Celtic boss tells his play­ers to be­ware

A mild-man­nered meet­ing of the minds gives way to pri­mal fear but Celtic man­ager is de­ter­mined to as­sert dom­i­nance

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT MULLEN

CELTIC boss Ronny Deila has warned his team to be on their guard against a Rangers side keen to prove them­selves in to­mor­row’s Old Firm derby.

De­spite the pair meet­ing last sea­son in the League Cup semi-fi­nal, a match in which the Park­head club cruised to a 2-0 win, play­ers, man­agers and sup­port­ers of both sides are an­tic­i­pat­ing a much closer af­fair when they meet in the Wil­liam Hill Scot­tish Cup semi-fi­nal.

Rangers go into the noon kick-off fresh from win­ning pro­mo­tion, and Deila is keen to point out to his Celtic team that the propo­si­tion they face at Ham­p­den this week­end is dif­fer­ent to the one they rolled over 14 months ago.

“It’s not like we are play­ing a small team, you know. We are play­ing the sec­ond big­gest,” he said. “You should ex­pect them to be on a level with Aberdeen, Hearts and th­ese clubs. They can be that good. This is go­ing to be their test to show that they are that.

“We are play­ing a big club here. They have the sec­ond high­est bud­get. Now it is the time for them to show how good they are.”

IT WAS all very, well, re­spect­ful. They may have both been swimming in the same gold­fish bowl for the best part of 10 months, but this was the day that Mark War­bur­ton and Ronny Deila came face to face for the very first time.

With the back­drop of a de­serted and soggy Ham­p­den Park, the man­agers of both Rangers and Celtic chewed the fat with each other for half an hour in the na­tional sta­dium’s sweep­ing South Stand. Only the two of them know what was said dur­ing this brief in­tro­duc­tion be­fore they were soon parted – ‘The pitch looks good, eh?’ – but the one thing that goes be­yond doubt is that the con­vivial at­mos­phere that en­com­passed their maiden meet­ing will be long gone when their hands meet once again at 12pm to­mor­row af­ter­noon.

It is un­usual for two Old Firm man­agers to go this long with­out ever cross­ing paths, and yes, of course, there are mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors for that. Rangers be­ing in a dif­fer­ent divi­sion for one. Not that the di­vide has stopped one man be­ing aware of the other or his team’s achieve­ments. And, in­deed, weak­nesses.

For Deila, the prospect of to­mor­row’s in­trigu­ing en­counter with Rangers in the Wil­liam Hill Scot­tish Cup semi-fi­nal is noth­ing he hasn’t ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, and in that fact he has an im­me­di­ate ad­van­tage over his coun­ter­part. How­ever, as the Celtic man­ager of­fered his thoughts ahead of this ti­tanic game in the ca­reers of both men, there was lit­tle be­ing taken for granted as he dared to look for­ward to to­mor­row.

“We talked for half an hour out­side. He is a very nice guy,” said Deila of War­bur­ton. “He has done well. This is go­ing to be a big game for both of us.

“It’s not like we are play­ing a small team, you know. We are play­ing the sec­ond big­gest. You should ex­pect them to be on a level with Aberdeen, Hearts and th­ese clubs. They can be that good. This is go­ing to be their test to show that they are that.

“It is easy to say that it looks like we are go­ing to play Stroms­god­set [Deila’s for­mer team in Nor­way]. That’s not right. We are play­ing a big club here. They have the sec­ond high­est bud­get. Now it is the time for them to show how good they are.”

If Deila’s sec­ond Old Firm game goes as his first, the Nor­we­gian will be a con­tented man as he boards the Celtic team bus to­mor­row af­ter­noon. In last Fe­bru­ary’s League Cup semi­fi­nal, his team were ut­terly dom­i­nant against a poor Rangers team that could only muster one shot off tar­get.

It is with the mem­ory of this tri­umph that Deila is re­minded of how far the team from Go­van have come this sea­son un­der War­bur­ton. New play­ers, new back­room staff and a new ethos have breathed fresh life into a club that was show­ing signs of stag­na­tion just three years af­ter its res­ur­rec­tion in the third divi­sion. Even in that short 14-month pe­riod, the dif­fer­ence in not just the Rangers play­ers but their ex­pan­sive ap­proach play is seis­mic. A Cham­pi­onship crown and a Petro­fac Train­ing Cup are the fruits of that labour, and Deila ex­pects to see a team – and a sys­tem – that has so far served Rangers well this sea­son come to­mor­row.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent team from the Rangers we played last year, they play in a dif­fer­ent way,” he said. “So that’s why it’s go­ing to be a dif­fer­ent game this time around.

“But, at the same time, it’s a good game. I think it’s go­ing to be open and at­tack­ing, which is a good thing.

“There are a lot of man­agers do­ing that, play­ing the same style for ev­ery game.

“You can see that with Ajax or Barcelona. Of course you make ad­just­ments into the style – but you don’t make it to­tally dif­fer­ent.

“If you change every­thing for one game, the play­ers don’t feel as if they know what you’re do­ing. They can feel un­com­fort­able with it. It’s a pos­i­tive thing, or it can be, if you want to change things. But you need time to do it.”

Deila is right to give re­spect to a team that has got its act to­gether over the last year. Equally, he is cor­rect to con­cen­trate on look­ing within for in­spi­ra­tion rather than across the city. De­spite the Nor­we­gian com­ing in for some harsh crit­i­cism this sea­son, his team still sit eight points clear at the top of the Lad­brokes Premier­ship with five games to go and po­ten­tially just 180 min­utes away from a Scot­tish Cup tri­umph.

He knows too well that if his team, filled with sea­soned pro­fes­sion­als and in­ter­na­tion­als, per­form as they should and have done on oc­ca­sion this sea­son, that they sim­ply should be too much for Rangers. And while his doubters may point to their in­con­sis­tency, Deila’s faith in his team, and him­self, is un­wa­ver­ing.

“I get asked ev­ery week what hap­pens if we lose this. I am not think­ing about what ifs,” said the Celtic man­ager, who also con­firmed Dedryck Boy­ata is fit to play while Erik Svi­atchenko re­mains a doubt. “In my mind, we are go­ing to win this game.

“That’s why we are pre­par­ing for every­thing. The play­ers are very mo­ti­vated. The big games are im­por­tant and es­pe­cially in the cup be­cause we want to win an­other tro­phy. We have to get through the semi-fi­nal.”

He added: “Ner­vous? If I wasn’t ner­vous, that would be a neg­a­tive. If you don’t feel nerves, that is the worst thing – be­cause you don’t care.

“I am ner­vous in ev­ery game I am in­volved in. I love win­ning and I hate los­ing. Like ev­ery man­ager, that’s why we are in the game.

“At the same time it’s a pos­i­tive ner­vous­ness. You have to at­tack the op­por­tu­nity. If you go out de­fen­sive some­thing will al­ways go wrong.

“You have to show what you are about and get the best out of your­self.”

It’s not like we are play­ing a small team, you know. You should ex­pect them to be on a level with Aberdeen, Hearts and th­ese clubs

Pic­ture: SNS

NER­VOUS EN­ERGY: Ronny Deila takes the pos­i­tives from any anx­i­ety go­ing into the Old Firm derby.

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