Who will emerge victorious when a Rangers side with the ‘pressure off’ meet a Celtic team hoping to ‘get fans back onside’ in this weekend’s Scottish Cup clash at Ibrox?
Former Celtic forward Andy Walker and ex-Rangers striker Kris Boyd join Ian Crocker for this week’s Scottish Football Podcast to discuss Sunday’s fourth-round match, and what it means for both teams.
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers can close in on a league and cup double with victory, which would put them three games from doing so 12 years after they last lifted the Scottish Cup trophy.
For a Celtic side without a permanent manager and having been humbled by their biggest rivals in the Scottish Premiership, the game provides their final hope of winning silverware in 2020/21 – as well as a chance to get one over on Rangers for the first time this season.
‘Pressure off Rangers – but Celtic owe fans’
Having dropped only 10 points all season in the Scottish Premiership and reached the last-16 of the Europa League, Rangers have nothing to prove in the rest of the campaign, Walker told the podcast, adding that the pressure was on Celtic to cause an upset at Ibrox and keep their own season alive.
He said: “Rangers have been by far and away the best team in the country this season. Celtic have improved their level of performance against them, I really liked the way [Mohamed] Elyounoussi and [Odsonne] Edouard linked up in the last game at Celtic Park, but previously Rangers have done a number on Celtic.
“I know Celtic had a good 45 minutes at Ibrox when they lost 1-0, but all of the questions have to be asked by Celtic. Rangers have done it this season, the pressure is off, they’re obviously very confident having secured the league title, and they’ll want to do a double.
“Steven Gerrard will put everything into the game at the weekend; whoever wins that will obviously be heavy favourites to go on and lift the trophy.”
Walker added that a cup victory would not make up for Celtic’s poor league and European showing this season, but that his former side owed their fans something to cheer about – and could be boosted if James Forrest is fit to return after suffering an injury against Livingston last weekend.
He said: “What I did like in the first 45 minutes in the recent Old Firm game was that link-up between Edouard and Elyounoussi. There was a bit of an understanding there, maybe something Celtic are working on.
I think both are certainties to start the game, I think [David] Turnbull will play, it’ll be interesting to see if Forrest shakes off the injury he picked up last weekend, he’s beginning to start games and his pace and understanding of the role he plays for the team, I think Celtic have missed that. The other experienced players have missed having him as part of a really good team.
“Celtic owe their supporters a big performance, and there’s nowhere better to do it than this weekend at Ibrox. It wouldn’t right any wrongs, but it would give hope that things might turn again. We’re all aware of the scale of change in personnel that is going to happen.”
Celtic best team in country? ‘I didn’t understand that’
Celtic interim manager John Kennedy said ahead of this weekend’s game his side were still the best in the country despite their dire year on the pitch.
Boyd, who lifted the Scottish Cup twice as a player in 2007/08 and 2008/09, questioned the manager’s thinking – and said whoever wins the trophy this season will be given a perfect warm-up for the next campaign.
“I didn’t understand the comments, to be honest, being the best in the country – 20 points behind in the table,” he said.
“Yes, there’s a bit of mind games going into the Scottish Cup game, but the be-all and end-all is the league, and that was sewn up months ago. For Celtic, it’s been a very disappointing season, no doubt about it, but you’re always looking to the Scottish Cup.
“I’ve always said it, you win the league but to play the Scottish Cup on the last day of the season, go away over the summer with a winner’s medal around your neck, having lifted the trophy, is a big thing. It sets you up for the following season, you always look forward to it.
“Sunday’s game is massive, plain and simply because Celtic have been miles off it. They’ll look at this as an opportunity to get some of the fans back onside and a bit of positivity, with season tickets up for renewal, and kick on for next season.
“A lot of people would have expected this Rangers team to down tools, with four games in the league to go unbeaten in the league, I would imagine that’s something Steven Gerrard will be wanting to do too. I think whoever goes on and wins this will win the whole thing.”
Follow live build-up and coverage of Rangers vs Celtic with our live blog across Sky Sports digital platforms from 2pm on Sunday; kick-off at 3pm.