Different leagues but same bite in Old Firm derby

Celtic boss Ronny Deila believes Rangers have improved since their defeat by the Hoops last year — but insists his side are still better.

Different leagues but same bite in Old Firm derby

The Ladbrokes Premiership leaders cruised through their League Cup semi-final meeting with their traditional rivals at Hampden Park in February 2015.

Goals from Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons sealed a one-sided match against the Light Blues, who failed to get out of the Championship later on last year when they lost to Motherwell in the play-off.

The Govan club clinched the second-tier title ahead of tomorrow’s Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park, and while Deila acknowledged the Light Blues’ improvement since Mark Warburton took over at Ibrox last summer, he insists his side remain at a higher level.

The Norwegian, who revealed defender Erik Sviatchenko could be recovered from his thigh injury but will not be risked, said: “We are top of the league, they are top of the league so they are a better team than they were last year, that’s for sure, because they didn’t win the league last year. Rangers is a big club, they have the second highest budget in the country, so of course it should be a big fight.

“But right now, we are the best team in Scotland and that is something we should be proud of, and it gives us a lot of confidence. We know when we are playing at our best that we can beat anybody, and Rangers as well. We are looking forward to it but at the same time we have to be really focused and avoid stupid mistakes.”

Deila knows the chances of reaching the final against Hibernian or Dundee United, who play the other semi-final today, will be helped if they keep 11 men on the pitch.

The Parkhead side lost last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final to Inverness after goalkeeper Craig Gordon was sent off and they were reduced to 10 men in their recent League Cup semi-final when Efe Ambrose was given his marching orders, before going down to Ross County.

Deila joked about his preparation for the Rangers game, saying: “We have trained the whole week with 10 men” before stressing the need to remain calm during what is sure to be a typically feisty derby.

The former Stromsgodset boss said: “It is so important to keep everyone on the pitch but you never know in football, it could also be that we play 11 against 10 the other way. You have to prepare for every scenario. We have experience of playing 11 against 10 and hopefully now we are going to play 11 against 11.

“We have to play aggressively but at the same time be very controlled.”

Sviatchenko missed the Premiership win at Motherwell last week with a thigh problem and Deila won’t take risks. Deila said: “He can be ready. It is going to be tight for the game but he is progressing and will start training today.

“We will make a decision on Sunday morning. If he is going to play, he is going to be 100%. We have so many good players and we will not take any risks with Erik if he is not 100%.”

Gers manager Mark Warburton acknowledges a gap exists between his team and Celtic’s but aims to close it.

“This game on Sunday is important, but our job between now and August 6 is to work hard to try to close that gap,” said Warburton.

“A gap clearly exists. It would be foolish to say otherwise. They’re top of the Premiership, they’re champions, the European campaigns they’ve had of late and the financial boost that’s given them. We won’t close it completely, but what we have to do over the summer is recruit well, build the environment again, keep moving forward and hopefully close the gap.”

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