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