The morning after the day before. Rangers have won their first Old Firm derby clash under the guidance of Steven Gerrard for the first time in almost seven years, ending Brendan Rodgers almost impeccable record against the Gers.
Historically, the number 13 is considered to be an unlucky one, and it was precisely Rodgers’ 13th clash with the Ibrox club. The Northern Irishman had racked up an impressive 10 wins from 12 games, as well as managing two draws- the most recent one coming in the previous New Year fixture.
All good things must come to an end, eventually. This is something Celtic fans will have known and will have been dreading for quite some time, especially as the emergence of Gerrard as a potentially good replacement to all his predecessors slowly crept into the fans’ minds. But Celtic overcame Rangers in September.
The Hoops had suffered a relatively bad start to their season, but the victory over Rangers the last time around boosted the club’s performances, propelling them back to the top of the table, qualifying for the latter stages of the Europa League and recovering their swagger that they had lost a grip of.
So, following a stunning 4-3 over Aberdeen on Boxing Day, in which the Celts had one of their better games in recent weeks, what went wrong for Rodgers at Ibrox?
Hands down the best team on the day won. Rangers were better both in the physical and in the mental, and even though the Gers didn’t exactly shine for their brilliant display of football, their determination, desperation and fighting spirit is what really separated the sides.
More importantly, Celtic were their own worst enemy. Moreover, Rodgers tactical stubbornness is what cost Celtic the three points. It was a disaster up and down the park for the visitors, as their usual flair and calm complexion was absent, leading the way to a poor display of football al across the pitch.
Celtic were in an awkward situation in terms of the availability of players to choose from. Callum McGregor, who has been phenomenal this season for the Hoops, was slotted into uncharted territory at left-back. It was a move that many questioned, as the recovering Kieran Tierney was on the bench alongside Johnny Hayes, who had performed relatively well in that position when he came on against Aberdeen.
The midfield duo of Olivier Ntcham and Scott Brown didn’t work on Sunday and hasn’t worked at all this season, and the fact Rodgers would even consider giving them the reins for this game when there were better combinations available is unfathomable, as they were bossed about by Rangers’ trio in Arfield, Jack and McCrorie.
Inconsistency struck again in the final third as Scott Sinclair was absent once again following a stellar performance at Pittodire, where he bagged an important hat-trick. James Forrest also went unnoticed, whilst Ryan Christie and Mikey Johnston did all they could with little fruit to bear. Young Johnstone, as technically gifted as he may be, was no match for the physicality and experience of the Rangers defence.
Celtic were also put in an awkward situation when Filip Benković, arguably one of the club’s best defenders in recent months, was taken off injured on the brink of half-time. Anthony Ralston also came on after the break as he replaced Mikael Lustig, whose age really began to show in Rangers’ goal. The Swedish defender was no match for Ryan Kent, who turned him inside out before passing to Jack to finish the move off.
The Hoops marginally improved upon the introduction of Odsonne Édouard with half an hour to go, and the visitors were hoping for the Frenchman to have a similar effect to their Boxing Day fixture. McGregor was able to pull one back for his side, but it was correctly ruled offside.
Steven Gerrard did state that beating Celtic was about giving the fans “bragging rights”, and most Gers fans won’t be forgetting this result any time soon- at least until the teams clash again in March.
This disastrous result could have been easily avoided had Rodgers made some better decisions on the day. However, Celtic still remain top of the league with 42 points thanks to their narrowly better goal difference, but Rodgers’ side does still have a game in hand to play after the winter break. Defeat to Rangers was always going to happen, and most Celtic fans will brush off this loss and consider it a mere blip in the bigger picture.
Celtic will welcome the winter break with open arms. It will give the club time to recover and regroup before facing the rest of the season, as they continue to battle for their eighth league title in a row, as well as retaining the Scottish Cup in an attempt to achieve a “treble treble”.
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