Two points separate Celtic and Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership, so where could Saturday’s Old Firm clash be won or lost?
Rangers make the trip to Celtic Park knowing defeat would hurt their title hopes, even at this early stage of the season.
The Ibrox side are in fact unbeaten on four of their last five visits to Celtic Park in the Scottish Premiership, so ahead of Saturday’s encounter WhoScored.com have picked out four key head-to-heads that may well determine who has bragging rights this weekend.
Josip Juranovic vs. James Tavernier
When it comes to Old Firm full-backs, all eyes will certainly be on Rangers captain James Tavernier, but Josip Juranovic certainly has his part to play for Celtic. The 27-year-old has established himself as Celtic’s first choice since arriving last summer and his versatility has been key, able to play in both full-back positions. The Croatia international has settled into a right-back role this season and it will see him take on Ryan Kent and fellow countryman Borna Barisic.
Juranovic’s role in the team isn’t identical to Tavernier’s, but he’s headed to La Vieille Firme in fine form in front of goal with a goal and an assist in his last two outings. Crucially though, he has made six of his seven tackle attempts in the Scottish Premiership this season. He will need to be at his best defensively to keep the Rangers attack quiet to limit the number of crosses they are able to place in dangerous areas.
Meanwhile, Rangers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst will encourage Tavernier to make his presence felt in opposition as often as possible.
The 30-year-old’s production makes Trent Alexander-Arnold look average. In the last three Scottish Premiership campaigns, Tavernier, a right-back, has remarkably played a direct role in at least nine more goals than any other player (42) and he has already scored four goals and provided assists in five matches in 2022/23.
Callum McGregor vs. John Lundstram
Callum McGregor has taken to his new role under Ange Postecoglou like a duck to water, thriving at the base of Celtic’s midfield since the end of last season. It’s a less glamorous role than he was used to, but just as important. After playing a direct hand in 10 goals in the 2020/21 league campaign as a No.8, he managed just four goals and assists last season and is yet to leave his mark in the league. last third of this season.
Rather than finishing attacks, he now starts them. The Celtic captain is averaging 75.4 passes per game this season and his passing accuracy stands at an impressive 91%. However, there are still improvements to come from the 29-year-old as a WhoScored rating of just 6.64 is well below the standards set over the previous two seasons.
John Lundstram struggled to find a role for Rangers after his first signing from Sheffield United in the summer of 2021. He was initially expected to be a box-to-box midfielder, but since he settled into the base of Rangers’ midfield, he really established himself as a key player for the club, particularly in the Europa League run last season, and that continued under Van Bronckhorst.
The 28-year-old’s primary responsibility now is to break up opposition play and get things done for Rangers when they have the ball, shown by him ranking fourth in the division in assists per game this season (77.4) and the front four. of him are all centre-backs. A pass success rate of 90.7% shows that he is effective in possession, but he is not content to play short passes. A return of 6.2 long balls per game ranks third among all outfielders in the division and shows he has a good passing range to help Rangers go from back to front quickly and with precision. Defensively, Lundstram doesn’t dive into challenges as shown with a return of just 0.6 tackles per game, but rather uses his ability to read the game to break up possession, as shown with 1.2 interceptions per game.
Jota vs. Ryan Kent
With seven goals in five league appearances, the Celtic Jota winger is WhoScored.com’s best player in the Scottish Premiership so far this season (8.12). The 23-year-old, who scored the last time the two sides met, has been a nightmare for defenders this season. Jota has completed the most dribbles (11) and created the most chances (15) in the division so far this season. Not only that, but the Celtic winger is also responsible for 19% of through balls completed in the entire division this season (3/18). Jota’s fine form actually dates back to last season since the start of the year. A return of 13 goals and assists during that span is the best of any player in the division.
What Postecoglou will arguably value even more than Jota’s production is his willingness to work hard without possession. The former Portugal Under-21 international averages two tackles per game this season and has won the ball more times in the attacking third than any other Scottish Premiership player (7), keeping Celtic top during matches.
Should Jota return to the right flank on Saturday, he would come directly up against Rangers chief designer Ryan Kent. The 25-year-old hasn’t had as dazzling a start to the season as his counterpart, but he’s just as important to Rangers when it comes to breaking down an opposition defence. Kent has three assists in as many league appearances for Rangers so far this season, averaging one more (every 77 minutes) than Jota (every 103 minutes). A return of three key assists per game is matched only by Jota in the Scottish Premiership so far this season.
However, creativity may not be enough for Kent in this game. It is important to have goalscorers all over the pitch and Rangers cannot afford to rely solely on Antonio Colak as a source of goals. The problem for Kent is that he hasn’t scored in the league since December and has only hit the target with six of his 46 subsequent attempts on goal.
Kyogo Furuhashi vs. Antonio Colak
Kyogo Furuhashi has been a revelation since joining Celtic at the start of 2021 and heading into weekend action as the Scottish Premiership’s top scorer with six goals in five appearances. Furuhashi has an impressive goalscoring record overall for Celtic with 14 goals in 17 league starts for the club. The Japan international has scored against seven of the 12 sides he has faced in the Scottish Premiership but will look for his first Old Firm goal on Saturday.
Furuhashi could not have hoped for better form for the first derby of the season having scored in each of Celtic’s last four games, including a hat-trick in the 9-0 demolition of Dundee United last weekend. He is also WhoScored.com’s third highest rated player in the division (7.37) thanks to his seven goals (six goals, one assist) in five league games for the campaign.
Antonio-Mirko Colak has been on track for Rangers since his summer switch from Greek side PAOK. The Croatia international has scored four goals in his first five league appearances after netting a brace in Rangers’ 4-0 win over Ross County at the weekend.
The 28-year-old faces his toughest test this weekend as Celtic have made a perfect start to the season with five wins from five and just one goal conceded. Colak is yet to score away in the Rangers league, with his four goals coming at Ibrox.