Ahead of the third Old Firm game in six weeks, it's fair to say you won't find many Rangers fans feeling confident during the build-up. A period of poor form since we allowed a ten-man Celtic team to come back to win at Ibrox, including an utter capitulation at Hampden a fortnight ago means morale is low amongst most bears. Not to mention a lack of faith in a board that don't seem to share our frustration with recent results.
With that in mind, stories this week released to the media about new signings, a new manager and a new kit deal may well have managed to divert attention from silent fan protests but PR spin aside, fans remain cynical and I certainly won't envy Rangers supporter attending what could be a title party at Parkhead on Sunday. Without a win in ten games over Celtic, the chances of that awful record changing this weekend have to be minuscule. Don't they?
Well, yes, of course but the good news is that, unlike the last two games between the sides, there's no pressure on us this week. We're ten points behind in the Ladbrokes Premiership and haven't beaten Celtic away since October 2010. Surely we've no chance? Certainly the Celtic captain and his players seem to think so and it's difficult to disagree with them.
Strangely enough though, in recent years we seem to do a lot better when we're written off. Indeed, twice in the last year we've drawn on the other side of the Clyde and any fair-minded football fan would concede in the last league game there, we should have won. Not to mention we threw away a great chance to do so at Ibrox six weeks ago. Hell, even at Hampden in as bad a performance you'd struggle to remember for any Rangers team, we could and should have scored at least twice - despite being down to ten men.
That's not to say Celtic aren't huge favourites. They are and whilst their league form has shown them to be fallible this season, they have more experience than our team and are clearly mentally stronger both on the pitch and in the dugout. However, one would hope that our team and manager are concentrating on the positives this week and several teams (our own included) have shown how to compete.
First and foremost we need to be well organised so we can expect a retention of Murty's preferred 4-2-3-1 for Sunday's game. That system isn't perfect but it's one our players are most familiar with so it makes sense to use it again. Yes, we need to be flexible within that but this formation will allow us to press Celtic and it's that tactic that works best against them. Kilmarnock, Hearts and Hibs have shown that to be the case - as have we.
Obviously the players within that will be key - especially the midfield. Murty has a variety of options in that area so it's vital he chooses the right ones and has the right blend of energy, strength, mobility and - crucially - a threat as well. To that end, I think it's a given Murphy and Candeias will retain their place in the wider roles and with Celtic perhaps likely to use a back three, their efforts to find space in behind Forrest and Tierney will be just as important as any defensive work they have to do. Centrally, Josh Windass still splits opinion amongst Rangers fans as to his contribution but I suspect he'll start again on Sunday as he's one of few players that has the ability to unlock Celtic's defence. However, he'll need to add a more defensive element of his game - even pressing high up the pitch - to protect the holding players. It would be a surprise if the deeper two weren't Dorrans and Holt - who both did very well against (an albeit poor) Hearts outfit last week.
It may well be though that Murty pushes Ross McCrorie back into midfield if Bruno Alves is fit enough to make the team. A partnership of the Portuguese international and Russell Martin won't enthuse our fans but, it may be to our benefit if they sit a bit deeper, as Celtic got a lot of joy playing balls in behind at Hampden. If Murty prefers that outlook then Dorrans may replace Windass in the more offensive role. It's unlikely Docherty, Goss or Halliday will start and this game will come too soon for Ryan Jack who, despite returning to full training, may not feature again this season. James Tavernier and Declan John will also need to do a lot better at full-back whilst it will be interesting to see how Jak Alwnick does in his Old Firm début given the imminent return of Allan McGregor.
That leaves the position of striker. Jason Cummings impressed last weekend and made the most of his opportunity with a vital opening goal against Hearts. However, all his faults and foibles aside, Morelos remains our best bet in attack - yes, he's missed at least three glorious opportunities to open his account against Celtic and yes, his temperament can be suspect but his work-rate and ability to link the play under pressure arguably makes him a better option than Cummings.
All in all, the likely team below probably won't surprise many Rangers fans (or Brendan Rodgers). However, it's exactly that familiarity that should be our strength. We may still be a few players short of an XI that can genuinely challenge Celtic but we do have enough quality to cause them problems on Sunday. The players just need to believe it and the fans are due a battling performance that we can be proud of. Celtic may well win the league on Sunday but we can still right a few wrongs and lay down a marker for next season.
Possible team (4-2-3-1):
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