One of the biggest rivalries in the world of football is set to engage in its 407th instalment this lunchtime. People are quick to mock Scottish football but without doubt The Old Firm derby is one of the most well-known, most passionate and generally entertaining derbies in the World.
This particular game has heightened importance in that it is the Scottish Cup Semi Final. To say the two sides have had contrasting seasons is an understatement. Celtic have won the league with considerable ease, have enjoyed exciting European nights and have already humiliated their arch rivals earlier in the campaign.
Rangers by contrast have not really got going. They have signed and released Joey Barton, sacked Mark Warburton, stuttered to what looks like a third place finish and have largely been uninspiring.
I have identified three key battles which will largely define who reigns supreme and reaches the final.
Dembele v Foderingham
The hot-shot forward has been in blistering form this season and has already netted a hat trick against the blue half of Glasgow. With his blend of strength and pace knitted together neatly with ability on the ball he is going to cause the Rangers defence all sorts of problems. Foderingham having a good game is crucial. The former Swindon stopper is capable of making plenty of saves and sublime saves and will need to be at his very best to stop the league’s top scorer adding to his tally.
Sinclair v Tavernier
Celtic are not one trick ponies and Scott Sinclair appears to be rebuilding his reputation in Glasgow. He has been somewhat under the radar due to the exploits of Dembele but with his pace and eye for goal, he is another danger man the Rangers defence need to keep an eye on. Tavernier is one of the few players who you feel can really hurt Celtic with his style of play. If he is allowed to play his game Celtic will be in for a difficult afternoon. It could come down to which of these pair defend the best.
Brown v McKay
This is very much the best Scotland have had in recent years vs the future. McKay has been one of the few shining lights for Rangers and has the confidence to shine on this stage. Likely to play the playmaker, keeping him quiet will be crucial to Celtics game plan. Scott Brown is likely to have this job and is more than capable of doing it, however, he has a short fuse too so do not be surprised if he gets an early yellow or even a red.
The draw in their previous encounter was a typically entertaining game and this latest battle should be no different. This will be Pedro Caixinha first proper experience of the fixture having watched Graeme Murty’s side claim a point in the last derby.
Many are likely to have the Hoops as favourites but it is actually ‘Gers who have the best overall record. Their 159 wins has them ten ahead of their arch rivals.
All sense and logic suggests Celtic will win, but the fact that this is football, a derby and a Cup Semi Final means form and logic go out of the window.
I think Celtic will dominate BUT Rangers will win 2-1 – and I also think there will be a red card.