We’re not far away from Celtic and Rangers going head-to-head in the biggest match Scottish football has to offer. The two Glasgow giants love nothing better than locking horns for 90 minutes and trying to prove that they are the best in the land. In recent years of course the Hoops have dominated the fixture and last season Brendan Rodgers’ side won five of the six meetings between the two sides.
That makes them red hot favourites heading in this Saturday’s match, with some reckoning the match-up will be as every bit as lopsided as last season’s encounters were. It’ll still be hard work to pick up the victory Hoops fans are dying for though and a massive part of that will be Rodgers getting his team selection right.
With important players returning to full fitness, the Celtic boss has something of a selection headache on his hands, although instead of this being a burden as it has been on occasion so far this term, there are only positives this time around.
One of the big calls that must be made is deciding who starts in attack. With Moussa Dembele again available for selection and Leigh Griffiths managing to maintain fitness, both will be desperate to play at Ibrox and grab the headlines for themselves as they both did against the Light Blues last season.
This time last year, the fact Griffiths was missing for the first derby of the season was seen as a massive problem for the Scottish Champions. Griffiths had banged in seven goals in his first nine matches of the season before picking up an injury that ruled him out of Rangers’ visit to Celtic Park. Having scored 40 goals the previous season and Dembele still untested in Celtic colours, it was a major talking point in the week leading up to the match.
By the end of that 5-1 victory though, nobody was left in any doubt about who the new main man was in Scottish football. A sensational hat-trick from the Frenchman announced his arrival on the Celtic scene giving him the confidence and momentum to go on and have a fantastic season, scoring 32 goals and finishing as the club’s top scorer.
One year on, the case for starting the 21-year-old in the first match against Rangers is strong and there’s little doubt about his ability to put Pedro Caixinha’s side to the sword if called upon. However, can you discount Leigh Griffiths entirely?
There’s no doubting that Griffiths is as good a replacement for Dembele as Celtic could ever hope for. His development under Brendan Rodgers has been remarkable. For club and country he is now a dependable goalscorer in any competition home or away. He’s scored five goals this season already including one away to Astana in the UEFA Champions League. He’s also in line to become the first Hoops striker since John Hartson to score 100 goals at the club.
However, Dembele just offers something extra. For a start his physicality is more impressive. He can be more of a focal point in the Celtic attack and bring teammates into the game around him, while Griffiths is more suited to pressing and running in behind defences. Against Rangers it could be argued that the Frenchman’s style of play is better suited to the occasion.
There’s also the fact that the Light Blues are undoubtedly scared of the Frenchman. His five goals against the club last term devastated the team and their support. No-one has had such a dominating season against the other Glasgow club in decades. That’s enough in itself to warrant his selection on Saturday.
The truth is that both are likely to feature at the weekend at some point. Whoever starts, the other will likely play from the bench. With another hugely important against Anderlecht on the horizon, Rodgers needs to take that into account and have Dembele fit for that one too. The striker has only had an hour of football in months after all.
Starting Dembele is a statement of intent, one that says Celtic are turning up at Ibrox to re-assert their authority on the Govan side and if he’s fit enough to feature then he’s the man Rodgers must call upon.