The first trophy of the season is on the line at Hampden on Sunday afternoon as Rangers and Celtic clash in the Viaplay Cup final.
The Glasgow rivals are going through their final preparations knowing that in a matter of hours, one side will be celebrating with their fans, while the other will be nursing regret after suffering a major setback in their ambitions for the season.
Both sides are in impressive form going into the game, with Rangers winning 13 of their 14 games since manager Michael Beale arrived, the only draw coming against the team from the other side of the city. Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic have an identical record over the same period, and are nine point clear of the Ibrox side as they strive to defend their Premiership title.
With both teams having swept others aside over the last couple of months, the head-to-head is eagerly anticipated and the build-up has brought plenty of talking points.
Every selection and potential battle will be picked over in fine detail in the run-up to kick-off and there’ll be thorough analysis of every major moment after referee Nick Walsh gets the action started. We’ve pulled together everything you need to know ahead of kick-off.
When Rangers boss Michael Beale faced the media on Tuesday, he admitted that he hadn’t had any encouraging news on injuries to three of his midfielders. Ryan Jack, John Lundstram and Malik Tillman were all in the treatment room and Beale was unable to give any positive update on their availability for Sunday’s showdown.
Since then, reports have indicated that Lundstram and Tillman have progressed well and could be in the mix when Beale names his side. The inclusion of either or both would be a huge boost to their chances and team selection may not be made until late on to give them the best chance of participating.
Ange Postecoglou has had no such worries when weighing up the options in his Celtic squad. Minor knocks to David Turnbull and Aaron Mooy saw them miss last weekend’s Premiership win over Aberdeen but both are fit and in training.
Postecoglou has a full squad to choose from and Celtic fans will be looking forward to learning what he thinks is his best XI for the Hampden test.
What the managers say
The League Cup gave Ange Postecoglou his first silverware as manager last year and he’s keen to keep a hold of the trophy.
What we won’t see from the Australian is any sign of nerves on the touchline. In his pre-match media conference he underlined the experience he is bringing to the table.
“For me it is (easy) because it has been my job for 26 years,” Postecoglou said.
“When a pilot lands a plane he knows what he is doing.
“You are not making it up as you go along so I like to think that after 26 years I know what I am doing.”
The Celtic boss is looking forward to the noise inside Hampden though. With an even split of tickets it’ll be different from the league encounters and Postecoglou thinks that could make for something special.
“It is a different atmosphere, it is a real derby atmosphere,” he said.
“When we play at Celtic Park or Ibrox the atmosphere is very parochial in one way, for the home team. I think it is an advantage absolutely.
“We feel that when we play at Celtic Park, having our supporters there, 60,000 of them, helps us.
“But in terms of the spectacle and a derby, having it split, particularly in a cup final, adds to the theatre of it.
“I believe that and I think the players and everyone involved enjoy that because you get a bit of everything in there.”
For Michael Beale, the final is an opportunity to really build on a successful start to life as manager at Ibrox. Beale hasn’t suffered defeat in any of his 14 games in Scotland so far but he is under no illusions that the Hampden final will be different from anything so far.
The Englishman sounded like he was going to relish the occasion when he spoke this week.
He said: “It’s a huge game for our football club, the fans, the players, myself and my staff.
“It is a privilege to be involved in and I often contemplate that. It’s world-renowned and I believe it is the biggest rivalry in the world.
“It’s a fantastic final for the neutral and I don’t remember a game with both team in such fine form. So really looking forward to it and can’t wait for Sunday to finally arrive.
“There’s a lot of respect between the two sets of players and the management teams. I think it’s two very teams going head to head. Both teams have a lot of experience in these types of games.
“It is about going to perform on the day. We want to add to our trophy cabinet. I have the privilege of managing Rangers in this final. It is important we seize the day on Sunday.
“These are the days you want to be involved in.”
What the players say
If there was one headline that stood out in the build-up, it was the one that Rangers forward Fashion Sakala provided.
After referring to Celtic as “the other mob”, the Zambian then went on to make it clear that he saw a difference between his side and the team that holds a nine-point lead in the Premiership.
“It’s more than a game,” Sakala said. “I don’t know what else to call it. But you’re always thinking about being better than them. That’s the attitude we are going with on Sunday.
“Yes we’re better than them, so much better! But we’re nine points behind! We’ll keep fighting anyway. I think we are such a better club. A far better club. If we get that trophy on Sunday it will prove that we are a better team than them.”
Rangers captain James Tavernier didn’t go that far, instead stating his personal ambition to lift a trophy he hasn’t had his hands on and ‘complete the set’ of domestic medals. He says rewarding the fans with success is a feeling it’s hard to match.
“It’s a true honour and words can’t really describe how much you feel,” Tavernier explained. “You get so much enjoyment.
“And it’s not just myself, it’s obviously the whole team, the fans, everyone’s families who turned up to support.
“You just want to continue to give that. it’s what we all signed up for with Rangers, to win trophies, and we’ll be doing everything possible on Sunday to try and make that happen.”
Celtic captain Callum McGregor has won 16 major trophies in his time at the club and hasn’t lost his hunger.
The midfielder isn’t thinking of past success as he approaches the final but instead wants to make up for losing to Rangers in the Scottish Cup last season.
“When you lose a big game like that, of course it hurts you and it stays with you probably for the rest of your career, the rest of your life,” the Celtic skipper said.
“But it’s important that when you get a chance to try and rectify that, you give absolutely everything to put that right and, probably most importantly, to put it right for the supporters as well.
“So of course we have that added motivation that they got one over us last time at Hampden and we will try and fix that.”
McGregor knows what’s required to get over the line at the national stadium and says his side can continue their good form if everyone has their mind on the task.
He added: “Obviously you have to play well, you need to have a bit of luck as well, but the main thing for us is just to stay focused and continue doing what we’ve been doing.
“The team’s in good rhythm and good form and if we bring that to the game, along with our other qualities and concentration, then I think we’ll be okay.”
Celtic came out on top in the first match between the sides this season, cruising to a 4-0 home win. Liel Abada scored twice, with Jota and David Turnbull also on the scoresheet.
The return at Ibrox in January saw Daizen Maeda put Celtic ahead after just five minutes. Ryan Kent levelled just after half time before James Tavernier put Rangers ahead from the penalty spot.
Michael Beale’s side looked set for all three points but Kyogo Furuhashi scored in the 88th minute to earn his side a point and maintain Celtic’s healthy lead in the Premiership.
When does it kick off?
The action starts at 3pm at the national stadium and there will be extra time and penalties if the sides can’t be separated after 90 minutes.
The game is being televised on Viaplay Sports but you can follow all the action on STV’s live blog on the website or app.
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