Celtic sit six points clear of Rangers with four games to play this season and while they can not be crowned champions on Sunday, victory would see them take a huge step towards reclaiming the Scottish Premiership title.
Ange Postecoglou’s side have won the last two Old Firm encounters in the league but Rangers claimed victory in the most recent meeting between the sides in the Scottish Cup.
With so much at stake, WhoScored.com take a look at four key head-to-heads that may determine where the game is won or lost at Celtic Park.
Carl Starfelt vs Calvin Bassey:
Celtic rank first for both possession (69.9%) and pass success rate (87.3%) in the Scottish Premiership this season, and Carl Starfelt is a huge reason for both figures being so high. The Swede joined from Rubin Kazan last summer and plays a key role in the Bhoys’ dominance in the division.
Maximizing a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of ‘passing’, Starfelt ranks first for both passes per game (96.4) and pass accuracy (91.3%) in Scotland’s top tier and this allows Celtic to patiently build attacks from the back with Starfelt proving vital in that regard.
With Leon Balogun suspended following his red card at Motherwell, Calvin Bassey is expected to return at center-back alongside Connor Goldson. However, his best showings this season have instead come in his natural left-back role.
His performance during the 3-0 loss in February ranks among one of his worst-rated WhoScored.com displays in a league match this season, however, his pace, and ability to play in a back three – should Rangers switch formation – could be crucial. Celtic are ending the campaign on a high and are the highest home scorers in the division so Bassey will need to ensure he’s at his best if Rangers are to take anything out of the game on Sunday.
Callum McGregor vs John Lundstram:
There have been a number of comings and goings at Celtic over the last 12 or so months, but even so; Callum McGregor has been a regular feature in the Bhoys XI over the duration of the campaign. Just as Starfelt plays a key role in playing the ball out from behind, McGregor is crucial in dictating the tempo in the midfield.
The captain averages 74.1 passes per game, more than any other central midfielder in the Scottish Premiership this season, while a 90.3% pass success rate is the fourth-best in the division. A return of 43 key passes also ranks 10th in the division, so not only is he able to control proceedings in the middle of the park, McGregor can create the goalscoring chances required to aid Celtic’s pursuit of glory.
Keeping the 28-year-old in check, then, is of the utmost importance for John Lundstram in the Rangers midfield. Lundstram endured a rocky start to life for the Gers following his arrival from Sheffield United, but there have been positive improvements to his performance levels, particularly since Giovanni van Bronckhorst took charge.
Only Borna Barisic (2.3) is making more tackles per 90 than Lundstram (2.2) of all Rangers players this season, while only the suspended Leon Balogun (2) ranks higher for interceptions per 90 than the midfielder (1.5). This tireless work off the ball is crucial if Rangers are to stop McGregor from influencing the game in midfield and keeping the title race going that little longer.
Reo Hatate vs Joe Aribo:
One of the many new faces in at Celtic over the last two windows, Reo Hatate joined from Kawasaki Frontale at the turn of the year and quickly made a name for himself for Celtic. Indeed, his best-rated league performance came in the 3-0 win over Rangers in February, where the Japanese star had a direct hand in all three goals, scoring twice.
However, Celtic fans will demand more from Hatate in the looming Old Firm. The 24-year-old did not hit his usual heights against Ross County over the weekend, where he earned a WhoScored.com rating of just 6.29 before his withdrawal with 15 minutes to play. Postecolgou will hope a full week to recover will see an upturn in performance levels because Celtic fans know that the player needs to be at his best in the Old Firm.
Much of that is down to Joe Aribo, who has been directly involved in 13 league goals for Rangers this season, scoring eight. Aribo’s WhoScored.com rating of 7.26 is the seventh-best in the Scottish Premiership campaign, with his fine work on the ball really catching the eye once more.
Aribo ranks fourth for both key passes (58) and successful dribbles (46) in Scotland’s top tier this term, while an average of 1.7 tackles per 90 highlights just how effective a 25-year-old can be when out of possession. That said, he has struggled against Celtic this season, with his two worst-rated starts coming against the Bhoys, so Aribo needs to up his game if he is to help the Gers to a massive three points.
Kyogo Furuhashi vs Fashion Sakala:
Any fears that Giorgos Giakoumakis may face a sustained spell on the sidelines were quashed last weekend as he came off the bench in Celtic’s 2-0 win at Ross County. While not fit enough to start, the Greek’s availability is a huge boost for the Bhoys in the run in, but he may have to start from the sidelines once more.
Kyogo Furuhashi spearheaded the Celtic offensive at the Global Energy Stadium and netted the opener on Sunday. The Japanese forward has now scored nine league goals this season, all of which have come across 10 league starts as the central striker. Furuhashi has never really been given the chance to showcase his striking capabilities as the focal point of the Celtic attack, but his solid display at Ross County means he perhaps deserves the opportunity against Rangers this weekend.
Whereas Celtic at least have options on the frontline, it’s the polar opposite for Rangers. Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe are both ruled out of the trip to Celtic through injury, which means Fashion Sakala can be expected to lead the charge for the Gers.
Sakala has endured a solid start to life with Rangers having scored seven and provided two assists following his summer arrival from Oostende and he is directly contributing to a league goal every 140 minutes for the defending champions, not a poor return by any stretch. The Zambian provided an assist at Motherwell in a man-of-the-match display over the weekend and he’ll hope to follow that up with another star-man display at Celtic.