The Old Firm – A Derby Like No Other

Saturday lunchtime in Glasgow’s west end, an eagerly anticipated, highly-charged football match is about to take place…Rangers vs Celtic!

This is box office, one of the fiercest rivalries across Europe and occasions like these are to be enjoyed despite any blood and thunder talking points that may arise.

Brendan Rodgers’ Hoops dominated last season as Rangers finished a staggering 39 points behind their rivals who could only manage third place in the Premiership. Even this early stage of the new season, a victory for Glasgow’s green and white would propel them to an 8 point advantage over their nearest and dearest.

Rangers will be keen for revenge after suffering double 5-1 league defeats and domestic cup semi-final disappointments last season.

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As always with games like this there are some key battles to be contested…

Ryan Jack vs Scott Brown will see a recent Ibrox recruit come up against the tried and tested Celtic Skipper. Brown is an underrated player and can run the game from start to finish with his unique “in your face” style. Jack will have to be at the very top of his game just to compete. No matter how the games pans out, this does have the makings of a battle.

Leigh Griffiths vs Alfredo Morelos will not be in direct competition until it comes to the scoresheets. Both have shown already this season that they know exactly where the net is. First goals in games like this often set the tone and prove crucial. Back one of these two men to provide their sides with the advantage as they test opposition defences for the remainder of the match. Morelos can score goals but his hold up play and movement also look exceptional. Griffiths has become Scotland’s talisman in recent months and with Moussa Dembele back to full fitness, he has even more reason make his mark in the big games.

Pedro Caixnha vs Brendan Rodgers whilst a contest, for us isn’t a close one. Rodgers has taken Celtic to a whole new level and his counterpart thinks his club are on a whole new level. His baffling comments about having “the best squad in Scotland” and that young substitute (Ross McCrorie) from the recent game with Partick Thistle will go onto be “one of the best centre halves in history” show that he is out of his depth at a club the size of Rangers.

Expect fireworks all over the park if recent games are anything to go by, with these 3 battles only playing a supporting role in the spectacle that is the Old Firm derby. Goals, noise and red cards are generally guaranteed and this season’s 1st meeting is likely be no different.  Who or what will create the talking point? Who will be the new El Hadji Diouf or fly into the hardest tackle causing a mass brawl? Scotland’s top and often controversial whistler Craig Thompson will have to earn his money covering the Ibrox turf.

The days of Rangers 9 in a row domination are long in the past and their fans can only dream of seeing players of the calibre of Gascoigne, Laudrup, Albertz and Van Bronckhorst pull on those blue jerseys again. They need to quickly come to terms that they are very much in the shadow of the record chasing “invincibles” that they share a city with.

56 games unbeaten and what chance is there of this astonishing run being ended this coming weekend? Slim to none in our opinion, whilst Rangers have improved with their foreign imports unfortunately for them…Celtic are arguably an even stronger side than they were last year!

Lee-Griffiths

The TV audience will be primed and ready as the game is beamed around the world – hopefully providing a further boost for the Scottish game after a recent international resurgence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly both sides have been kept apart in Thursday evening’s Betfred Cup Semi Final draw and so a potential Hampden Final is on the horizon in just a few weeks’ time. Until then we’ll have to make do with the impending high noon showdown.

Celtic vs Rangers 5-1 score image sourced from; www.thescotsman.com
Leigh Griffiths image sourced from; www.thedailyrecord.co.uk

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A Super Sunday… Finally!

We spend all Summer waiting for that 1st competitive game and longing for those Sunday’s that provide quality football viewing.

Finally this weekend, after having to endure some the painful watches of Huddersfiled v Newcastle and Burnley v Palace we finally have a Sunday worthy of its Sky given “Super” title. The TV cameras will be placed at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea v Arsenal and Old Trafford for Man Utd v Everton with each game, in our opinion having potentially damning outcomes for some.

We’ll start with the 13:30 kick off, a London Derby, the Champions vs a club divided. Chelsea take on Arsenal in a week that has seen one club return to the Champions League and another taste life without. Arsenal couldn’t have wished for a tougher fixture at this time. After an opening day blip Conte’s men have reminded us all why they cannot be counted out of defending their title.

The Blues have moved swiftly to replace the sulking Costa with a deadly Alvaro Morata and with Hazard coming back to fitness they are back to last season’s title winning best. Kante has picked up where he left off and despite some negative transfer window comments, we believe that Chelsea have bought well and are an ever improving team under Conte.

Head up to North London and you’ll find an Arsenal in more disarray than ever, “Wenger in” has beaten “Wenger out” for at least the next 2 seasons and the Emirates takeover of Koln fans midweek shows just how uninterested their fans are. This could be the Gunners 3rd defeat at a stadium where they have lost the last 5 games, conceding 15 and scoring just 2.

Wenger needs to start with Lacazette and put some faith in his major Summer purchase. The rest of the side will remain as it has been for the last few seasons…the same! Arsenal are capable of a performance on their day, but for us that will not be Sunday and a victory over Bournemouth merely papered over the cracks for a week after defeats by Liverpool and Stoke.

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Up in the North West at 16:00, big spending Everton need a performance at the Theatre of Dreams after back-to-back 3-0 defeats to Spurs at Atalanta. The results nor performances will sit well with a board who have backed Ronald Koeman like no other Goodison boss before him. One key area they lack is up top having cashed in on Romelu Lukaku.  Whilst he may miss the occasional chance, the big Belgian is on fire for his new club. Don’t bet against a comfortable Man Utd victory with Lukaku bagging a couple against a Toffees side who are still gelling, but make no mistake they need to gel quickly to avoid an unthinkable mid to lower table finish with 10’s of millions spent.

Jose is having his 2nd season syndrome come to prominence again and you start to feel that Man Utd are becoming a force once again. Koeman’s 2nd season syndrome could end before May 2018 if he cannot find a winning formula with his purchases. A £45m purchase of Gylfi Sigurdsson will not fly under any football fans’ radar, build the team around the Icelandic international and show some signs of improvement or start flirting with European clubs before the P45 is delivered.

On a separate note…The Old Trafford return of Rooney will obviously be poignant. Love or loathe him, he deserves a rousing reception from the Stretford End for all that he did for them over the years.

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After Man City’s most recent demolition of a PL side, it’s over to their main title contenders to turn in equally impressive results.

Let’s hope that this particular “Super Sunday” can live up to our expectations, Happy viewing!

Morata and Lacazette image sourced from; www.skysports.com
Lukaku and Rooney image sourced from; www.skysports.com

Burnley vs. Palace – The end for De Boer?

You only have to look back to August 2016 to see that outgoing Ajax gaffer Frank De Boer was one of the most wanted men in Europe, look to the present day and immediately to Sunday 10th September 2017 and here he is staring the sack right in the face at Burnley’s Turf Moor.

Three defeats from his first three matches has seen him on the verge of being branded one of the Premier Leagues biggest managerial flops in living memory, certainly not the outcome he or Selhurst Chairman Steve Parish had in mind when he was announced just a few weeks ago.

Fresh from an ill-fated stint in charge during the recent re-branding of Inter Milan he was considered a coup for Palace, rightly so.

A glorious playing career covering some of Europe’s top clubs at the time including spells at Barca, Galatasary and Rangers (the Champions League years and not the league visits to Peterhead).

He was seemingly destined for management and was given the opportunity at his boyhood club Ajax, where 4 titles in 6 seasons propelled him into the gaze of the continent.

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It’s so bad in London that it would appear anything other than a win at Burnley this weekend will see the former defender searching for yet another job but with an even further tarnished reputation.

The players are struggling to adapt to his favoured 3-5-2 system and we can hardly be surprised. For us Palace have to be one of the strangest squads in the division. Players that on their day can be dazzling but most weeks can be frustrating…That’s right Wilfred Zaha and Jason Puncheon we’re talking about you!

Add into the starting XI a post-Newcastle Cabaye, Multi-million pound left footers of Schlupp and Van Aanholt with a backup striker of Connor Wickham and you have an expensively assembled squad of confused proportions.

The Summer transfer window reflects poorly for Palace also, a couple of centre halves and fringe loans recruited from Chelsea and Man Utd would have hardly inspired the dressing room or fans, never mind a new gaffer.

Upon his arrival he proclaimed “I have my own type of coaching and style of playing. We want to be dominant when we can, but also dominate when we don’t have the ball.” Sorry Frank but you’re at the wrong club for that so perhaps this is all just wrong place, wrong time.

Should he be given more time? For us the simple answer is yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Crystal Palace are a club that are desperate to retain their status year on year and if they wish to just simply do that then fine. Get on the blower to Big Sam and give him anything he wants to come back. If you wish to provide your fans with a bit of pride season on season then keep a flourishing manager of the calibre you currently have and look to ship out the players who look to be downing tools because they cannot adapt to a new way of thinking. Guess what lads? You are highly paid professionals and if the gaffer asks you to play wing back and keep the ball on the deck then do so or get yourself up to West Brom with Tony Pulis (maybe we’re being harsh on the baggies but you get the point.)

After Swansea beat his side 2-0, De Boer complained his players lacked courage. “We have to show some balls,” they’ll certainly have to do that at Burnley. As we are all aware Turf Moor is a challenging away ground and with a Sean Dyche team that have made a promising start to the season, it’s not high on the list of places to go for a “must win” and in front of the TV cameras will add extra pressure.

With him being the Eagles eighth manager and just seven years…Is it Crystal clear that the Dutchman will be going?

De Boer image sourced from www.goal.com