The specific improvement in Celtic since last derby and why it'll be crucial tomorrow

By Euan Davidson

February 1, 2022

It may seem like a lifetime ago now, but the last time Celtic played Rangers, the team from defence to attack was drastically different.

Odsonne Edouard led the line, for one thing. Ryan Christie made one of his last Celtic appearances, and Juranovic made his Celtic debut, on the left of the defence [BBC]. Months on, it’s increasingly hard to remember Edouard or Christie playing for Ange Postecoglou.

So, so much has happened since then. A million hot takes were shot out then subsequently retracted about our boss, Ange Postecoglou. A big part of the improvement we’ve seen since that Derby, and of Postecoglou’s stock as a Celtic manager, has been in the defence.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

When Celtic last played Rangers, it was an adjusting Carl Starfelt and last season’s surprise package Stephen Welsh who constituted the centre-back pairing. To be honest, they weren’t bad; only a set-piece, that achilles heel, made the difference.

Now, though, Celtic have the league’s best defensive record. The initial jitters, whether playing out the back or in aerial defending, have all but gone. Ange Postecoglou has built a defence around a formidable bedrock, the pairing of Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

And how colossal they’ve been. Celtic have conceded just 13 goals from 23 games all season [BBC]. Since Carter-Vickers came in, many of our specific defensive woes have become things of the past. The Spurs loanee is averaging (!) 4.7 won aerial duels per game. Starfelt, his complimentary piece, has an impressive 3.8 per 90 in his own right [WhoScored?].

We all know how different Celtic are now to how they were then. But it’s the defence in particular who’ll be pivotal, and it seems smart to back them.

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67 Hail Hail (Youtube)

Markedly improved Celtic defence gets its biggest domestic test against Rangers tomorrow

Now, Rangers score goals. Even when they dropped points at the weekend, they still hit the back of the net three times.

It wouldn’t be unfair to say – in fact it’d be objectively true – that tomorrow night will be the biggest test of this improved Celtic defence yet, domestically speaking. If there was ever a marker for the Hoops back-line, this is it.

Joe Hart leads the league in clean sheets, and to add to that on this kind of occasion would be a mark of the composure he’s injected into this squad. His leadership from the back, endorsed by Josip Juranovic, will be key. Perhaps, his first Glasgow Derby came too soon.

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

The same is true of Starfelt. He was still very much adjusting to the Celtic way under Ange Postecoglou. Since he’s truly settled into life at Celtic, his distribution is routinely reliable, and though he has a mistake in him, they’re few and far between.

Carter-Vickers, meanwhile, is consistency personified. What outrageously good business it would be to bring him in permanently. But this is arguably his biggest Celtic game yet; he could prove just how vital he’s been to the Hoops with another calm, conducted display tomorrow night.

There’ll be goals in the game, there always are. But what set Rangers apart in the last game was that they had a defence that was settled and knew each other. Celtic, in September, couldn’t quite boast that.

This time, it’s a very different scenario.

Read more: Rival manager speaks highly of Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou; talks up “respect” ahead of derby