Rangers v Celtic: 'Derby is now Beale's biggest game as Ibrox boss'

Steven Thompson
Steven Thompson

Scottish Premiership: Rangers v Celtic

Venue: Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow Date: Sunday, 3 September Time: 12:00 BST

Coverage: Listen to live Sportsound commentary on BBC Sounds, BBC Radio Scotland & BBC Radio 5 live; follow live text updates on the BBC Sport website & app; watch highlights on Sportscene

Sunday's Old Firm derby is the biggest game of Michael Beale's career so far as Rangers manager.

Win, and the Champions League scudding in Eindhoven could probably be forgiven by the Ibrox fans, as much as it stung at the time. Lose, and the negativity will increase and people will start to talk.

It was always going to be hugely significant, given it's the first one in which 'his' team will take on Celtic, and a Celtic who themselves have undergone a fair bit of change over the summer.

And because of that, it's difficult to know who the favourites are. The form of both sides since the season started has been patchy but Rangers have the home advantage so I make them slight favourites at the moment.

There's no doubt that when Beale arrived last season, performances improved and Rangers were very consistent heading towards the end of the season.

But they won no trophies. And as Rangers manager, delivering trophies is a prerequisite.

He'll be very aware of that. And, while there will be no prizes won on Sunday, winning would be a marker for Rangers and it would certainly be a boost for Beale and his signings.

It would enable him to say "this is my team, we beat last season's champions, and we're going to mount a serious challenge for the league".

'It's a bit experimental at times'

The biggest problem Beale has at the moment is that I'm not sure he knows his best team yet. And the jury is out on the new signings.

We're still only three league games into the season and we're waiting to see who will grab their chance out of the new signings.

But the likes of Cyriel Dessers, Danilo, Sam Lammers, Abdallah Sima, Kieran Dowell and Jose Cifuentes have got to step up because they're now at a massive club where the expectation is more than they've ever had in their careers previously.

This would be their first Old Firm game and nothing prepares you for that. They're going to feel the intensity and will certainly know what the game is about come the final whistle on Sunday.

The buck ultimately stops with Beale, though, and his team selection on Sunday will be interesting.

The back four and goalkeeper pick themselves, although Borna Barisic came off injured in midweek, so there might have to be a change there.

In midfield, I imagine Ryan Jack will come back in and Rabbi Matondo did enough during the week to keep his place. But who else does he start in attack?

I think he might go with Danilo but he could just as easily pick Dessers again. And what about Lammers and Sima?

There are lots of permutations and it's almost a bit experimental middle to front at the moment as Beale tries to find the right permutation to bring success.

He's not going to come under any pressure inside the club if he doesn't beat Celtic but, off the back of such a heavy defeat in Eindhoven, he would come in for a bit of flak if they lose.

What he doesn't want is more negativity and uncertainty surrounding his new signings. It's all about getting a reaction to the Champions League exit now. There is so much riding on it.

Steven Thompson was speaking to BBC Scotland's Richard Winton