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Sir Kenny Dalglish: Removing Dembele will be a positive for Celtic – but today will show how much closer Rangers are to them

Moussa Dembele (SNS Group)
Moussa Dembele (SNS Group)

TO lose a player of the quality of Moussa Dembele in the build-up to an Old Firm game may seem like a blow to Celtic.

But I actually think it will be a positive for them.

The player was causing disharmony behind the scenes, and being disrespectful to the football club with some of his comments on social media.

He simply had to go.

And the fact the Parkhead powerbrokers got more than £19m for him from Lyon is a huge bonus.

However, the size of the fee isn’t the most-important thing in this case.

Dembele simply had to be removed as Brendan Rodgers couldn’t risk having such a disruptive influence in his dressing-room for the next five months.

Listen, players come and go. That’s what happens in football.

No one person is bigger than Celtic and the fans will know this.

Dembele was good for the club but the time had come for everyone to move on.

It is now about focusing on the players who are there, and willing to give their all to Celtic.

All eyes are now on today’s game.

And regardless of the outcome of this Old Firm clash, I think it’s fair to say that the gap between Celtic and Rangers has reduced in the past few weeks.

That is the case for two very straightforward reasons.

The Gers are very much improved under Steven Gerrard, while the Celts have regressed a little bit.

It was always going to be difficult for Brendan Rodgers and his players to keep up the high standards of the past two seasons when they won back-to-back Trebles.

They could still win every domestic competition again in this campaign.

But, in order to do that, they are going to have to overcome some serious obstacles, including a Rangers team with a fair amount of ability and unquestionable desire and commitment.

I can’t see there being any 4-0 or 5-0 victories for Celtic against their greatest rivals as long as Steven Gerrard is in charge at Ibrox.

How both defences perform today will be key to the outcome.

Brendan hasn’t had a settled central defensive partnership in the opening weeks of the campaign, and that has made them look slightly vulnerable.

They will no doubt be up against Alfredo Morelos today.

The Colombian is clearly a talented footballer, who can score a goal when it matters.

He also missed one or two golden opportunities against Celtic in last season’s Old Firm games, and will want to put that right.

Of course, he will give himself the best opportunity to do so by staying on the park.

He is no use to himself or his team if he is given a red card.

Morelos has been sent off twice this season, the latest being in the Europa League tie at FC Ufa on Thursday night.

Clearly, his temperament is suspect and there is a lack of discipline.

He has to channel his energy and enthusiasm in the right way.

He has to use to it to get into goalscoring positions, and unsettle defenders, not use it by answering back to referees or in off-the-ball incidents with opponents.

Not just today, but in every game he pulls on a Rangers shirt.

It’s all very well showing commitment, but that does not mean flying into tackles or being in the face of a referee.

Being committed is about being measured and in complete control of yourself.

I’m sure Steven Gerrard will be reminding Morelos of this.

At the other end, Rangers looked suspect at dealing with crossballs against Motherwell in last Sunday’s 3-3 draw at Fir Park.

Again, they need to be tight at the back and more of a unit. There needs to be better communication and when it’s required, players need to take ownership of certain situations.

It will be interesting to see who Brendan goes with up front.

Leigh Griffiths or Odsonne Edouard? There could well be a temptation to go with the pair of them together.

That would certainly be interesting and could force Rangers onto the back foot.

Scott Brown will also be a key player.

Everyone knows of my admiration for the way he has played and led as captain in the past two years.

He has dictated the flow of many of the recent Old Firm games, and it remains to be seen if there is a Rangers player capable of taking control of the middle of the park when up against him.

In recent times, many have tried and failed.

Overall, it makes for an intriguing 90 minutes, and a contest I’m looking forward to watching.

Despite there being a bit of negativity surrounding Celtic in recent weeks – being knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers and one or two issues off the field – they start the game favourites.

A win today could just be the trigger they are looking for to kick-start their season, and make their supporters much happier about things.

Brendan has never lost a game to Rangers, and opening up a four-point lead over them would be very nice for them at this stage of the season.

But Rangers come into this game unbeaten in 12, and feeling good about themselves.

Unlike several of Celtic’s team, a large number of Steven’s players haven’t sampled the Old Firm fixture.

I know from experience they will need to get to grips with it quickly.

They also arrived back into Glasgow in the early hours of Friday morning after a long trip back from Russia, and playing for almost 30 minutes with nine men. That will have sapped a certain amount of energy.

However, you can never rule anything out in this game, and it could well be an unlikely hero emerges.

Steven will be desperate to win his first Old Firm clash, and to do so at Parkhead would be a massive statement.

Gerrard having been Brendan’s former captain at Liverpool adds a little bit of extra edge to it all, and neither will want to lose to the other, that’s for sure.

If there is a winner, it doesn’t mean the title will have been decided.

That would be totally disrespectful to the team at the top of the league, Hearts, and there will still be 102 points up for grabs.

Enjoy the game.