Is there still not a massive gulf between Celtic and Rangers? Anyone who bought into this prior to Sunday’s game would surely rethink their position now. The final score was 2-0 but for a derby of this magnitude Celtic made this look ridiculously easy.
Following the 5-1 thrashing Rangers took at Parkhead in September, it was noted on this very platform that the Hoops were younger, fitter and better than their city rivals. And they showed that once again in the Hampden sunshine. Rangers were chasing shadows in one of the most controlled games I’ve seen Celtic play in a long while at the national stadium.
As is the case so often in these games, the midfield is where the biggest battle of the day arises. Celtic won it hands down. Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor were just too good for their counterparts on a number of levels- technically, tactically, physically and mentally. All three- especially Brown- bossed proceedings and strolled through the 90 minutes which was the perfect springboard for victory.
In the last couple of Old Firm games the Gers experienced more joy in the midfield area. They were more aggressive in the last two meetings, particularly off the ball, and it’s caused the champions problems. Brendan Rodgers obviously identified that and decided to go with three central midfielders who are ‘all action’ types in order to reverse that problem on the Blues.
And it paid off very handsomely. In the first 60 minutes there was an excellent intensity with and without the ball and a balance between which midfielders joined the attack and who stayed back. The midfield set the tempo and Rangers had no response. Even though they did enjoy a spell of pressure towards the end, it was more to do with Celtic dropping down a gear or two.
The manager has been talking a lot about the players arriving into this match in peak condition. He didn’t just mean physically but also mentally. He’s rested players in the last two weeks but found an equilibrium between keeping his players fresh and maintaining their superb momentum. It all came together perfectly in the end.
It was one way traffic for an hour and another demonstration of the dominance of this Celtic team. They are relentless, ruthless, composed and way ahead of the rest of the competition domestically. Man of the match Brown summed it up best in his post-match interview. “We knew if we turned up, we’d win the game.”
Look at that confidence and mentality, they expect to be the best and look down on Rangers despite many believing at the start of the campaign that the Gers could beat them to the title. The scoreline may only show a two-goal margin of victory but this in many ways was still a hammering.
“It was an outstanding team performance,” Rodgers said. “Coming into a high pressure game and to play with that level of composure was very good. I said at half-time it was like a masterclass in terms of possession and getting in between the lines and threatening the goal. I thought our combinations were very good and fundamentally how we pressed the game and got the ball back.
He added: “There’s an expectancy every time you play for Celtic. Not just in a cup final or here today. Thankfully these players have really stood up to that and showed great mentality and also great footballing qualities.”
They’ve blown everyone away on the domestic front and this was no different. Now they stand on the brink of history, just 90 minutes away from completing the treble for the first time since 2001. There’s also five more league matches to negotiate in order to go the full season undefeated. They could also surpass the highest number of points accumulated in a season.
What an incredible campaign so far and it might just get better.