Celtic v Rangers: Michael Beale takes on Ange Postecoglou in Old Firm derby

Celtic v Rangers: Michael Beale takes on Ange Postecoglou in Old Firm derby

Beale has dropped only two points since taking over at Rangers – a draw against Postecoglou’s Celtic in the New Year derbyRangers folk must be tired of the pursuit of Celtic at this point. They run hard only to stand still. They win game after game in the Scottish Premiership but the gap at the top never changes. They are an improved force in the league under Michael Beale, but are pushing at an immovable object in Ange Postecoglou’s team.

Every sacking down south seems to give rise to new waves of speculation around the Celtic manager, much of it linking him with a move. In recent times, whether real or imagined, the Australian has been said to be ‘on the radar’ of Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds United, Everton, Southampton, Brighton and Wolves.

Whenever these stories appear there must be a frisson of excitement at Ibrox at the thought he might be on his way.

If there had never been a Postecoglou at Celtic there would most likely never have been a Reo Hatate to inspire them with two goals in a 3-0 win in the Old Firm game in February 2022, no Liel Abada to score two in the 4-0 rout last September and no Kyogo Furuhashi to score a double in the League Cup final in February.

But Postecoglou remains in Glasgow. Happy, driven and a monumental thorn in Rangers’ side.

‘Why Celtic’s Postecoglou has echoes of O’Neill’Select your combined Celtic-Rangers XIBack in December, Celtic were drawing 0-0 against Aberdeen at Pittodrie with three minutes to go. A breakthrough for Rangers in the title chase? No. Callum McGregor scored a late winner.

In January at Ibrox, Rangers led 2-1 with two minutes left in the previous Premiership Old Firm game. A big moment for Beale and the fans? No, again. Kyogo came up with an equaliser. In March, St Mirren were 1-0 up approaching the hour mark, but Celtic scored five times from that point.

Later in the month, Hibernian were holding them at 1-1 with nine minutes left. Celtic won 3-1. Every time Rangers have glimpsed some light in the league somebody in Postecoglou’s team has come along to switch it off. Rangers must be weary from it all now.

If they’re not already broken, defeat at Celtic Park on Saturday will certainly finish them off. That would make it a 12-point lead for the champions. Postecoglou could play the kids for the rest of the season and still expect to retain the title.

Beale has done as much as any reasonable person could expect of him since taking over at Ibrox. Fourteen wins and a draw from his 15 league games as manager. Forty-three points from a possible 45. Forty goals scored and 13 conceded.

If – and it’s a big if – Rangers win every one of their remaining eight games they’ll finish on a mighty 100 points. It still wouldn’t be enough if Celtic win six of their eight. Theirs has been a season of merciless consistency.

If Postecoglou’s players were even a little bit off it then Rangers could have reeled them in on the results they’ve delivered under Beale, but they haven’t advanced one inch in the table. They’ve actually gone backwards, on goal difference.

Some of the club’s supporters are angry and want a few heads to roll behind the scenes, but the reality is Rangers are on their best run in the Premiership since they won the title under Steven Gerrard. Rangers’ problem is not their results over the last five months, it’s the relentless nature of Celtic’s.

Rangers are good, but not good enough. How their life in a footballing no-man’s land will impact on their summer business will be intriguing. Are we talking about tweaks to the team or a full rebuild?

Celtic have brought in a ton of players under Postecoglou, but their net spend in the market has been jaw-droppingly small, sitting at about £8m. The management of the club has been exceptional.

From the ashes of the failed bid for 10-in-a-row, a new, dynamic team has been created. It is a team with a good age profile, with enough nous to deliver in the present and enough promise to be sold for profit in the future.

Postecoglou knew exactly what kind of players he was looking for and where to find them. Do Rangers have the same wisdom? Beale has decisions to make.

He has eight players out of contract in the summer, many of them on major money, some of them contributing little or nothing.

Filip Helander and Steven Davis will depart. Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield are not regular starters and Rangers need better. Allan McGregor is 41 and will surely call it quits after a terrific career.

If Beale lets most, or all, of them leave he’s got £10-£15m a year in wages to play with. Is Ryan Kent offering value for the significant money he is on? Is time finally up for Alfredo Morelos? Is Malik Tillman worth the £4-£6m it would take to get him on a permanent deal from Bayern Munich?

Can he find some gems? He says there are “no restrictions” on his budget. Saying it out loud doesn’t make it so. This is going to be brutally hard for Beale.

He has Saturday to deal with before then, and the odds are firmly against Rangers. The last three meetings at Celtic Park have finished 4-0, 1-1 and 3-0. Seven of Celtic’s eight goals in those games came in the first half.

It’s not like Rangers haven’t been warned about what might be coming their way, on the field and in the stands. With no away fans to give them encouragement, it’s 11 versus 60,011. Where better to have an Old Firm game than in the heart of a furnace?

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