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Sport Celtic's burning Rangers priorities as last chance saloon could turn to new beginning

16:20  15 april  2021
16:20  15 april  2021 Source:   msn.com

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The pubs won't open for another week following full-time but Celtic are already drinking in the last chance saloon.

A quite monumental visit to Ibrox awaits the fallen Premiership champions on Sunday, their monopoly over Scottish football's major silverware reduced to but one prize.

The Scottish Cup has been the final piece of each of the club's four Trebles in recent seasons but now it could become the first step on their road to recovery.

Their recent record against Rangers has been poor but interim manager John Kennedy will tell you a draw and a loss in the previous two meetings don't tell the full story.

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Celtic no longer found themselves being dominated by Steven Gerrard's side but nothing but the final score matters in cup football.

Here are the big decisions and storylines to ponder ahead of the weekend derby.

Formation stick or twist?

Celtic have established control in the previous two derbies by ensuring they started on the front foot and it's crucial they do so again. Rangers have somewhat meandered through their post-title win fixtures and while that's largely understandable given the depth of emotion from top to bottom at Ibrox, they haven't looked quite like themselves since.

It's up to Celtic to deny them the opportunity to rediscover their rhythm.

The diamond formation has posed the Premiership champions considerable problems, at least in terms of establishing a grip in midfield but Kennedy parked it in favour of a 4-2-3-1 for the dismantling of Livingston at the weekend.

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The return of James Forrest was likely an influencing factor in that decision and it also suited an inspired Mohamed Elyounoussi in what was Celtic 's most complete display of the campaign.

It presents Kennedy with arguably his most important decision. Does he return to the shape which has blunted Rangers without beating them, or stick with last weekend's setup?

Hibs' Martin Boyle ensured a difficult afternoon for Borna Barisic at Ibrox last weekend and it's been speculated Forrest will be deployed with a similar task, which suggests the latter option may be more likely.

Turnbull or Rogic?

a group of people playing football on a field: Celtic's David Turnbull scores © PA Celtic's David Turnbull scores

Tom Rogic dazzled in the Scottish Cup win over Falkirk and may have felt rather hard done by not to retain his place when Livi came to Celtic Park.


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His replacement David Turnbull, however, will be difficult to shift.

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As per whoscored.com, Turnbull ranks among Europe's elite for key passes completed this season, registering a quite staggering 91 so far this term.

And given Celtic's press has troubled Rangers in the past two derbies, he seems more likely to get the nod over the less defensively astute Rogic.

But the Aussie will feel he could be the man to deliver the x-factor which has stopped Celtic claiming victory in recent outings against their bitter rivals.

He's produced countless times in this fixture before but may only stand a chance of starting if Kennedy reverts to the diamond.

Kennedy under the microscope

John Kennedy holding a racket on a court: Celtic interim manager John Kennedy © SNS Group Celtic interim manager John Kennedy

The interim manager successfully threw off his side's shackles against Livi and it really couldn't have happened at a better time.

Celtic have muddled through a frustratingly profligate phase, most notably in a stalemate with Dundee United that handed Rangers the title.

The 1-1 draw with the champions in March was punctuated by wastefulness and poor decision-making in the final third but it all clicked on Saturday.

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A meaningful meeting with their old foes will be the litmus test on the improvements its suspected Kennedy has made since stepping into the breach following Neil Lennon's resignation.

From open play, at least, Celtic look more solid - but can Kennedy root out the set piece malaise which has hurt them in the fixture and countless others?

Will the ruthlessness that yielded six just a few days ago become a consistent feature of this team once again?

And can Kennedy prove his own worth by truly outwitting Gerrard on a big occasion? Celtic look a better coached side under the 38-year-old but, if he's to prove his credentials as a boss, he needs to show more.

Kennedy is yet to decisively effect a game in-play when Celtic need it. His substitutions against Dundee United and Rangers didn't yield the required boost his side needed and it's an aspect of his stewardship over which there remains a question mark.

The bigger picture

Not to get too dramatic about it, but Sunday is set to be a crucial juncture in where this rivalry heads from here on out.

A victory for Rangers would compound their recent dominance over Celtic and justify giving a short shrift to Kennedy's assertion his team are still the best in the country.

The Ibrox side would become overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy and completing a double will cast an ever darker shadow over their rivals' season.

Defeat for Celtic would also ramp up the pressure to appoint a new manager as uncertainty continues to shroud the Eddie Howe situation.

Victory, on the other hand, could be the first green shoots of a Celtic recovery.

Quite what it would do for Kennedy's own personal ambitions remains to be seen.

He's been at pains to keep focus off himself since taking the job but no Celtic manager, caretaker or otherwise, can hope to dump Rangers out of the Scottish Cup on their own patch and not become the centre of attention.

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