TODAY's Old Firm game has massive repercussions for both teams and the outcome of this season. If Rangers win, you can’t really say that the league is over but to be realistic, the chances of Celtic retaining the title would be extremely limited. 

Neil Lennon’s men didn’t start the season badly but after the derby defeat in October, their form went into decline and crucial points were lost. All the while Rangers were piling up victories and clean sheets.

The gulf between the teams was clear that day in October as Celtic were so poor. They had been pretty consistent up until that game but have fallen away since and although they’ve achieved their fourth consecutive treble, they are not the team we have witnessed in recent seasons. 

It has to be said, though, that last month we saw an improvement in the Parkhead club’s form, leaving Lennon being confident that his side can win today.

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The team itself has been changed too, with young David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro offering a new and explosive style of play that opposition teams have struggled to cope with. Lennon will be quietly optimistic that this will be the same against Rangers as the control that Celtic had in the midfield area for a few seasons appears to have diminished.

Scott Brown is the go-to example. Up until December last year, he controlled the midfield and Rangers were repeatedly unable to deal with the Celtic skipper.

However, the men from Ibrox have totally outplayed their city rivals in the three matches since and although Celtic won the League Cup in one of those games, Brown’s contribution was minimised. He’s still a top player but Lennon will be very aware that a new approach to this fixture is now required and that’s why I believe the midfield four will be Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Soro and Turnbull.

Gerrard plays with three in midfield, so I assume that Steven Davis and Glen Kamara will be definite starters. With Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield being unavailable through injury this is, without doubt, a problem for Gerrard. The Rangers boss has a major decision to make on whether to go with Joe Aribo or Bongani Zunga as the third starter in the midfield, though.

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Aribo is more of an attacking option but he’ll certainly have considered the changes that Lennon has made in the middle and how this has become a positive force in recent games. If Aribo starts today, then this is a sign that Gerrard is thinking more about his own team’s attacking strengths than being worried about what Celtic have to offer.

This is such a pivotal game for both clubs that the tactical decisions made by both managers will be crucial. Rangers are obviously going into the game with more confidence, considering how well they’ve performed in the league this season. Having only lost five goals in 21 games is truly exceptional and this could certainly be identified as title form.

Although they will be strong favourites for the match, having watched them in recent weeks I don’t think they’ve been playing as well as they were when the last Old Firm took place. In fairness, both teams were winning regularly when they met in October and that result was a major turning point for Celtic’s season.

The Premiership champions have improved of late and the changes implemented by Lennon have been positive. I would say that they are under more pressure than their Ibrox counterparts because if they lose, Rangers become virtual certainties for the league title and can only throw it away.
Rangers will get such a lift if they win, I can’t see them blowing it. Celtic, on the other hand, require a win to have a chance of initiating a worthwhile challenge.

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With the improvement they’ve shown over the last seven games, a win today would bring a major psychological boost to Lennon and the players which would make them believe that the points gap could be closed.

I think it’s a difficult game to forecast but Rangers must have a major motivation to win this game in order to not only win the league, but to stop Celtic generating even more records.

AND ANOTHER THING . . .

Now that we’re in 2021, let’s hope this is not going to be as sad a year as 2020 and that we can go back to enjoying life again.

Away from the pandemic there have been recent sad losses in the football world with two heroes from different eras, Jim McLean and Davie Sneddon, both dying last week.

McLean was a Killie player when I started training with the first team as a 14-year-old. Sneddon scored the goal that won Killie the title in 1965 but I remember him fondly because he was my coach as a kid and was a great help with my football development.

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This is also a time to remember the tragedy of the Ibrox Disaster from 50 years ago today, when sadly 66 people lost their lives, 32 of whom were teenagers.

It’s impossible to imagine how people coped with the heartbreaking news that they had lost a family member who had merely gone to enjoy a great football occasion and was so tragically taken away by such a totally unexpected occurrence. My thoughts are still with everyone who lost someone close to them that day.