|Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Sunday, 30 April Kick-off: 13:30 BST|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app|
When you go through the recent history of games between Celtic and Rangers, a few curious things jump out and hit you square between the eyes.
Number one: Carl Starfelt, the Celtic centre-half, has scored as many goals against Celtic in the past two seasons as Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent.
Number two: In the Ange Postecoglou seasons, Rangers defender Filip Helander – who hasn’t played for the club in more than a year – still has as many goals against Celtic than any Rangers midfielder or striker.
Number three: Kyogo Furuhashi has scored five goals in his past three games against Rangers, which is more than Morelos has scored in six seasons of games against Celtic.
Number four: Across the span of the past two seasons, no Rangers player has scored more than once from open play in the derby, while four Celtic players have done so.
As they head into a Scottish Cup semi-final on Sunday, Rangers fans could be excused for thinking that, when it comes to games against Celtic, they’ve been living their lives on a loop for a chunk of these past two seasons.
Since Postecoglou arrived in Glasgow, it’s not just the matches Rangers have lost and the goals they’ve conceded against the marauders in green and white that gives the fixture the look of a recurring nightmare for Ibrox folk, it’s the type of goal they’ve conceded and the mind-altering similarity of so many of them.
They’ve been consistently exploited down the right and left of their defence with sleepy defenders caught napping by alert attackers. There’s been errors from goalkeepers and centre-halves and dangerous finishers left free to fire on goal in the penalty box. Celtic’s speed of thought and speed of movement has been mostly too much for Rangers.
Kyogo a demon for Celtic
Both of Kyogo’s goals in the League Cup final originated with a cross from the right-hand side of Rangers’ defence. His late equaliser at Ibrox came from a delivery from the Rangers right that sparked chaos. Rangers had seven players inside the six-yard box when Kyogo scored.
Celtic’s 3-2 win in Glasgow’s east end was two years of games in microcosm. Kyogo’s first began with a move down the right, his second happened with an error on the left of goal from Ben Davies, and Celtic’s third was the kind of calamity we’ve seen much of. Previously, it was Jon McLaughlin, now it was John Souttar. Only the names change. The colours never do.
Postecoglou’s side feeds off weakness. They can strike with the venom of an adder when the moment arrives. They’ve scored 18 goals in nine Old Firm matches in two seasons with a shot conversion rate that’s more or less double that of Rangers’. Kyogo isn’t just a physical being on the pitch in front of Rangers defenders, he’s a demon in their heads.
In the nine games, Rangers have had more shots (118-109), more open play crosses (168-131) and more touches in the opposition box (236-217). James Tavernier (22) and Borna Barisic (14) have created more chances than anybody else. Ryan Kent (24) has had more attempts on goal.
All of that reflects close games, certainly on Michael Beale’s watch – a draw and two others settled by a goal. Efficiency is the word here, though. Class is another. Celtic have been more ruthless with their chances, they’ve shown a remorseless nature even when playing below their standard. Rangers have huffed and puffed by comparison, wasteful at one end and ripped apart too often down the other.
Big decisions lie ahead for Rangers board
Rangers have so much work to do in the summer that it must hurt the brain of their fast-changing board. They have big decisions to make on multiple players who are out of contract in the coming months.
Kent is one of the highest earners at Ibrox and yet his influence and goals return is nowhere near where it needs to be – a mere 28 goals in more than 160 domestic games. In a season and a half at Celtic, Daizen Maeda is already only 10 goals behind Kent. Jota is only six behind him. Liel Abada is only four behind.
The subject of value for money has to be occupying the minds of the Rangers board. They have players on an estimated £10m-£15m a year out of contract in the summer and you have to wonder how many of them are worth retaining. Kent is one of them. Morelos is another.
The latter has scored 12 goals in domestic competition this season, which is the same as Heart of Midlothian’s Lawrence Shankland minus his penalties and still five fewer than Kevin van Veen when you take away the Motherwell striker’s penalties. Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes of Aberdeen is also well clear of Morelos and fellow Ibrox striker Antonio Colak. Neither of them are good enough. Beale needs more value and a whole more quality. The summer will be daunting for him.
And, if they don’t win on Sunday, it’ll play out against a backdrop of fury among the support. There’s pressure on Celtic, of course there is. Most of it is self-imposed, the hunger of a team striving to become treble winners. A defeat would go down badly among the fans, but they’ll have a league title to celebrate soon and they’d get over a cup loss, in time.
Rangers have nothing else to comfort them if it goes wrong. No soft landing. No upbeat finale to the season. Just a weary post-mortem and summer surgery with tens of thousands of fans in the operating theatre with them, studying their every move.
This is their last crack for the season. That rage for victory will make them dangerous, but sometimes in this fixture the danger that Rangers pose is to themselves as much as to Celtic. The whirling dervish that is Kyogo has been the difference of late. Any Rangers weakness on the day and they’ll know who’ll be there to hurt them – again.