The Glasgow derby verdict: where next for Celtic and Rangers and the race for the title?
By Callum McFadden.
December 29th 2019. The last match that both Celtic and Rangers will play in this decade and it couldn’t have been a more decisive game. Steven Gerrard and his highly determined Rangers team finally broke their recent Celtic Park hoodoo with a deserved win over a lacklustre Celtic side.
Rangers were organised, pressed high and capitalised on Celtic’s inability to keep the ball for any real length of time or confidently defend set pieces with goals from Ryan Kent and Nikola Katic providing the win. Their win was not without some controversy though as talisman Alfredo Morelos saw red for late dive in the penalty box which subsequently led to Rangers coach Michael Beale seeing red too. Not that the Rangers staff, players or fans will care now that they have closed the gap at top of the league to two points with a crucial game in hand to follow.
For Celtic, Neil Lennon’ side lacked quality and penetration when they were in possession. A missed penalty in the first half from the normally reliant Ryan Christie did not help matters either. Celtic’s play when in possession was very narrow for the first 60 minutes or so. A change of system from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2 by Lennon in the last 25 minutes aimed to add more width and urgency to the side however – a although this was a bold tactical move – it was ultimately fruitless as Rangers deservedly won the battle of the Glasgow derby.
Is the momentum now with Rangers?
Rangers are now surely in pole position in the title race however this defeat for Celtic has perhaps come at a good time – if there is ever such thing as a good time to lose a Glasgow derby – with the January transfer window on the agenda.
Celtic for their part simply MUST win the January window war and strengthen their side as a matter of urgency if they are to reclaim top spot and march towards a historic 9th successive title as for the first time in many years they have a serious title fight on their hands.
The January transfer window war: Will the side with the most astute January window go on to win the title?
What are the priorities for both sides in January?
Celtic have so many superb attacking players in Eduoard, Christie, Elyonoussi and Forrest however worryingly have a real lack of quality depth particularly in the centre forward area. Leigh Griffiths has had his notable struggles and continues to battle back to full fitness while Bayo – who regularly fails to make the matchday squad – doesn’t seem to be trusted by Neil Lennon to be the back up to Eduoard.
That is why an incoming striker simply has to be of paramount importance to Celtic because an injury to Eduoard with only Bayo and Griffiths as potential replacements is a remedy for despair for Celtic.
Andraz Sporar of Slovan Bratislava seems to be the priority striking target and with a goal rate of 20 goals in 26 games, he is clearly a good footballer with potential to further improve. However, can Celtic afford to take a gamble on a striker with no experience of British/Scottish domestic football and a lack of any real European experience. In years gone by, the Celtic board could feasibly sign an English Premier League striker in times of such need i.e a Robbie Keane or Craig Bellamy but those days appear to be gone. However, in this time of need could the Celtic board surprise everyone with a proven goal scorer with substantial pedigree to inspire both the Celtic players and fans alike.
It could be also debated that a right winger to provide more competition for James Forrest is needed – with many Celtic fans failing to be impressed by his recent performances in the last few matches – and another centre half as competition for Jullien and Ajer too may be important targets in this window for Celtic. While that may be true, a striker to back up Eduoard is simply the absolute must and by far the top priority for Celtic.
For Rangers, on the evidence of this season to date Steven Gerrard clearly has recruited well and has the nucleus of a very good squad. I would argue that keeping a hold of their key stars Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara is their absolute priority as losing either of this trio could seriously take the wind out of Rangers and Gerrard’s sails ahead of the business end of the season.
Adding more quality depth to the bench would I’m sure be of interest to Gerrard and his staff but whether the club’s budget would allow for that remains to be seen.
With 20 games of the season now gone and the winter break now upon us. The on pitch battle now moves to the recruitment war. As various club chairman and chief executives continually argue; January is not the easiest time to add the quality that you want nor is it the easiest to for Scottish clubs hold on to key stars if a substantial bid is received particular from the English Premier League. These are challenges that await both Celtic and Rangers.
Moreover, with the pressure rising for Celtic due to Rangers bubbling along nicely with the momentum now seemingly with them, the Celtic hierarchy, Neil Lennon and head of recruitment Nick Hammond simply have no choice other than to push the boat out and give themselves the best possible chance to salvage their title push. As with 9 in a row on the forefront of every Celtic fans mind, failure to do so would surely be unforgivable.