‘Recurring themes as Rangers rout Celtic’

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May 3, 2021
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    Take your pick of the goals and the story of Rangers' rise and Celtic's fall can be seen in each one, the sharpness of one team and the softness of another, the varying speed of thought and movement, the contrast in alertness and execution.

    Kemar Roofe's improvised finish and Callum McGregor's red card for the first one. Alfredo Morelos getting through a passive Scott Brown and blasting a shot past a cowering Kristoffer Ajer and an exposed Scott Bain for the second.

    Roofe running away from David Turnbull and timing his run and leap to perfection to get on the end of Borna Barisic's excellent cross for the third. Jermain Defoe turning Stephen Welsh inside out for the fourth.

    Defoe had been on the field for four minutes. He had one chance and took it at the end of a half where Celtic had four good chances and didn't take any of them. That's the difference right there. Rangers were sharp, Celtic were blunt.

    On the day it was 4-1. Across the five meetings this season it's 10-2. The points difference between them is now 23.

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    This Celtic rebuild gets bigger by the week, but there's still no word on who, precisely, is going to be doing the rebuilding.

    If it's Eddie Howe then how long before Celtic announce that the deal is done, the backroom is in place and the new era has begun?

    Silence does not mean inaction – they'll be frantically busy behind the scenes – but there's a growing and understandable frustration among the fans about the information blackout. Sunday would have ramped up the angst.

    'Ruthless Rangers exploit glaring vulnerability'

    There's a recurring theme about the pain Rangers have inflicted on Celtic this season – and that Celtic have inflicted on themselves – and it can be seen most vividly through the goals the new champions have scored against their old rivals. Different days but the same weakness played out time after time.

    It's not just that Rangers scored 10 goals against Celtic in five games – the first time in 21 years they have managed to hit double figures in a single season head-to-head with their chums from across the city.

    It is also the manner of the goals, the predictability and familiarity of them, the glaring vulnerability that Celtic could not fix and tht Rangers ruthlessly exposed.

    In the first meeting of the season, Rangers won 2-0. Connor Goldson scored both of them from a position just a step outside Celtic's six-yard box. On each occasion the origin of the goal was down Celtic's left-hand side.

    The second Old Firm game was won 1-0 by Rangers. Nir Bitton got sent-off for felling Alfredo Morelos as the Colombia striker threatened to sprint free of him down Celtic's left-hand side. The decisive goal came from a corner on Celtic's left. Again, the final touch (an own goal from Callum McGregor) came inside Celtic's six-yard box.

    Game number three was a 1-1 draw, Morelos scoring inside the Celtic six-yard box on the left side of the goal. When Rangers won the Scottish Cup tie 2-0 both goals came when Rangers attacked Celtic down their left-hand side, with both finishes coming inside their six-yard box.

    Sunday's 4-1 drubbing saw a partial repeating of the trend. Morelos scored when he cut in from Celtic's left. All four goals were around the six-yard box.

    In the five games, Celtic had the same number of red cards as they had goals. At various times they were callow, cowering and lazy in their defending. The individual error count was ridiculously high.

    'Everything has turned' in Old Firm rivalry

    Rangers have now gone unbeaten in five straight Old Firm games in a campaign for the first time in more than two decades. If you add in the final game of last season then it's six without loss. Or, to put it another way, they've won five of the last six.

    Everything has turned. Celtic had stability but now have turbulence and uncertainty. They had all the trophies and now have none. They had leaders, but you're struggling to find many of them in the team these days. They had ferocious energy and mental strength but now there's tiredness and glaring deficiencies all over the place.

    Rangers have torn down the walls. A combined score of 10-2 across the season was the kind of stuff Brendan Rodgers' Celtic used to throw at Rangers. Those days must seem like an age ago to both sets of supporters.

    What we said after the last Old Firm game we say again now, only the wattage of the light that shines on their problems has increased. There isn't an area of the field where Celtic don't need new blood. A goalkeeper, new full-backs, new centre-halves, new options in midfield regardless of whether McGregor or Ryan Christie stay or go, and new strikers to replace the departed Patryk Klimala, the beaten docket that is Albian Ajeti, the apparently unloved Leigh Griffiths and the possibly soon-to-be ex-Celt Odsonne Edouard.

    Not a single soul at the club could have seen any of this coming at the start of the season, when 10-in-a-row seemed more probable than possible. They're 23 points behind Rangers having beaten them by 13 points, nine points, 12 points and 39 points in the previous four seasons.

    From Rodgers in 2016-17 to Steven Gerrard in 2020-21 there's a 62-point difference between the sides. Rangers are on an escalator heading up and Celtic are on an escalator heading down.

    What next at Ibrox and Celtic Park?

    A really good manager can address all of this in relatively quick order, which is presumably why Celtic are waiting for Howe. If they think he's the guy with the nous and the charisma to spark a recovery then they'll feel it's worth taking some flak from annoyed supporters in the short term to get the benefits of his management in the medium to long term.

    Celtic will see it as holding their nerve and making the right appointment, but Howe, if and when he arrives, will have some amount of expectation on him. We can't know if he fully realises what it's going to be like or, even if he does know, how he'll deal with it, but two minutes into the job he'll realise he ain't at Bournemouth anymore.

    It'll be interesting to see what Rangers do in the summer. The club has already stated that they'll need to sell an asset or two to address the finances, but how far do they go on that? The champions of Scotland next season gain automatic entry into the Champions League group stage. It's a £25m season. Maybe a £30m season.

    Celtic have a bewildering array of decisions to make, but Rangers are not without their own puzzlers.

    If somebody comes in strong for Ryan Kent, Glen Kamara, Filip Helander, Barisic, Morelos, James Tavernier or young Nathan Paterson, do they listen or do they slam the phone down? They have to walk a line between selling a player or two in the name of fiscal caution and keeping them all and adding a few on top in the name of ambition and evolution and that pot of gold that awaits the 2021-22 champions.

    Gerrard will push for more resources as befits a manager who demands constant improvement. Having taken so long to knock Celtic off their perch he will want his club to stick around at the top for a whole lot longer than one season.

    Watching how Rangers balance the need for footballing progress and financial prudence will be interesting. The months ahead will be dominated by the remaking of Celtic, though. The revolving door hasn't started whirring yet, but it will. And soon.

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