Celtic v Rangers: What are Old Firm’s main questions as the derby looms?

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Lieu: Celtic Park, Glasgow Date: Sam, 17 oct Start: 12h30 BST
Blanket: Listen live on Radio Scotland and online; text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app; watch the highlights on Sportscene

More than 10 months have passed since Celtic and Rangers last met. Ten months in which a lot has happened on and off the pitch.

But as the teams finally prepare to restart their rivalry, what are the key questions surrounding the first Old Firm game of a season in which Neil Lennon’s side seek a historic 10 in a row and Steven’s men? Gerrard are determined to stop them?

How are Celtic dealing with the Covid chaos?

Celtic entered the international break in good form with eight straight wins. They arrived at the other end in an alarming state, Covid-19 having destroyed the team.

Defender Hatem Elhamed, midfielder Nir Bitton and playmaker Ryan Christie are all absent linked to the coronavirus, with Odsonne Edouard’s availability still uncertain. Manager Neil Lennon, already without injured winger James Forrest, is therefore facing a major reshuffle.

Its most pressing problem is in the foreground. Edouard is only due to return from France on Friday and, being stuck in isolation, a place on the bench looks the best the 22-year-old can hope for.

One of the attacking spots in Celtic’s 3-5-2 system is set to be filled by Albian Ajeti, who is expected to return after missing out on victory at St Johnstone three weeks ago. But who is the partner?

Patryk Klimala didn’t start in the Champions League qualifying loss to Ferencvaros, when Lennon hired Christie in the forward role, so can he be trusted to lead the line in the Old battle? Firm?

Leigh Griffiths had a dramatic impact off the bench to save Celtic at St Johnstone with a last-minute opener, but those 14 minutes are the 30-year-old’s only playing time this season.

Lennon could instead use attacking midfielder Mohamed Elyounoussi in the first two, a role the Norwegian has played before. That would leave room for maneuver for David Turnbull to make just a second start since his £ 3million move from Motherwell.

Further back, Christopher Jullien should return from a month of dismissal to fill a gap in defense. However, Lennon puts the pieces together, it’s a headache he could have done without.

Does shape matter?

Only one point separates the pair atop the Scottish Premiership – with Celtic keeping one game in hand – but Rangers have been the most impressive team this season.

With two draws, the only flaws in their first 10 games, Ibrox’s men are one point better off than the same stage last season, and seven senior in the previous campaign, the first in charge of Gerrard.

Perhaps most impressive was their defensive strength, setting a record going seven games without conceding early in the league. In the forward areas, Ryan Kent stood out, helping to offset Alfredo Morelos’ crisis brought on by uncertainty about his future.

And while it seems absurd to question the form of a Celtic team that has won 11 games and lost just one of 13 games in all competitions, even the most ardent of fans can’t deny that they haven’t reached it. the heights of which they are capable.

Whether it was due to the injury disruption in defense, the lack of cohesion in the midfield or the fact that Edward was out of action on offense, it didn’t quite click for Lennon’s side.

Their problems were laid bare in the loss of Ferencavos, with defensive calamities ruthlessly exposed. Still, they responded positively to that crushing blow, winning every game since.

So, the Rangers approach this one with heightened hopes against exhausted rivals. But Celtic had won 16 of the 17 games leading up to the previous derby in December last year. They were quickly beaten 2-1 as the Rangers scored their first league success at Celtic Park in nine years.

How does the absence of fans affect things?

It will be a unique and stripped down Old Firm showdown. The noise, color and fan passion – a key part of this world famous fixture – are all noticeable by their absence.

Premiership matches continue to be held behind closed doors, and the surge in Covid-19 cases has dashed Celtic’s hopes of even having a few hundred home fans in attendance.

Playing in an empty stadium hasn’t hindered them so far at home, winning all four games while scoring at least three times in each. But the Ranger visit is an entirely different proposition.

No frenzied and hostile atmosphere awaits Gerrard’s men. No deafening roars of a Celtic striker ready to back 60,000, no barracks of opposing players every time they touch the ball or venture to the sidelines for a throw-in.

It all seems to be working in Rangers’ favor, but nothing is set in stone in these uncertain times. Well, other than the fact that thudding challenges will come fast and loud. Some things never change.

Where will this game be won and lost?

Since starting his second stint as Celtic manager in February 2019, Lennon has won three of the five derbies, with Rangers taking the other two.

It could be argued, however, that Gerrard had the upper hand tactically. Even losing the League Cup final last season, Rangers were completely dominant, missing a penalty and a handful of chances. And in their last meeting, Ibrox’s team checked the procedures to silence a crowded Celtic Park.

The key battleground each time was midfield, where Gerrard’s 4-2-3-1 formation gives the Rangers the platform to assert control. Likewise, when Celtic won 2-0 at Ibrox in last season’s opening derby, it was by dominating midfield that he was able to take the lead.

Having worked in tandem for Scotland over the past week, Ryan Jack and Callum McGregor will now be opposing sides vying for superiority. Can McGregor and 35-year-old Celtic captain Scott Brown dominate, or will Jack dominate with Steven Davis and Glen Kamara?

As the Rangers seek their first straight Old Firm wins since 2009 and Celtic’s bid makes a declaration of intent in their quest for an unprecedented 10th consecutive title, there is no removal of intermediaries.

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