Film Review: The Old Firm Wasn’t As One Sided As the Consensus Says.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Fans of Celtic celebrates after Olivier Ntcham of Celtic scored their team's first goal during the Scottish Premier League match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park Stadium on September 2, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Fans of Celtic celebrates after Olivier Ntcham of Celtic scored their team's first goal during the Scottish Premier League match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park Stadium on September 2, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images) /

Rangers fell 1-0 to rivals Celtic on Sunday, let’s have a look back and analysis the game to see what went wrong and what went right.

To start with, heading into this second viewing I was not excited. The way that public perception has been immediately following the game lead me to believe that my initial thoughts of that it wasn’t so bad were likely to be wrong.

After watching though, I have only become more convinced that the reaction to the match has been nothing but the usual hyperbole of sports media combined with the fact that Celtic have had such a firm grip on Scottish football for so long that their supporters are much wider and more vocal. (especially online.)

Celtic were the better team without question, but all the talk of how this should’ve been 4-0 is an utter falsehood and the result of talking heads doing what they do.

Start with the goal?

Yeah let’s start with the goal,

First off, yes that was a foul to get the move started. Especially with the replay, Ryan Jack clearly is tripped up and the fact that Ryan Jack is not a player who has any reputation as a diver adds extra credibility to it. With that said, Rangers still utterly blew this moment.

It comes in many forms but there is a saying that you cannot let a referee mistake ruin the game and it is very applicable here. The ref blew the call, but there is no reason that Celtic should’ve scored out of this.

First allowing anyone to run the entire length of the field like this is not a good start. Ovi Ejaria is a beat slow in giving chase (perhaps because he was waiting for a whistle) and then there is simply no one to step up and stop the run.

In the end, though the cardinal sin is made by Ejaria (and to a lesser extent James Tavernier) on the final move before the goal. Ejaria, who had a very rough outing, simply stops running as he reaches the box for some reason while Jules Ntcham runs free into the box for what ends up being a tap in. Ejaria himself ends up condemning himself even worse as he points out Ntcham as if to say “Someone should probably pick him up” so he can’t even say he didn’t see the run.
Tavernier also gets some flak here because he also slows to a jog but he was so far out of the play that I doubt he could’ve made an impact even had he kept up the sprint. Ejaria on the other hand literally watches Ntcham run past him.

So in the end, it should’ve been a foul and this entire moment should’ve never happened, but Rangers (and Steven Gerrard) have little reason to be upset about the goal. If Ejaria simply continues to run then he is easily intercepting the pass and clearing it to safety, if anyone else steps up to make a play then it is ended earlier. The ref hurt them, but they blew it so badly that they have little to complain about.

You mentioned Ejaria had a rough go of it?

Yes, he did. Anyone who watched was largely aware of this, but I’m highlighting it anyways. Obviously, the failure to get back on the goal is a huge gaffe, but he was pretty poor all game. I only picked out two, but he had many moments in the game like this:

Just not ready for the speed an intensity of the Celtic players. He tried to get too cute regularly and simply couldn’t make any plays. It is worth remembering that Ejaria has had moments of brilliance this season, and was one of Rangers best players the last two weeks. Sometimes young players simply have poor games, it just sucks that Ejaria chose this game to fill his pants.

Ryan Kent also wasn’t very good right?

A lot of people have said this but I don’t really buy it. No matter what, Kent and Ejaria are going to be lumped together this season since they are both young Liverpool loanees but it isn’t fair in this case. Kent struggled a bit but it was largely because he was forced into playing a game that didn’t play to his strengths. Ejaria was just bad.

What was wrong with Rangers in the first half?

They simply didn’t hold the ball at all. It is impossible to say from the outside how much was due to tactics and how much was due to the players themselves, but it was pretty poor either way. I doubt that Steven Gerrard wanted them to sit as far back as they did, but it is entirely possible that he over-stressed the need for a defensive shape to cause the players to overdo it.

Regardless, their defensive shape was excellent, but they simply had no intention of trying to build any sort of attack from the back, instead choosing to try and send immediately through balls.

To be fair, there were several times where it nearly worked out. This one failed because of a tough foul call on Morelos.

But even when they had the ball in the attacking half they didn’t seem to have much desire to hold and control the ball. Here Morelos has a chance to bring the ball down and take a moment but instead tries an immediate and wild volley pass.

In the end, it is likely a combination of bad tactics and the players not having the confidence in themselves in the early going. The good news is that they mostly remedied it in the second half, while they still struggled to create good scoring chances they did have much more possession.

They confidently pass in the back before finding a break up the wing where Barisic ends up putting in a dangerous cross that is put out for a corner kick. This doesn’t constitute dangerous attacking, but it is better possession.

How can you say that Celtic didn’t dominate the game? They put two shots off the cross-bar in a single minute! It’s only because of McGregor that it wasn’t much wider!

First off, anyone who has watched Rangers this season can tell you that McGregor has been a large reason for Rangers looking so much better so I’m not sure I understand this argument in the first place. Yeah, McGregor played really well but that’s because McGregor is really good. You make a good team by having good players.

As for the game deserving a 4-0 scoring line, its total crap. First off, so many people forget that there is a difference between dominating possession and dominating a game. For all of their possession, Celtic had a lot of trouble creating great chances for themselves. Rangers stood incredibly firm in defense and the combination of Goldson and Katic in the middle continued their season-long trend of being absolutely brilliant.

Here is just one extended stretch:

Celtic have control of the ball this entire sequence, and even get the ball in a dangerous position after Ryan Kent is beaten. And yet, Rangers are never worried about it. They have men back, their men have the better position, and there are almost no holes to exploit. It hasn’t often been so extreme, but Rangers have played this sort of style all season. The teams’ foundation has clearly been the strength at the back, they are comfortable playing this way because they know that even if their opponent has control, their stout defensive center will stop any and all comers.

As for the cross-bar:

A near moment of absolute brilliance from Forrest. Here’s the thing though, guys take shots from that distance a lot, and when they score them they are on every highlight reel. The reason those shots end up on highlight reels is that they are hard to score and rarely do. This is not some breakdown by the Rangers defense or the result of a Celtic move that totally shreds the defense, it is a quality player having a go and nearly hitting it.

For reference, watch this moment from the first half.

An almost identical situation. A cross takes a lucky bounce to give an outside player a chance to let fly, the strike is solid but is too high. Yet no one has brought this up as a moment Celtic were lucky to escape without surrendering a goal. Because this isn’t a great scoring chance and neither was Forrest’s strike. Sometimes players hit those and you tip your cap, mostly they miss, and hitting the crossbar does not change that he still missed.

The second cross-bar instance was much more worthy Rangers being called lucky.

One of the few times that a ball actually gets past Ranger’s wall. Not quite a gimme given how much traffic the ball came through, but it’s one that should’ve probably been put in.

There was also this moment, once more off the cross-bar.

Once again, a shot from distance. McGregor makes a great save, but once again, there’s a reason you don’t see that many goals from this sort of distance. Even if you hit it well (which it was) against good goal-keepers with that sort of time to react it will usually be saved. To be totally honest, it would probably be more accurate to say that Celtic was lucky to have either of these long shots be so close to being goals as they were.

There is also some irony in that people have focused so heavily on those two wood-work instances as times where Rangers were lucky and not this chance.

Other than their goal, this was by far Celtic’s best scoring chance. A perfect cross and an open header. This is just a brilliant play by McGregor.

So all in all, Rangers are a bit lucky to not have one of these chances go in, but then you remind yourself that the goal Celtic did score should’ve never been in the first place and it kind of evens out. Celtic could’ve had one more goal, but the suggested 4-0 whooping is utterly absurd. Celtic had 3 great scoring chances in this game and a pair of long shots that they nearly converted.

But Rangers were vulnerable the moment they opened up.

This also just isn’t true. Celtic scored their goal on the counter-attack but they didn’t score “the moment Rangers opened up.”

Rangers had taken decent moments of possession well before the goal. And even showed their ability to defend a counter.

First, you have one of the few scoring chance Rangers had the entire match, then Celtic immediately attack. The attack ends with a foul, but Rangers are back in full force to defend and there isn’t some major breakdown. The commentary that Rangers defensive shape totally failed whenever they opened up to attack at all is pure hyperbole and lazy hyperbole at that. Rangers had a single, spectacular breakdown the entire match and Celtic scored. So lazy talking heads decide that is the narrative rather than actually looking at what happened in the game.

So you think Rangers played well then?

No. Celtic did pretty well dominate this game. But it wasn’t how everyone says. Everyone has brought up that the 1-0 score-line wasn’t indicative of the game and it could’ve been 4-0 or whatever. In reality, this was a dominant Celtic performance because Rangers never had any real attacking threat. 1-0 is unfair to Celtic because the zero for Rangers should have an exclamation point behind it.

Over the course of the match, Rangers had just two great scoring chances.

First, is Morelos doing what he does best, bullying his way through a defender and into the clear. With a second look he should’ve definitely passed it to Ryan Kent but instead, he chose to blast it near-post and hope for the best. The second was in the closing moments of the game.

James Tavernier gets the ball in a great spot and just blows it.

These were the only two times that Rangers got the ball to a real goal-scorer in a dangerous position and they couldn’t capitalize. And here’s the thing, despite this, I am not saying “Well Rangers could’ve easily had two goals here.”

Because while it is true, either one of those could’ve easily been goals. In fact, the Morelos move probably should’ve been had he passed it. But even with great chances, goals are hard to score. Rangers did not deserve to get a ball in the net and would’ve been exceptionally lucky had they done so.

Celtic’s midfield dominated the game and when Rangers attacked (especially in the second half) the Celtic back-line was more than up to the task with consistency.

Just as when discussing Rangers defensive shape earlier. This clip does not show Rangers dominance. It shows Rangers dominating possession, but Celtic being comfortable defending and not allowing anything truly threatening.

So what’s the overall verdict then?

Celtic was the better team, clearly. But so many pundits and fans have simply exposed themselves as having not actually watched Rangers much this season. Rangers have been built from their defensive brilliance all year, and have struggled to score goals against high competition.

Too many media-types simply watched highlights and heard the optimism and assumed that this Rangers team would look like most good teams. But this team isn’t, it’s a team that is good precisely because they opponents can have possession and put balls into dangerous areas and not is worried.

Especially given the torrid schedule to start the year, this is not a terrible outcome for Rangers. The first half was disappointing but they turned it around in the second half. Ovi Ejaria was particularly out of sorts and that was a substantial problem, but he’s played well enough to earn some benefit of the doubt going forward. Rangers get the international break and have a more forgiving league schedule coming out of the break, I have every expectation for them to go on a run at that point.

What about the tactics?

I think Gerrard definitely should’ve made some substitutions sooner, although I do get the idea that the men on the pitch were starting to play better. I actually think his biggest tactical mistake in this game was not matching his squad to his tactics in the first half.

Even if he likely didn’t want them to be quite so conservative, playing a lot of defense early on was certainly the plan. To do that with all three of Kent, Morelos, and Lafferty up front is a bit silly to me. Kent and especially Lafferty are willing defenders, but they are still attacking players. Toss in Tavernier and Ejaria as players much more comfortable going forwards and it just wasn’t a side for such a defensive strategy.

Obviously, they held up well, but I feel like if they knew they wanted to sit back early on they maybe should’ve at least started Daniel Candeias over Kent since he’s more comfortable defending. Maybe tried any number of guys over Ejaria. Or, if Gerrard wants to stick with the side he did, don’t have them sit quite so far back. Essentially I’d like to see some tactics that play more to the strength of the players on the pitch.