Bring on the Rangers: Lennon's Celtic look ready for the fight

By Euan Davidson

December 30, 2020

Remember being a Celtic fan a month ago?

We were on the verge of sacking Neil Lennon, potentially hiring one of Gordon Strachan or Dan Petrescu, while Ross County knocked us out of the Betfred Cup.

The Europa League was like a horrible fever dream.

Cue protests, inquests and all sorts of commentary about the state of the Scottish Champions. It looked beyond grim.

Since then, key players have revitalised the Celtic team. We beat Lille (BBC), won the Quadruple Treble (Guardian) and have gone on a great run of form in the Scottish Premiership.

Now our fiercest rivals await. Last month, that would’ve turned any Celtic supporter’s stomach. Now, there’s a fire in the belly. We can go to Ibrox with optimism that is well-placed.

Celtic 2-1 Aberdeen | LIVE Reaction

 

Lenny celebrates during Celtic’s win over Dundee United / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Reasons to be cheerful: Celtic edition

An unfathomable amount of Celtic news has come out since this time last month. It looked for the world like Neil Lennon would be gone, and the relationship between the board and the fans fell apart.

Those two key things haven’t been fixed. For many, Celtic could do with a better manager, and that won’t change. The relationship between the Celtic hierarchy and the fans is still fragile, and that’s unlikely to change, either.

But on the footballing side of things, the Bhoys look worlds away from the awful displays of October and November. There are still defensive frailties, but we’ve just kept consecutive clean sheets. There’s somewhat of an established back 4, with Neil Lennon finally deciding on a shape that works for his side.

The midfield diamond, with Soro anchoring the middle, has been hugely successful. With Griffiths and Edouard leading the line, chances have come so much easier. McGregor, Christie and the magnificent David Turnbull all share creative duties and we look better in every department.

Yes, Rangers keep winning in the league, but they have gone from being an impenetrable foe to a side with weaknesses. Over the same period, Celtic have looked strong in most areas and now few would bet on a landslide victory for Gerrard’s side.

 

Odsonne Edouard scores for Celtic against Rangers / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Bring on Gerrard and Rangers

Gerrard’s men will be missing key players and that’s a huge boost. Celtic’s stodgy midfield showing against Rangers earlier this season was largely due to the work of Scott Arfield and Ryan Jack.

I hate to say it, but they’re both good players. I’d rather they weren’t lining up against us.

With Lennon’s new midfield diamond, however, Celtic look so much sharper. The width on display is, ironically, much better than when we were using a 4-2-3-1. While Elyounoussi and Forrest are undoubtedly game-changers, the Bhoys look so much better just now without them.

That means that Lennon finally has something of a plan B. If things aren’t necessarily going our way, players like Moi and Mikey Johnston can broaden the scope of the Celtic attack.

This isn’t to say that Rangers won’t give us their all. For all their recent faults, they’ve still looked good. Ianis Hagi is on a strong vein of form, while Morelos is back amongst the goals (BBC). Roofe also represents a threat, and he’s a new option for Gerrard to use.

Still, do you not feel much better about this game now than you did a month ago? Rather than just nerves, the mood has turned to genuine excitement. Without fans, it’ll never feel the same, but this is still a massive game.

Win, and the title race is back on with a bang. Draw, and it’s not the end of the world, with 3 games still in hand.

The other option? Well, we’re not considering it. Bring on the Rangers.