Celtic 3-0 Rangers: Celtic better all over the pitch
Celtic extended their advantage at the top of the SPL with a dominant performance.
Neil Lennon left out Anthony Stokes, and brought in Georgios Samaras to play upfront.
Walter Smith again used Kyle Bartley ahead of the back four, and played El-Hadji Diouf and Steven Naismith either side of the midfield (whereas in last weekend’s 6-0 over Motherwell, Diouf played just off the striker in a 4-2-3-1).
The first significant action of the game happened within two minutes. Bartley dived into an unnecessary challenge and picked up a booking. From there, he was frightened of making any more tackles, and therefore Rangers were significantly weakened in the centre of the pitch.
This helped Celtic dominate the midfield battle, though overall their midfielders were more reliable in possession than Rangers’ anyway. Maurice Edu frequently gave the ball away, as did Bartley. Biram Kayal played deep in midfield foer Celtic and got time on the ball – he didn’t do anything spectacular, but moved the ball nicely from side to side, and was the main reason Celtic dominated possession – they had 60% of the ball throughout the match.
Despite holding onto the ball for decent periods, Celtic looked at their most threatening when they played on the break, as in the previous league meeting between these sides, where Samaras scored two goals on the counter. Celtic were especially dangerous down their left – Kris Commons played as an advanced, natural winger on that side, whereas Scott Brown was tucked in on the right, almost as a third central midfielder.
Two goals from the left
That meant the left was more of an outlet for the home side, and Commons supplied Hooper for the first goal with a low ball into feet. Hooper sped past Weir in an amazingly mismatched contest, and fired home.
Celtic also prospered down their left because of the attacking drive from Emilio Izaguirre from full-back. Smith switched Diouf and Naismith midway through the half, possibly because Naismith is better defensively and was more likely to do a better job of tracking Izaguirre. However, the Honduran sped forward to create Celtic’s second with a very direct attack down the left – he squared for Hooper to tap into an empty net.
Celtic were simply better in every department. They exposed Weir’s weakness at the back, and held onto the ball better in the centre of the pitch, whilst Rangers struggled to give Nikica Jelavic any support from midfield – he frequently battled for long balls but had no-one to knock the ball down to.
Diouf and Naismith stayed in wide positions, whilst neither Edu nor Davis got forward from the centre particularly well – in fact, Davis seemed to move deeper as the first half went on, trying to get more time on the ball, as Kayal was enjoying in his deep role. Rangers missed Jamie Ness, who had impressed in the first Old Firm derby of the year with his calm passing from midfield.
Smith tried to change things at half time. He brought on Kyle Lafferty for the injured Naismith in a straight swap, but moved to more of a 4-4-2 with Diouf joining Jelavic upfront. The full-backs also pushed higher up the pitch, and tried to overlap Rangers’ wide players more. Immediately Rangers were more of a threat to the Celtic defence, as Diouf pulled down a long ball for a decent chance, but they were still second best. With a lack of central midfield options on the bench, they never gained the advantage in that zone and the switch in formation didn’t help.
Celtic were mature and disciplined in the second half. The full-backs generally stayed in position and their central midfielders remained behind the ball. As a result, their attacking potential was reduced – but they weren’t vulnerable to quick Rangers breaks. Ki Sung-Yeung replaced Kayal (who was on a booking, and tends not to last 90 minutes anyway) in the centre of the pitch and played that quiet passing role similarly well, and Commons grabbed a third with a long-range shot that deceived McGregor.
David Healy replaced Diouf as Smith tried to introduce a new attacking threat, but Celtic were comfortable and deserved the victory.
Celtic were stronger than Rangers in every department, meaning it’s impossible to identify one area of the pitch or a particular battle that was the major factor in winning the game.
It does indicate that Lennon got his tactics correct, however. Celtic were intelligent with the ball – they broke quickly when the opportunity arose, but otherwise played short, calm passing that frustrated Rangers.
Rangers looked disjointed in the first half. There was no support to Jelavic, the midfield couldn’t retain the ball, and Weir’s pace was exposed at the back. None of the starting XI had good games, and Smith was unable to change things from the bench.