There are few things better than derby days in any sport, really. There is something magical about watching two rivals fight it out on the field, their raucous fans roaring them on. This weekend, we were treated to a few derbies, and they were all fantastic.
In the Premier League, it was the showdown between the two Manchester clubs. This season, the first Manchester Derby had even more meaning because it was the first meeting between larger-than-life managers Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho.
Ultimately, City prevailed, despite a horrendous showing by new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, to maintain a perfect record and thus stay in the top spot of the table.
The bigger derby of the weekend took place north of the border, in the Scottish city of Glasgow. I am talking, of course, about the showdown between Celtic and the Rangers, collectively known as the Old Firm. This is a fierce rivalry that dates all the way back to 1888 and is deeply ingrained into Scottish culture.
I was able to see some of this passion for myself yesterday; wandering around the streets of St. Andrews, I saw dozens of Celtic jerseys and not a single Rangers one.
Historically, the Rangers have the slight edge over their longtime rival, with 159 wins to Celtic’s 146. These two Scottish League juggernauts have won a combined 101 championships, a number that is simply mind-boggling. It is always a special day when these two teams meet, but it was even more special this past Saturday.
For the last four years, the Old Firm Derby had been on hold. After the 2011-12 season, the Rangers Football Club PLC — short for public limited company — was liquidated. Over the course of that summer, it seemed as though the Rangers might not even play at all.
A new company finally bought the team, but it came at a heavy price: The Rangers were unable to compete in the Premiership and were placed into the lowest league of the Scottish Football League.
It was an action that seems almost incomprehensible. Imagine being a Manchester United fan, used to all the glory that comes along with being a top club in the Premier League. Suddenly, due to financial woes that are beyond both the players’ and fans’ control, Manchester United is placed into League Two and must climb its way back up to the top.
For the Rangers, this is exactly what happened. It was a trying four years, with many of the Rangers’ top players leaving after demotion to the lowest league, but under the tutelage of Mark Warburton, one of Scotland’s finest clubs is finally back where it belongs.
With a four-year derby absence, all eyes were eagerly waiting to see what would happen between Warburton’s Rangers and Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic — yes, that Brendan Rodgers, former manager of Liverpool. While it certainly was expected to be a hectic game, I do not think anyone expected to see Celtic utterly demolish the Rangers.
By the end of the game, the score was 5-1 in Celtic’s favor. It was as though the Rangers simply did not show up.
Celtic utterly controlled the game, with Frenchman Moussa Dembélé becoming the first player in over 50 years to get a hat trick in the Old Firm Derby. The Rangers looked disorganized throughout, with a defense that played atrociously. In the midfield, it was a similar story, with Celtic putting on a master class of how to control the ball.
To make matters worse, the Rangers ended up having to play the last 20 minutes down a man, thanks to a handball by defender Philippe Senderos.
After the game, photos began circulating of the Celtic away bathrooms, which were smashed to pieces by angry Rangers fans. It was a poor showing for sure, but thus far Celtic has decided not to press charges.
All in all, it certainly was a welcoming party that the Rangers will be desperate to forget. Warburton has much work ahead of him, as this game made it very clear that his team is far from challenging from the title.
Rodgers, of course, will be pleased with the result and he can now turn his attention toward Champions League play, because barring a catastrophic meltdown, it looks although Celtic will be running away with the title this year.
While it is very nice to have the Rangers back in the Premiership this year, it is clear that things are a little different now. It is Celtic’s world now, through and through.
Even the derby itself was not nearly as passionate as it used to be; all I can really say is: Welcome back to the big league, boys.
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