When Celtic visit Ibrox on Saturday, most people will be expecting just one outcome. Sure, there’ll be plenty of Rangers supporters who will have trust in their team to put in a big performance, that’s what being a football fan is all about after all. However, logic dictates that this will likely be another encounter that Brendan Rodgers’ team dominates, such was the gulf in class between the two sides last season.
While that confidence is well justified amongst the Hoops support, it does bring to the fore perhaps the biggest danger facing Celtic ahead of their short trip across Glasgow; complacency.
Last season the game Celtic were expected to win most in the build-up was the one game they actually failed to put away Rangers. Led by a caretaker manager and returning to the scene of a 5-1 drubbing the previous September, the Light Blues travelled to Celtic Park expecting the worst. However, it was a day Rodgers’ side were not a their best and they laboured to 1-1 draw after a last gasp Clint Hill goal.
While Celtic repeated that 5-1 scoreline at Ibrox in the last meeting between the two sides, there is a simple truth that remains – there are very few easy games for visitors at Ibrox, especially in this derby.
All that aside, it’s also true that Rangers look in better shape than they were last season, at least compared to the second half of the season. While they still have proven they can find the consistency that will allow them to compete for the Scottish Premiership title, a number of performers have stepped up to the plate and shown that they have what it takes to be a success in the top-flight.
Perhaps the most dangerous of those is Colombian Alfredo Morelos, whose goalscoring exploits have given Rangers fans hope that they’ve finally found the striker they’ve been waiting for, for years.
The 21-year-old has been in lightning form at the start of the season, carrying on his exploits for Finnish side HJK Helsinki. He’s already scored 8 goals in 10 appearances for the Light Blues and when added to his recent tally in Finland means he has now scored 24 goals in his last 29 games in all competitions. It’s a remarkable record and one which Celtic cannot underestimate.
Morelos is finding space off defenders better than most Rangers forwards have in recent seasons, which combined with his propensity to shoot from almost any angle or distance makes him a potential match-winner for the home side if it’s a tight close-fought contest.
In midfield too they are in better shape than last season. Graham Dorrans may not quite yet be the influence Rangers fans are hoping for in the heart of midfield but he has plenty of experience at the top level of the game and like Morelos, his ability from the edge of the box to find shots on target makes him another key danger.
On the flanks, Rangers fans have been impressed with the start winger Daniel Candeias has had at the club while Declan John has filled in excellently for the injured Lee Wallace. John looks like a significant upgrade on the club captain in an attacking sense, though Saturday will be a massive test of his defensive abilities more than anything.
What this game also offers Rangers’ new arrivals is opportunity. The chance to make themselves Rangers heroes and cement their place in the team. These are the matches which can define the careers of players who turn out for both these teams. Just look at what Moussa Dembele’s impact in last season’s derbies did for his profile and rise in popularity. Again, for Celtic, that’s makes them a dangerous prospect when out on the field, even if on paper you’d fancy them to take care of business and pick up all three points.
The first derby of the season sets the tone for all that follows over the rest of the campaign in all competitions. The likelihood is that these two sides could be tussling for the cup competitions as well as in these league encounters. That makes this one perhaps the most important of them all. While Celtic fans may underestimate the Rangers team, it’s vitally important that Brendan Rodgers doesn’t and prepares his team to counteract the new threats that are now at Ibrox.