Rangers vs Celtic: Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Ange Postecoglou tactics ahead of title-chasing showdown

Rangers host Celtic at Ibrox live on Sky Sports this Sunday – but how do the teams’ current styles and form compare ahead of the blockbuster clash?

Both teams have played 31 games and just three points divide the tussling titans of Scottish football. Rangers drew first blood in August before the Hoops responded in style with a 3-0 win in February. However, three points for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side this weekend would draw the Gers level on points at the summit.

So what are the teams’ styles, strengths and weaknesses and where could the game be won or lost?


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Historic rivalry

It’s one of the greatest rivalries in world football. Steven Gerrard guided Rangers to their first league title in 10 years last season, ending Celtic’s nine-year streak of dominance – which spanned a period after the Gers were demoted in 2012 and climbed back up the tiers before returning to the top-flight four years later.

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The interactive table below includes every derby dating back to the very beginning: a clash in the Glasgow Cup third round in October, 1888, with Celtic running out 6-1 winners. However, it has been the blue side of Glasgow who have primarily reigned dominant in the fixture over the past two-and-a-half years.

What’s the style?

Van Bronckhorst has increasingly deployed a 4-2-3-1, in addition to the preferred 4-3-3 used under Gerrard. The average positions below highlight how full-back James Tavernier pushes high down the right flank with wingers adopting inverted roles.

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Collectively, Celtic play even higher up the pitch. Typically starting in a 4-3-3, Postecoglou pushes his wide midfielders close to the central striker, while there is far greater emphasis on width and forward-endeavour from the two wingers.

Attacks analysed

Do the league standings lie? Well, the stats reveal table-topping Celtic are leading the way in almost all attacking metrics: goals, shots, shots on target, open-play expected goals and assists. The Hoops’ wider style has also generated 25 goals from a league-topping 939 crosses or corners this term – in addition to 16 shots from fast breaks.

But the Gers are considerably dangerous from set-pieces, with Tavernier’s notorious delivery frequently punishing opponents from dead-ball situations. Meanwhile, frontman Alfredo Morelos’ immense aerial power has also contributed to his side netting 13 headed goals – one more than their upcoming visitors.

In terms of where the goals are scored, Rangers appear most dangerous in and around the six-yard box and in pockets just outside that area to the left and on the right side slightly further out. Celtic are equally potent close to goal but convert a far greater proportion of goals from around the penalty spot.

An area of notable interest would be down Rangers’ right channel – Celtic’s left. Both teams typically attack most down these flanks, with Tavernier and Jota being key drivers, respectively. The battle for attacking dominance down this channel could prove pivotal.

You can use the interactive table below to see which players dominate attacking metrics. Morelos leads the way with 11 league goals, with a clutch of Celtic forwards trailing narrowly. In-form Celtic forwards Giorgos Giakoumakis and Kyogo have both netted eight goals from just 744 and 947 minutes on the pitch, respectively.

In terms of creation, no player comes close to Tavernier. The 30-year-old has notched league-topping numbers with 11 assists and 96 chances created. For the visitors, right-back Anthony Ralston and Jota have created the most goals but midfielder David Turnball has created the most opportunities.

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Speed and progress

Celtic winger Liel Abada leads the way for fast breaks, while bit-part Rangers forward Fashion Sakala poses considerable threat when deployed.

Meanwhile, Hoops centre-back and Tottenham loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers has carried the ball at his feet further than any other player. Further up the pitch, Tavernier drives Rangers forward frequently along the right channel, with Jota achieving similar progression for the visitors down the left.

Youth vs experience

The current league leaders have an average starting XI age of just 25 years and 309 days – only Ross County have a younger team this term. In contrast, Rangers currently have the eldest line-up at 28 years and 69 days. Therefore, while the current league standing and future looks bright for the Parkhead side, Van Bronckhorst’s men have far greater experience.

Passing analysed

Celtic average 653 passes per game. Incredibly, when factoring eight of Europe’s top leagues, only Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain average more this season. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Postecoglou’s side have recorded a league-topping 70.3 per cent average possession this term, with Rangers ranking second on 64 per cent.

The graphic below shows common passing exchanges among positions and reveals Rangers’ distribution primarily occurs across midfield with a notable exchange between the hub in defensive midfield and Tavernier. Celtic’s more advanced style reveals even patterns across the pitch but heavier concentrations between the left-back and Jota.

The visualisation below provides further evidence of the average positions and passing networks, with Celtic matching or exceeding Rangers for passes in all advanced zones – most notably in central areas and down the left flank.

Understandably, centre-backs dominate the passing metrics due to short exchanges in build-up play, but Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara emerges as the Gers’ passing engine in the centre of the park.

It goes without question Postecoglou will be looking to stifle Tavernier, who has attempted 376 passes into the opposition box this season – nearly double that of any other player among the teams.

Who presses hardest?

While Celtic enjoy more possession in the attacking third, their upcoming hosts win back possession more frequently in advanced areas. Conversely, Celtic are more robust defensively in the middle third, which is a necessity to avoid counters against a higher line.

In terms of the players, Rangers attacking midfielder Joe Aribo provides primary pressing mettle up top, with Morelos and Scott Arfield also providing ample menace, while Tomas Rogic, Jota and Abada lead the way for Celtic.

Meanwhile Hoops captain Callum McGregor and Rangers holding midfielder Kamara are leading destroyers in the centre of the park.

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Soft spots?

As the division’s runaway leaders, it may come as no surprise to see both teams have conceded the fewest goals, but Celtic have shipped a league-low 18 goals compared with Rangers’ 25 – while the Hoops also run clear with a league-high 17 clean sheets.

However, despite that impressive solidity, potential areas of weakness to exploit emerge, with Rangers’ potency from set-pieces arguably being boosted by the fact 11 of Celtic’s goals conceded have come from these dead-ball situations this term.

Image: Celtic have not conceded a goal from outside the box in the Scottish Premiership this season

Meanwhile, Morelos’ aerial power could reap rewards against a side who have shipped nine headed goals – only Ross County and Hibernian have leaked more – while no side in the division has conceded more goals from crosses.

On paper, an unlikely outcome is for Rangers to capitalise on a mistake, with the visitors making only two errors leading to a shot this season. However, Rangers’ high press does have the potential to pressurise a costly mishap.

The graphic below reveals all defensive actions made by each teams’ defenders this season and reveals Rangers’ centre-backs typically patrol deeper areas than their upcoming counterparts, with the full-backs heavily active in central areas down the flanks – while Tavernier contributes further upfield, too.

Celtic’s centre-halves venture and commit further forward, which reflects the team’s style of play – but there is a dearth of defensive coverage between the central defenders and suggests a potential corridor of opportunity for the hosts.

Interestingly, despite Tavernier’s tendency to roam into attacking areas down the right, opposition teams have typically attacked Rangers down the opposing flank, with 43 per cent coming down Rangers’ left channel. Coincidentally, but more understandably, the exact same proportions apply to Celtic – with teams looking to exploit their more adventurous left channel.

Comeback kings & solid leaders

While the stats may support the case for Celtic’s place at the table’s summit, Rangers have certainly shown defiance in the face of adversity, winning a league-high 21 points from losing positions this campaign. For context, that’s 29 per cent of their points haul to date.

Meanwhile, both teams have displayed ample resilience once scoring to lead in a game, with Rangers dropping 10 points and Celtic ceding a league-low two points. Based on these numbers, Rangers can certainly overcome a deficit, but Celtic are masters at holding a lead.

Who’s red hot?

Using the Power Rankings formula, which awards points to players for 35 different statistics – from goals and assists, to blocks and tackles, Celtic forward Georgios Giakoumakis is currently the most in-form player among the teams, based on the previous five league fixtures, with seven goal involvements in just three league games.

In terms of the entire season to date, there is only one winner: Tavernier. The full-back has notched nearly 15,000 more points than any other player among the teams, with team-mate Aribo holding runner-up spot ahead of Carter-Vickers.

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