short lived. Although arguably, as it stands, the only position severely affected is between the sticks with an inexperienced Robby McCrorie in goal; what an experience for the kid. Skipper James Tavernier is also missing as it stands, but Nathan Patterson is a more than capable replacement who has proved himself on the big stage already.

Controversy is never far away in this game. One constant that has shadowed this game in recent times is the attendance of away fans. This will be the first time fans will be allowed to attend an Old Firm fixture since Rangers 2-1 triumph at Celtic Park a year and a half ago. Celtic had, in actual fact, received the 700 printed briefs only for Rangers to retract the invite to Govan because Celtic couldn’t guarantee they would return the favour for the next game at Celtic Park. Former Celtic player Chris Sutton had a cheap dig at Rangers for doing so before deleting the tweet when he realised it was, in actual fact, his beloved Celtic who caused the latest ticket rift. Chris is a bit partial to embarrassing himself with comments made, so there wasn’t much of a surprise there.

So a lot of talking points going into the first act of this season’s Old Firm rivalry. Celtic have arguably started their season with more verve than Rangers, but as we know, form goes out the window in these ties. With both team’s defences showing cracks, I predict this one to be a high scoring end to end match. Both will be eager to set the tone early on and get one over on their fierce rivals.

Let the battle commence!

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