Celtic and Rangers face off for the first time this season on Sunday.
Brendan Rodgers’ side are on the hunt for an eighth straight Ladbrokes Premiership title, but face a Gers side rejuvenated under new boss Steven Gerrard.
Ahead of the big game, we spoke exclusively with former Celtic ace Mark Wilson. A three-time league winner with the Hoops, Mark also has a winning goal in an Old Firm game in his CV.
Here’s his take on everything from last season’s derby day hammerings, to Celtic’s league form and much more…
Ladbrokes News: It’s been quite a mixed bag for Celtic in the Ladbrokes Premiership so far. They looked dominant against Livingston, lost at Hearts, and then edged past Hamilton. What have you made of their early displays?
Mark Wilson: I think ‘mixed’ is a good description. Against Livingston they got the job done very comfortably. But the performance against Hearts was poor – Celtic were bullied out of it a bit.
It was important to get the win against Hamilton, which they did. But it wasn’t a great display.
It’s not been the easiest start to a season that Brendan Rodgers has had, but I think you have to take into consideration the amount of travelling in Europe they’ve had. That’s bound to take its toll a bit.
LN: Celtic tend to really step up for Old Firm games under Rodgers. The last two meetings have ended with 4-0 and 5-0 victories for the Hoops. Could you see this being a similar mauling, or are you tipping a tighter affair?
MW: I think Celtic will win it, but it’ll be tighter than those recent games. But that’s more down to Steven Gerrard than anything else. The way he’s got his team playing is impressive – and they’re much better as a defensive unit than last season.
The experience Celtic have of these occasions could be vital. Sometimes you just have that confidence over a side, and you saw that in the 4-0 and 5-0 results. I just think that dynamic means they’ll edge it. But I can’t see it being a runaway win.
I’m tipping a home win, but I do think Rangers will have enough to score a goal at Celtic Park this time.
LN: Rangers are yet to lose in 11 games under Steven Gerrard. Where do you think they’ve improved most? And conversely, which areas can Celtic still hurt them in?
MW: I think they’ve improved most in the spine of the team. That’s no secret. You don’t need to be a top analyst to see that! [*laughs*]
Allan McGregor returning is good business, as are the signings of Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic. And further forward you’ve got real quality in Alfredo Morelos and Kyle Lafferty. It’s a strong spine.
The potential weakness for me is in the wide areas. That’s obviously an area Celtic will target anyway, as their very top players are mostly out wide.
You’ve got Kieran Tierney rampaging down the left flank, and James Forrest has creativity on the other side. Scott Sinclair is a real threat too.
In regards to Rangers, I think that whilst James Tavernier is very good coming forward, he’s weak defensively and can be got at.
LN: A word on Odsonne Edouard – he’s been excellent for Celtic, but is only just coming back from injury. Who do you think will be the key men for the Hoops if he isn’t back to full fitness on Sunday?
MW: I don’t think they’ll struggle to create chances – whether Edouard features or not. There’s a raft of players in this squad who can make changes.
You look at guys like Forrest, Tierney and Tom Rogic – often they create enough opportunities in 90 minutes to win two or three games.
I certainly think Celtic will create the bulk of the chances in this game. The only question mark is over who will put them away.
If Celtic can match the other positive aspects of their game with clinical finishing, then they could make it a long afternoon for Rangers. But this isn’t going to be another 4-0 in my view.
LN: Mark, you’ve experienced it all in this fixture – but your most memorable moment is surely grabbing the winner in a Scottish Cup Replay at Parkhead. What do you remember about that day?
MW: It was a typically feisty encounter, and Rangers ended up with three red cards! It was the fifth meeting in as many months, so the two sides were quite familiar with one another.
That period in particular saw some really fiery games between Celtic and Rangers.
The atmosphere for that replay was absolutely electric. It was an evening match, and I think that adds something – playing under the lights. There was something in the air that night.
It was incredible to score the goal, and celebrate it at Parkhead. But I remember just as clearly that desperation just to hold on and not concede! I hope the Celtic defence defend with their lives on Sunday like we did in those derby games.
UEL: There’s one game standing between Celtic and the Europa League group stages – a win or a goalless draw would see them get past FK Suduva. Are you confident of a Hoops win? And how far could you see them getting in this competition?
MW: Yeah. I’m not concerned about Thursday. I’m virtually certain they’ll go through. But I don’t think qualifying with a 0-0 draw would be good enough for the fans at Celtic Park. Quality-wise, they’re miles ahead of Suduva.
In terms of how far they’ll get – the Europa League is a hard one to call. There’s such a mishmash of teams involved in the group stages. You might end up with a team you’ve never heard of, or a side who are basically a Champions League side.
I think Rodgers and the fans would enjoy a glamour tie at some point, but not three of them in the group!
You saw last year how tough some of the competition is. Last year Celtic faced Zenit St. Petersburg, who are a really top side. But I think with the right draw, they could have a good run.
LN: Obviously after the last two seasons, the domestic Treble will be on the minds of Celtic fans again this year. Do you think it’s a realistic aim again, or is it a bridge too far this time around this time?
MW: I said 12 months ago that I thought the double treble was impossible. So I can’t really sit here and rule it out again. [*laughs*]
It’s extremely difficult to do, and it’s been such a huge achievement for Brendan to come in and do it. He’s shown that they can conquer on all fronts for two seasons in a row, so you’d be foolish to write them off.
They haven’t started this season as well, and look more lax at the back. That’s a worry, but I’m certainly not ruling them out.
Over the last two years, we’ve seen what a quality side Celtic are, and how mentally strong they are.
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