Earlier this week we discussed the Arsenal Milan match, where an on-form Milan side were fully expected to give floundering Arsenal a bit of a hiding. The reasons we cited were mainly experienced based, where Arsenal’s wily nous and time-led experience was enough to outclass a dismal Milan whose most (read-‘only’) experienced European players were Leonardo Bonucci from his Juventus days and Lucas Biglia from his Anderlecht ones (we forgot about him at the time).
While we would not say Celtic gave Rangers anything like the hiding Wenger’s men dished out in Northern Italy today, and we would definitely testify that the gap between Rangers and Celtic has been narrowed in some contexts, the match-winning experience Celtic have in these big occasions told hugely and even more worryingly for Graeme Murty, once Celtic lost a man, it was they who benefited rather than our Govan favourites.
That first half was rip-roaring stuff. So many of Rangers’ big players showed up – Bruno Alves was colossal in defence, while Declan John and James Tavernier raged up and down their respective flanks, and the Sean Goss partnership with Greg Docherty bloomed further, not to mention Jamie Murphy’s menace down the left.
Daniel Candeias and Josh Windass were both bizarrely quiet and ineffective outwith their goals though, and for all his sterling work deeper in attack, Alfredo Morelos will come out this Old Firm making all the wrong headlines.
But overall, it was a boisterous first half and Rangers maybe even shaded it marginally.
But once Celtic lost a man, Rangers lost their way.
Whatever the reasons, whether it was Graeme Murty’s inability to strategise for facing a team down to 10 men, whether it was Rangers’ players legs running out of gas, Celtic more or less strolled their way to the finish line.
The experience from the East End told as they held Rangers easily at bay, and while many will point to Morelos’ staggering open goal miss (not his first by any means) that would only have salvaged a draw, rather than any real bragging rights.
This was a match in which Brendan Rodgers’ experience told, while his players’ Old Firm winning mentality carried them through.
Rangers’ loss of all punch, quality and zest in the final 25 minutes was absolutely stunning and the players almost looked like they had given up. Ibrox was a very flat venue once Eduard stroked in the winner.
Are Rangers on the right path? We thought they were, but events the past week gave us a different perspective. We can say the gap to Celtic, bizarrely despite the backwards step of Graeme Murty’s first loss to Rodgers, has narrowed a bit, and the Light Blues gave a far better fist of the match.
That much is pleasing. But Celtic remain the benchmark and until this Rangers era learns how to beat them, the gap will never fully close.