Rangers 0-2 Celtic: Samaras settles an otherwise quiet Old Firm derby

January 3, 2011

The starting line-ups

Georgios Samaras scored his first two goals of the season to hand Celtic an important victory.

Walter Smith replaced Steven Naismith with Jamie Ness, who came into the centre of midfield, pushing Steve Davis to the right, and Steven Whittaker switched to the left. Elsewhere, it was unchanged from Rangers’ previous game, in the 4-4-1-1 shape Smith has favoured in recent weeks.

Celtic’s starting XI was less certain, thanks to injury, suspension and Freddie Ljungberg’s virus preventing him from making his debut. Neil Lennon persisted with 4-4-1-1, with Paddy McCourt given a free role behind Samaras, and Biram Kayal coming into the centre of midfield.

The two similar shapes created a fairly uneventful game early on. There was only one shot on target in the first half – a header from a corner by Lee McCulloch – and there was a general lack of action at either end.

We didn’t even have the traditional Old Firm midfield battle, either – the two midfield partnerships both played surprisingly deep and therefore there wasn’t much of a confrontation between them. The two players ‘in the hole’, Vladimir Weiss and Paddy McCourt, had minimal defensive responsibilities.

Playmakers quiet

Weiss and McCourt were in theory the two key players – given free roles to move across the pitch as they liked, with a duty to support their respective lone strikers. They played the role in different ways – Weiss tended to move out towards the flanks in search of space, whereas McCourt dropped deeper into midfield and made Celtic a 4-5-1, meaning they struggled to get the ball forward, because of the lack of a clear forward pass.

Partly as a result of that, Rangers were marginally the better side. Their midfield was narrow, with Steven Davis tucking in on the right and Steven Whittaker coming inside on the left flank, but they often kept the play central before surprising Celtic by switching the play quickly to one of the full-backs (or Whittaker) stationed wider on the flanks. Still, with not much aerial presence in the box there was little chance of a goal from a cross, and so Rangers rarely threatened.

The other interesting tactical feature of the game was Madjid Bougherra’s runs forward from central defence – he frequently went haring forward to join the attack, so McCulloch or Jamie Ness dropped in at centre-back. This movement rarely looked likely to unlock the Celtic defence, however.

Second half

In half-time interviews, both assistant managers (Ally McCoist and Johan Mjallby) identified a lack of support for their main striker as the main reason they’d struggled in the first half. Samaras initially found himself surrounded by more green and white shirts when the ball was played forward, but after 5-10 minutes of the second half, McCourt dropped deep against and Samaras was isolated once more.

Still, it turned out not to matter, as Samaras created both goals without the need for teammates. The first goal was a long ball downfield that Alan McGregor misjudged – Samaras rounded him and slotted home. The second saw a good solo run from the Greek striker, before he was brought down by Bougherra. He converted the penalty himself, and Celtic were rarely threatened in the final 20 minutes.

Conclusion

The goals owed little to design – or tactics – but both stemmed from very similar situations. With both strikers receiving a lack of support from midfield, it was down to them to make the difference. Celtic’s centre-back pairing simply coped better with Kenny Miller than Rangers’ duo did with Samaras.

Rangers 0-2 Celtic: Samaras settles an otherwise quiet Old Firm derby

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