Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
The first Old Firm Derby of the 2018/19 Scottish Premiership is fast approaching and the hate that’s been fermenting from Royston to Newton Mearns since late April is ready to be spewed forth at Celtic Park this Sunday.
It feels apt that the showdown has been scheduled for noon – traditionally the prescribed time for enemies to settle their difference in the Wild West, but for the first time in quite a while, Rangers will take on Celtic this weekend feeling slightly less out-gunned.
While Celtic vs Rangers is always the headline, this year’s Old Firm Derby comes with in intriguing subplot. In the dugout, Brendan Rodgers, former Liverpool manager, comes up against Steven Gerrard, former Liverpool captain.
Rodgers vs Gerrard
Steven Gerrard played under Rodgers at Liverpool for three seasons between 2012 and 2015. The pair came close to winning a Premier League title for the Reds in 2013/14 – in fact it was the closest Liverpool have come to winning it in 28 years.
Sunday won’t be the time to reminisce however, a cursory handshake is likely to be the extent of the pleasantries that are exchanged on the Celtic Park touchline.
For Gerrard, in his first managerial post, this will be his 1st Old Firm game, while Rodgers is preparing for his 12th. The Celtic manager’s record in this fixture since moving north has been impeccable.
Celtic’s recent domination
Still unbeaten in games against Rangers, Rodgers has masterminded 9 wins and 2 draws from his 11 meetings with Celtic’s great rivals. His 81% win percentage in the Old Firm is the highest of any Celtic manager in the club’s history.
Rodgers has however, come up against a very different club than the majority of his predecessors. After the most turbulent period in their history, Rangers are still feeling their way back to the top.
It’s worth noting that during Rodgers two years in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and Kilmarnock have all taken more Scottish Premiership points off Celtic than Rangers have.
Just four months ago in April, Rangers fans were forced to endure the ignominy of back-to-back Old Firm annihilations, first in the Scottish Cup Semi Final and then two weeks later in the league.
Celtic ended Rangers’ cup dreams with a 4-0 battering and stuck 5 past them a fortnight after that, dishing out a hiding that could really have surpassed their biggest ever winning margin in the fixture, a 7-1 victory in October, 1957.
If the devastation of the result and scoreline wasn’t enough to send Rangers fans spiralling into the depths of despair, the points also confirmed Celtic as champions for the 7th successive year. The game also marked the anniversary of Celtic’s 5-1 win at Ibrox the year before.
Rangers better equipped this year?
The tide might not be ready to fully turn, but Steven Gerrard’s arrival at Rangers has seen a definite shift in the waters in Glasgow.
For Rangers, Gerrard’s appointment was a huge gamble and an undeniably brave move. Handing such a huge task to someone so inexperienced is an incredible risk. It was a sink or swim moment for both the manager and the club.
So far, Gerrard’s impact has been almost unanimously positive. The 114-times capped former England international used his pull and reputation to good effect in the summer transfer market, utilising his contacts to give the Rangers squad a considerable renovation.
Most of Gerrard’s acquisitions have made an impact. Just last weekend, all of Rangers goals in their 3-3 draw at Motherwell were scored by players signed by Gerrard in the summer. Liverpool loanee Ovie Ejaria scored one, the returnee Kyle Lafferty got the other two.
After 11 competitive games in charge, Gerrard has yet to lose. He must think this managerial lark is as easy as he found it to put the ball in the net from thirty yards.
Celtic’s early season wobbles
Any talk of a crisis at Celtic Park is a little disingenuous, though the Scottish champions haven’t quite looked themselves in 2018/19 so far.
A defeat to Hearts in the league sandwiched in between a double-legged disappointment in the Champions League qualifiers against AEK Athens looked to have knocked the wind out of Celtic’s sails somewhat.
They recovered well, if unconvincingly, to register successive wins against Partick Thistle (in the League Cup) and Hamilton – a victory that shot Celtic vertically to just one place off the summit and just as importantly, two places above Rangers.
However, it feels as though they are still waiting for their first big defining moment of the season – the game that shows the rest of Scotland that their grip on the Premiership crown is as strong as ever.
An opportunity for both teams
Celtic and Rangers have Europa League contests to negotiate before this weekend’s Old Firm clash, though both sets of players are probably already looking beyond Thursday’s continental commitments to Sunday’s game.
For Celtic, the derby represents a chance to shed their Champions League disappointment and liquefy the feeling in Scotland that they might be showing signs of regression.
Steven Gerrard will be desperate to use Celtic Park as a platform to showcase his authenticity as a manager and to show their hosts that Rangers are closing in on complete restoration.
It promises to be the most fascinating Old Firm derby in years.
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