Sunday, February 06, 2011

Scottish Cup Fifth Round: Rangers v Celtic

Time is, once again, my enemy this Sunday morning. A quick look, then, at today's games. Including the big one at Pittodrie.

Odd to see Rangers and Celtic meet so early in the cup, giving us our second of three Old Firm games before 2011 is two months old.

A look at the league table shows Rangers playing catch-up but their games in hand suggest the situation is far from desperate.

But there is a clear feeling that the momentum has swung in favour of Celtic, the team that cruised to a 2-0 win at Ibrox on 2nd January and demolished the challenge of Hearts just days after Rangers had capitulated at Tynecastle.

That makes Celtic favourites going into this one. But, and please duck if you're standing outside my flat, derbies are a time for flinging the form book out of the window.

El Hadji Diouf starts for Rangers to add an extra dimension to the usual peripheral issues that attach themselves to this game.

Leaving aside Diouf's past indiscretions - a list as long Hen Broon's arm - his signing is a signal of Walter Smith's discomfort at how this season is unfolding and what he clearly sees as limitations in the quality and depth of his squad.

There is, undoubtedly, a level of pressure on Diouf and Nikica Jelavic to make an impact and provide Rangers with a cutting edge that Kenny Miller's departure has robbed them of. It's a big ask.

Neil Lennon got his tactics completely right in the face of an underwhelming Rangers performance in the last Old Firm game.

Can he do it again?

I'm slightly surprised that he's switched back to a 4-5-1 for this afternoon with Stokes dropping to the bench and Hooper alone up front. A lot of goals to take out of the team.

It means there is likely to be a battle between two five man midfields. Might a midfield battle suit Rangers more?

Certainly their is more fluidity to this selection and it means Celtic have strength to call on from the bench. It also suggests that Neil Lennon is not yet ready to write off Rangers' challenge.

The stakes are high. A single Scottish Cup could shape this Scottish season. Rangers will be out to show they are not the mugs some have taken them for. Celtic will be hoping to press home the advantage that a strong January has given them.

A tough game to call. Form suggests Celtic. But is this Rangers squad really ready to roll over at this stage of the season?

I'm not making this prediction confidently, we might even require a replay. But I can see Rangers sneaking this one today with stubborn, obdurate performance.

Rangers:
01 McGregor
03 Weir
05 Papac
16 Whittaker
24 Bougherra
07 Edu
08 Davis
40 Ness
14 Naismith
17 Diouf
18 Jelavic

Celtic:
26 Forster
03 Izaguirre
05 Majstorovic
12 Wilson
21 Mulgrew
08 Brown
16 Ledley
18 Ki Sung-Yeung
33 Baram Kayal
15 Commons
88 Hooper

Aberdeen v Dunfermline

A visit from a club riding high in the first division would normally be enough to send shivers down the spines of an Aberdeen squad.

Especially a group of players who seemed to rediscover many of their old frailties in shipping seven goals in a double header against their traditional tormentors Celtic.

But Craig Brown is certainly building something different, something new at Pittodrie and beating lower league opposition is something he will expect from his players.

For their part Dunfermline are second in the first division. I worry though about their results against league leaders Raith Rovers this season.

Can we see a Dunfermline squad who struggle to cope in big games? Or might a televised clash with an SPL team free them from the worries of local rivalries and play without fear?

I suspect this might be too much for Dunfermline with Aberdeen winning by a couple of goals.

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