Monday, 21 February 2011

Celtic 3 Rangers 0

Davie Weir was at fault for the first two goals in a very one-sided Old Firm match yet was not the only player responsible for the terrible Rangers performance.  Celtic were sharper, better in possession and created all the best chances whereas Rangers surrendered possession time after time and failed to trouble Fraser Forster in the Celtic goal.

Neil Lennon made one change from the 3-1 win at Tannadice a week ago, bringing in Georgios Samaras for top scorer Anthony Stokes.  In the past the Celtic manager has opted for a lone striker system against Rangers but, aware of his opponents potential tiredness, decided to field Gary Hooper alongside Samaras in a 4-4-2 formation.  Scott Brown again played a tucked in right sided midfield role - in a similar fashion to the previous Old Firm match - with Kris Commons more advanced on the opposite flank.

Rangers made three changes from the draw with Sporting Lisbon on Thursday, restoring Steven Naismith, Nikica Jelavic and Kyle Bartley at the expense of Vladimir Weiss, Ricky Foster and Kyle Lafferty.  Sky Sports laughably suggested that Rangers were to start 4-3-3 but they lined up 4-5-1 as usual with Naismith and El Hadji Diouf wide and Bartley the most defensive of the midfield five.

Within three minutes, Steven Davis was caught in possession – something he was prone to in the Europa League match in midweek – which resulted in Bartley being booked for a challenge on Brown and meant he was unable to effectively play the defensive midfield role.

The match took a while to settle down with both teams hitting long, direct passes.  Rangers, as is usual away to Celtic, sat deep whereas the home side were more intent on pressing their opponents high up the pitch.

Celtic’s play became more settled and within fifteen minutes they had opened the scoring.  Diouf was either given the freedom to roam the pitch by Walter Smith or else took upon himself to drift over to the opposite flank from which he started but either way it led to the opening goal.  When Rangers lost possession Celtic broke down the left through Emilio Izaguirre and Commons.  The attack drew Steven Whittaker out of position which left space in behind him and, in turn, brought Madjid Bougherra out of position.  Commons slipped the ball inside to Hooper and his touch at the edge of the penalty area took the ball past Davie Weir as if he wasn’t there.  Lennon described it as “world class” after the match and even though Hooper’s touch was clever, it was more a case of the poor anticipation and pace of the ageing centre-back.  The touch put Hooper one on one with Allan McGregor and he finished coolly.

Izaguirre has shown himself to be the best attacking full-back in the country this season and since Diouf isn’t the most disciplined of wingers, it was an error to field him in this position.  Davis would have been a more suitable choice but, with Lee McCulloch missing through injury, Smith decided that he was needed in the centre of midfield.

Smith responded by switching Diouf with Naismith but the within five minutes they were opened up on that side once again.  Jelavic, who struggled to get involved all afternoon, gave the ball away and Celtic quickly broke.  Samaras sent Izaguirre racing down the left which was only made possible by Weir’s awful positioning.  He was at least five yards deeper than the rest of his defence and only attempted to step out when the pass was actually played.  Izaguirre crossed the ball towards the back post where Hooper was on hand to slide the ball home.

With around thirty minutes played Rangers managed to put together their first decent move involving Whittaker, Jelavic, Naismith and Bartley which culminated in their first effort on goal, however, by this point Celtic were happy to sit back and protect their lead until half time.

At half time Lafferty was brought on for Naismith as Rangers lined up man for man against their opponents.  Davis moved out to the right, Lafferty took up the left sided role and Diouf was pushed into a more advanced position.  The change improved Rangers but they almost found themselves 3-0 down when Brown’s header was cleared off the line after McGregor misjudged a Samaras cross.

Rangers were now taking the game to Celtic, getting Whittaker and Sasa Papac forward more and making the Celtic defence work for the first time in the match, however, this only lasted until Lennon was forced into a change.  Ki Sung-Yueng was brought on due to an injury to the impressive Beram Kayal.  Even though the switch was not tactical, it improved Celtic as the South Korean made sure that Celtic retained the ball better than they had done for the first fifteen minutes of the second half.

Rangers’ play soon became rushed again and Walter Smith made his final substitution when he replaced Diouf with David Healy but the Northern Ireland international made little impact on the game.

Rangers gave the ball away cheaply all afternoon and were punished once again when Commons made it 3-0 with twenty minutes remaining.  Both Maurice Edu and Sasa Papac handed possession back to Celtic in quick succession and when the ball was eventually worked to Commons at the edge of the box, he cut inside a half-hearted challenge from Bougherra and sent a tame shot down the middle of the goal.  McGregor completely misjudged the flight of the ball and allowed himself to be beaten too easily.  The 3-0 scoreline was no less than Celtic deserved in a match that they completely dominated.

Overall Celtic completely outplayed their rivals in every department.  They retained the ball better, created better chances and defended well.  Rangers, on the other hand, were very, very poor.  Davie Weir’s passing was often wayward, he lacks any kind of pace and was at fault for the first two goals which effectively ended the match.  It would be easy to put this down to a one poor performance but the signs have been there for a while now that he is rapidly coming to the end of his career.  Nonetheless, he was not the only Rangers player at fault on the day.  The midfield failed to serve or support Jelavic and they were impotent for the entire ninety minutes.

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