Celtic v Rangers: Battle of wits as Rodgers and Gerrard face-off for the first time
The first Old Firm Derby of the season and it looks like we finally have a game on our hands. Betfair's Scottish football writer Frankie Monkhouse picks out his best bets in what promises to be a classic...
"It's no surprise to find Celtic have been judged strong favourites for the win with [1.63] available on the Betfair Exchange against the chunky [5.7] of Rangers who remain unbeaten in a dozen games"
Bhoys promise to silence their noisy neighbours
Summer may be slipping away from us but on Sunday in Glasgow football fans will experience the white-hot heat of an Old Firm Derby as Celtic host Rangers at Parkhead. The Bhoys are chasing a historic treble-treble following clean-sweeps of Scottish football in each of the last two seasons, but in Steven Gerrard's Blues it looks like they may finally have a challenge.
It's still very early in the season - three league games in the books for either side - and Rangers have promised a challenge at this stage of the campaign before, as Hoops midfielder Callum McGregor reminded us when speaking to the media in the build-up.
The 25-year-old Glaswegian told members of the press earlier this week "there is a lot of talk coming from Rangers but we're just focusing on what we're doing, the same way we always have. We have to get the place rocking and try to stamp our authority on the game".
That'll be music to the ears of manager Brendan Rodgers who looks to give former employee Gerrard a taste of just how tough life can be north of the border, but the stats tell us it has been a less than convincing start for the champions.
Defeat to Hearts in the Premiership is added to a painful 3-2 aggregate loss at the hands of AEK Athens, a result that eliminated the Scots from the Champions League. Not much confidence can be taken from last week's 1-1 Europa League draw with Lithuanian side Suduva either, although they did get the job done at the second time of asking.
Biggest test of Gerrard's managerial career
Steven Gerrard has greatly impressed in the early steps of his managerial career, leading Rangers into the Europa League group stages against the expectations of many, but there's no doubt this will be his biggest test since arriving in Govan.
Rangers have finished third in each of the last two Premiership seasons and barely laid a glove on Celtic since their return to the top-flight. Sticking to the bare stats and last term's head-to-head between the clubs read Rangers 2-14 Celtic. Those loyal to the blue half of the city will tell you things have changed over the summer, but it'll take drastic improvement before The Gers are again seen as realistic title challengers.
Five points on the board - a win over St Mirren and draws with Aberdeen and Motherwell - suggest the team is heading in the right direction but they must cut out lapses in concentration that has saw two players sent off in those three games and two goals conceded in stoppage-time to deny wins.
They also finished Thursday night's stunning 1-1 draw with FC Ufa with nine men, Morelos and Flanagan sent packing inside 66 minutes. Keeping both their discipline and concentration until the final whistle will never be more important than it is on Sunday. A sending off in this fixture is always a popular pick with neutrals.
A blue sea of new recruits has been brought in to bolster the squad but there are a few stuck in the medical room Gerrard and Gary McAllister could do with being back and pulling their weight for the cause. Jamie Murphy has been ruled out for the season with a serious knee ligament injury and Sunday should come too early for the likes of Graham Dorrans and Jordan Rossiter.
Celtic worthy favourites
It'll come as no surprise to find Celtic have been judged strong favourites for the win with [1.63] available on the Betfair Exchange against the chunky [5.7] of Rangers who remain unbeaten in a dozen games. A draw will attract a fair share of attention with [4.5] doing the rounds.
A big price about an ambitious Rangers side and they do lead the overall head-to-head stats vs Celtic with 159 wins against 154 and 99 draws. The Blues' recent record in this fixture, especially at Parkhead, makes them difficult to trust however and the outcome of this one will show just where Gerrard is with his rebuilding project.
Visitors will be happy to sit in
That 3-3 draw away to Motherwell aside, this new-look Rangers defence have been convincing so far. They've kept clean-sheets away to Shkupi, NK Osijek and Maribor. Not quite the level of attack they'll face in Celtic, but confidence is growing. Gerrard is expected to revert to a back-four and he has options to freshen things up.
The energy-sapping midweek trip to Russia won't do anything to encourage Rangers to attack in the early stages of this derby. A tense afternoon is expected, sitting back and inviting Celtic to break them down while looking to utilise the speed and youth in the squad to hit on the counter-attack.
With that in mind, under 2.5 goals seems a worthwhile punt at evens, as opposed to over 2.5 at 4/5. Taking no in the both teams to score coupon should also prove a shrewd move at evens, all three prices available on the Betfair Sportsbook.