Celtic 1 – Rangers 0. Match Recap

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Olivier Ntcham of Celtic scores his team's opening goal the Scottish Premier League between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park Stadium on September 2, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Olivier Ntcham of Celtic scores his team's opening goal the Scottish Premier League between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park Stadium on September 2, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images) /

Rangers lost their first match of the young season in a hard-fought Glasgow Derby.

Disappointing to lose, even more, disappointing to lose to your rivals, most disappointing to lose to such total arch rivals in such a fashion that would suggest you had a real chance for at least a tie. With that established, there are plenty of positives to take away from this game for Rangers as it marks another sign that things may truly be different this season with Steven Gerrard in charge.

The first half was largely dominated by Celtic. Rangers stood strong in defense and kept a great shape, but struggled to have any control of the ball, generally opting to just clear the danger or try for immediate long balls.

On the occasion when they did win some control they often lost it through poor passing. With all that it should be made clear, Rangers defensive shape was largely excellent in this half and the entire game. Between the FC Ufa game and today, it marks a good return to form after allowing three goals to Motherwell last weekend.

The biggest slip up of the first half was in the 33rd minute where Celtic put two balls off of the crossbar. The first was a brilliant strike from James Forrest and the second was a header by Mikael Lustig coming off of a corner kick. The James Forrest strike is one that the Rangers defense can hardly complain about, he was well outside the box and hit it on a half volley.

Sometimes good players make great plays and you tip your hat, which is nearly what happened. While Rangers are fortunate that neither chance found the net (throw in a header by Odsonne Edouard that McGregor had to save as well) but those were the only real, proper chances that Celtic had in the first half and is a testament to Rangers defensive shape.

The problem for Rangers was not their defensive shape or the opportunities they gave up but rather the sheer volume of opportunities given up. Their midfield was pretty pitiful the entire match, especially young Ovi Ejaria who looked totally out of sorts. This caused Celtic to not only dominate the ball the entire first half but also caused Rangers to never really mount a serious counter-attack.

Despite Celtic rather dominating play and creating several good chances it was 0-0 at the break and when the teams returned Rangers looked much more comfortable and in control. It is hard to say if the first half struggles were a result of a coaching scheme gone wrong or just the players playing poorly but either way, it was much more even at that point.

Rangers had regular control of the ball and even created a few decent chances. Celtic finally struck through in the 62nd minute. Rangers were in possession but after a questionable tackle on Ryan Jack, Celtic were off and running. Rangers were wide open and did not get back in time after several passes Jules Nitcham slotted home what was essentially a tap-in and Celtic had the games only goal.

Rangers would continue their improved play the rest of the match, having several promising attacks and holding strong on defense, but they never found the breakthrough that they needed. Other than a near brilliant move by Alfredo Morelos Rangers never really found a way to get the ball on net in a threatening way to even force Craig Gordon to work as the Celtic defense held strong.

What about the non-call leading to Celtic’s goal?

With a second look, it was probably a foul, but Rangers did themselves no favors in getting back. They were very sloppy in getting back on defense and it was really the only moment of the game that they were totally out of shape defensively.

Also given the pair of shots going off the wood-work in the second half it is probably just the luck of the draw that they conceded in such a disappointing way. So while probably a foul, Rangers should’ve gotten back and defended much better than they did.

Biggest negatives:

The young Liverpool lads had a very rough go, especially Ejaria. A lot of people have already begun to heap blame on Kent and Ejaria, as well as Steven Gerrard for sticking with both players so long, but the reality is that this is what happens with young and talented players.

Ejaria scored brilliant goals and was one of Rangers best players in their last two outings, and even though Ryan Kent hasn’t had a major breakthrough his talent and benefit is obvious. For those moments of brilliance, sometimes the young kids will look like young kids. It’s just a pity that both players had one of those times in such a big match.

Other than Kent and Ejaria, even though they had more control of the ball in the second half, Rangers struggled to even create a truly threatening attack the entire match. Even when good crosses were made they couldn’t connect at the other end, and generally struggled to find much of any separation up front. This has been a bit of a theme developing this year when Rangers plays higher level competition.

Their defense will keep them in games against most anyone, but if they want to start winning these games (especially looking at the group stage of Europe) they will have to get better at creating high-quality chances.

Biggest positives:

First and foremost. Even though Celtic clearly looked the stronger side, it was nowhere near the landslide it was last year. Rangers remain incredibly sound defensively and have great ability to get offensive action up the wings going forward.

Despite what some Celtic fans on the internet may suggest, 1-0 felt like the correct result for this game given the chances had by both sides. And while that being positive is a sign of how much work Steven Gerrard still has to do to get where Rangers want to be, it is already a huge step in the right direction.

Beyond the final result, Allan McGregor continues to be brilliant in goal. He is always in the right spot, not afraid to go and get the ball and tough as nails. The combination of McGregor with Goldson and Katic in the middle have proven to be an incredibly stout trio and that was no different in this game.

It was also fun to see Borna Barisic get stronger as the game went on to continue his trend towards looking like an absolute steal.

Ranger of the match:

Allan McGregor. He was totally on point the entire match with the one goal being entirely not his fault. He has been an absolute rock this season and he is totally unafraid of any moment he has to step up to. Honorable mentions will go to Goldson and Katic.

Overall verdict:

Always tough to lose but Rangers are headed in the right direction. Especially considering the game they played on Thursday and then having to come all the way back from Russia, Rangers were undoubtedly very tired. To still show up and put in that sort of defensive effort was very impressive and is a credit to Gerrard and his players.

As with other tests so far this season, how it goes from here will be important. As an early starting point, this is a mostly positive result for a tired and not yet whole Rangers side. They return from the international break and look stronger and better then this was just one speed bump on their way to getting where they want, and for now, I think Steven Gerrard and his men have earned the benefit of the doubt.