AFTER the midweek round of fixtures, the countdown to the Betfred Cup final is on. Celtic and Rangers will meet at Hampden to contest a final for the first time since 2011 and both sets of supporters will be desperate to see their side collect the first silverware on offer of the campaign, albeit for different reasons.

The green half of Glasgow will be hoping to continue their dominance of Scottish football by securing a tenth consecutive domestic trophy; for Rangers fans, the match represents a chance to end an eight-year wait for major silverware.

Neil Lennon's side opened up a two-point gap over their rivals thanks to Scott Brown's last-gasp winner in the league on Wednesday night and the title race looks set to go down to the wire this year. But with the Hampden showdown looming, all eyes will be on the League Cup this weekend as the two rivals battle it out for supremacy.

With both sides likely to be missing players through injury, the two managers will have something of a selection headache on their hands. Steven Gerrard has a mostly fit squad to choose from and so has a greater wealth of options available to him. But choosing the right players - and the correct system - will ultimately decide whether or not Rangers can end Celtic's 31-game winning streak in the domestic cups.

Centre-back dilemma

Swedish centre-half Filip Helander was recruited from Serie A side Bologna at great expense in the summer and so far is yet to completely convince alongside Connor Goldson. Goldson himself is no stranger to the odd defensive error but given the fact that the former Brighton man has started virtually every game where he has been available since Gerrard recruited him in 2018, his place in Sunday's starting XI seems nailed-on.

With Helander, it is a little less straightforward. The Swede is fairly slow on the turn and as the graphic above details, neither Helander or Goldson are particularly effective at winning the ball back from the opposition. In fact, neither of them appear in the Premiership's top 30 players in terms of their defensive duel success. Joe Aribo - who isn't exactly a midfield enforcer - has a better rate than either of them.

Nikola Katic, who has dropped out of Gerrard's starting line-up in recent weeks, has the highest defensive duel success rate of any Rangers centre-back and in a game against the league's leading scorers, this will be an asset that Gerrard should not overlook.

Barisic concerns

The Croatian left-back missed Wednesday night's trip to Pittodrie and there is no getting away from the fact that Jon Flanagan is simply not a like-for-like - or even an adequate - replacement. Barisic's improvement this season has been noticeable and the 26-year-old's link-up play with Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos has produced excellent results going forward.

A criticism of the Croatia internationalist last season was that he perhaps lacked confidence and wasn't especially defensively sound, but this campaign that has all changed. Barisic has the highest defensive duel success of any Rangers player apart from Katic and should Barisic miss the final through injury, his loss would be keenly felt.

The common wisdom surrounding Flanagan is that he offers little going forward, which is certainly accurate, but that he somewhat compensates from this with his defensive ability. As the figures above illustrate, this is simply untrue. Flanagan has not played enough league minutes this season to give a representative data sample of his tackling efficiency but when we examine the former Liverpool man's defenisve statistics across all competitions this season, we can see that he is successful just 48.7%. More often than not, his defensive duels are unsuccessful.

Midfield trio

Gerrard has often alternated his midfield this season and, generally speaking, this rotation policy has paid dividends. Steven Davis, Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara appear to be the Rangers manager's prefrred trio in the middle of the park but the likes of Joe Aribo and Scott Arfield have also had significant game time this season.

In most of the domestic games that Rangers play, The Ibrox club control the ball and there is understandably a greater emphasis placed on technical midfielders. But on Sunday, Rangers will need to win it back more than they usually do and will be up against some of the best midfielders that Scotland has to offer. 

Jack's outstanding form this season all but guarantees his place, as does Davis' experience. And, as the graphic above details, Kamara is the clear choice to fill the third and final midfield berth. Yes, the Finland internationalist struggled in the Old Firm at Ibrox back in September, but he is also the best Rangers midfielder in terms of what he offers off the ball and is tidy and composed on it.

Make use of wingers

Back in September's derby at Ibrox, Rangers set up in a narrow system that ultimately proved costly for the home side. There were no wide players to offer an option when playing out of defence that inevitably led to the Rangers defenders simply lumping it forward and Kris Ajer and Christopher Jullien - two of the best defenders in the air in the league - were able to win the ball for Celtic with ease.

Some of Rangers' best play this season has come from wide positions and with Ryan Kent fit and firing for Gerrard's side once again, there is no question that the £7 million summer siging will line up on the left. But which player will occupy the space on the opposite flank is a little less certain.

Arfield and Sheyi Ojo have generally played there for most of Rangers' fixtures this season, although Gerrard also experimented with Aribo on the right for their trip to Pittodrie on Wednesday night with mixed results. Whoever does start on the right of the Rangers midfield will be up against either Greg Taylor or a Boli Bolingoli just returning to first-team action. Either way, it is an area that Gerrard must look to exploit and the data suggests that Ojo is the right player to do so.

The on-loan Liverpool winger has the highest dribbling accuracy of the two players in contention for a spot and as neither Bolingoli nor Taylor have particualrly strong defensive duel success rates, so capitalising on this is a must for Rangers. Ojo is admittedly a bit of a gamble, given his inconsistency, but if he plays as well as he has shown he is capable of then he has the ability to torment his opposite number.

Arfield might be percieved as a safer pair of hands but the data shows that Ojo has provided more to Rangers' attack this season. The 22-year-old provides more goals and assists, far more dribbles (which are much more successful) and while Arfield hits more passes, Ojo's are marginally more accurate.