Here, Press Association Sport’s Andy Newport looks at the five big talking points ahead of the Old Firm duel.
For all that has been said and written about the rise of Rangers and Celtic’s apparent slump this season, the Parkhead side are pretty big favourites to come out victorious at Hampden. Okay, they have made a bit of a dog’s dinner of their most recent title defence having spent most of the season going nip and tuck with Aberdeen, but Ronny Deila has a squad packed with internationalists used to taking on top-flight opposition week after week. Rangers, meanwhile, are starting to look thin on the ground with Harry Forrester out injured, top-scorer Martyn Waghorn well short of fitness and wingers Michael O’Halloran and Billy King cup tied.
Have Rangers improved since last season?
Of that there is no doubt. When the sides met in last year’s League Cup semi-final, the Ibrox men were a team drifting without direction, without heart and without a hope. Frankly, most Gers supporters were amazed their team escaped with nothing worse than a 2-0 defeat. But boss Mark Warburton and his number two David Weir have utterly transformed the Light Blues, installing an entertaining brand of football alongside a winner’s mentality. With a few more additions to come in the summer, they could give Celtic a run on their return to the top flight next season.
Can Rangers’ defence cope?
Well that is likely going to be the key to the outcome of this Hampden duel. For all the praise Rangers have received this season, there has been a niggling sense that the centre-back pairing of Rob Kiernan and Danny Wilson are an accident waiting to happen, especially with full-backs Lee Wallace and James Tavernier possessing licences to roam forward at will. St Johnstone exposed the pair during a League Cup win at Ibrox back in September while the nine goals recently conceded in the space of three games did nothing to dispel those fears. On-loan Spurs youngster Dom Ball will give some protection as he anchors the midfield but Celtic’s 37-goal frontman Leigh Griffiths will be eagerly anticipating his chance this weekend.
What will the match mean for Ronny Deila’s future?
Victory will put him on course for a double but if Celtic fail to see off their old foes, expect Deila to be on the first plane back to Norway. The Celtic supporters have given the former Stromsgodset boss two years to get it right at Parkhead, with a majority willing to show patience as he gets to grip with one of the biggest jobs in Britain. His backers will rightly point out his team are closing in on a second successive Ladbrokes Premiership title on his watch and fifth straight crown overall. But there is little doubt the team have gone backwards under the 40-year-old, with the Hoops’ recent European escapades a source of embarrassment following some pretty bleak displays. Lose to Rangers and the murmurs of discontent will become outright mutiny. For Warburton, this is a free shot at the Hoops before the real hostilities resume next season.
What it will tell us about next season
A bit like a bikini, you will get see some revealing bits but not all. Warburton has already confessed he will need at least five new players to compete with Celtic across an entire season, probably more if Gers go on to win the Scottish Cup and qualify for Europe a year ahead of schedule. The Accrington Stanley pair of Josh Windass and Matt Crooks have already been tied up on pre-contracts but the Ibrox faithful will want chairman Dave King to answer the critics who say he does not have the financial might to restore Rangers to their previous position. Parkhead chief executive Peter Lawwell will also be under pressure to loosen the purse strings this summer after four years of downsizing at Parkhead.
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