Why did Celtic look so poor against Rangers yesterday?

By David Walton

December 9, 2019

Okay, we can’t get away from it – Celtic’s Betfred Cup final performance perhaps wasn’t what we all would’ve imagined.

Incredibly, even at our worst, Rangers still couldn’t find a way to beat us as we toppled our Glasgow foes 1-0 at Hampden Park in a colossal day for the club. It secured us our first of what will hopefully be two 10-in-a-rows over the next 18 months. Indeed, our 10th consecutive domestic trophy was sealed with the success.

Yet there was something about the performance that did leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Celtic had Fraser Forster to thank for yesterday (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

It wasn’t the dominant display that we all hoped for. It wasn’t the controlled, tactical masterclass of the 2-0 win at Ibrox either. This win was all down to a heroic goalkeeper and real character after going down to 10 men.

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Rangers had their big chance yesterday

Steven Gerrard and anyone of a Rangers persuasion have been quick to tell you they were all over us (BT Sport). However, for me, it isn’t rocket science as to why. In fact, Rangers can count themselves extremely fortunate to come out of the game looking so strong. Had it not been for selection issues, it wouldn’t have turned out as one-sided as it ended up, regardless of the fact we won the cup.

Celtic had to start the game with Odsonne Edouard on the bench. That would’ve been fine had we been able to rely on Leigh Griffiths. However, he also wasn’t anywhere to be seen in the squad. Vakoun Bayo then? Nope, he also didn’t make it, leaving us without a recognised front-man.

Instead, it was Lewis Morgan who was selected by Lenny to lead the line. And for 45 minutes, it left us without a real focal point up top. Yes it worked against Rennes’ second-string and Ross County, but this was always going to be a much more difficult match.

Morgan couldn’t fill the Odsonne Edouard role

Sure, Morgan ran about for just under an hour and did his hard yards for the team. But the truth is he didn’t have the physicality to deal with Filip Helander or Connor Goldson. He also didn’t have the technical quality to control the ball and bring others into play well enough either.

Lewis Morgan just couldn’t make things tick in the final third (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

In fact, whenever the ball went to the natural winger, he took far too long to control it and was often crowded out.

Rangers knew that they could put on a high press with Morgan playing. Celtic’s midfield had nothing to hit going forward, and Gerrard’s men were able to commit more bodies into our half to try and suffocate the life out of us.

Whenever Jeremie Frimpong or Jonny Hayes picked up possession, they didn’t see an outlet ahead of them. When we looked for Mohamed Elyounoussi and he managed to win some aerial duels, he had nothing to work with either. Morgan just couldn’t play that number nine position the way we needed him to and couldn’t offer the attacking midfielders with the option they needed.

The Eddy effect was telling

It was no surprise that Edouard eventually came on, and he made an instant impact. His strength, pace, and technical ability were all too much for Goldson in particular. He won the free-kick that led to the goal, and even with 10 men he set-up the Mikey Johnston opportunity and won us crucial free-kicks and territory up the park.

You can guarantee we would’ve had a lot more productivity in the final third had Willie Collum not sent Frimpong off almost immediately after Eddy came on. We still had the odd moment, but it was always going to be a defensive display from there on in.

Odsonne Edouard’s introduction swung the tie in our favour (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

At Ibrox, Edouard was so influential in getting us up the pitch. His movement kept the Rangers defenders occupied and allowed the likes of Johnston, James Forrest, and Ryan Christie to get things going with more space. With Morgan up top in the first 45 yesterday, the Rangers defence knew they didn’t have to be as concerned with the lone-striker. That’s nor Morgan’s fault – he isn’t a striker!

Make no mistake, the game at Celtic Park will be a different one. Hopefully, Eddy is fully-fit and up to scratch come kick-off. Yesterday’s dominance from Rangers won’t be the norm in this fixture, it was simply a one-off due to the personnel we had up top.