This weekend was a highly successful one for the legion of Portuguese coaches abroad. Sérgio Conceição (Nantes), Marco Silva (Hull City), Carlos Carvalhal (Sheffield Wednesday), José Mourinho (Manchester United) and Leonardo Jardim (Monaco) all clocked up important victories.
Glasgow Rangers is the latest high-profile club to entrust their fortunes to a Portuguese manager, and PortuGOAL will be tracking Pedro Caixinha’s progress at the Scottish giants. On Sunday, the former União de Leiria and Nacional da Madeira coach faced his first big test since taking the job. Our Scottish football correspondent John Hunt reports on how it went from Hampden Park.
The new-ish Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha (the Portuguese has been in post for just over five weeks now) faced the stiffest test of his nascent tenure yesterday in the second of the Scottish Cup semi-finals, Aberdeen and Hibs having faced off on the Saturday with the former edging home 3-2 in a thrilling game.
For Caixinha, in his first real game of note as Rangers boss, who better to face than their fiercest rivals, Celtic? Given the way this game eventually panned out, the retrospective answer would most likely be: ‘probably someone else’, as Celtic ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.
A cagey opening ten minutes witnessed little in the way of goalmouth action, but saw Celtic establish an advantage in terms of possession within the Rangers half, one which they never relinquished. The game suddenly sprang into life with Stuart Armstrong whipping in a curling effort from the edge of the box which had Wes Foderingham in the Rangers’ goal diving full stretch to his left, but seeing the shot whistle less than a foot wide of the post
Seconds later, Celtic took the lead. A simple, long ball out of defence was killed stone dead by striker Moussa Dembele who looked up and cut the ball back to the unmarked Callum McGregor, who neatly side-footed the ball home from just outside the area.
Celtic in complete control
By the half-way point of the opening 45 minutes, Celtic were enjoying 85% possession, in complete control, and seemingly intent on strangling the life out of their opponents simply by denying them the ball.
Dembele departed just before the half-hour with a pulled hamstring and for the six minutes before Celtic could get substitute striker Leigh Griffiths onto the park, Rangers were playing ten men. They inflicted no damage though, as the Ibrox side seemed to be sitting off their opponents somewhat – an odd tactic to employ when chasing the game.
Rangers spent the remainder of the half giving the ball away to a Celtic side encamped in the light-blue half, but for all this continuing possession, the teams went in at half-time with just McGregor’s strike separating them. Rangers’ contribution to the proceedings by this point had been minimal.
The second period saw Caixinha shuffle his pack up front by removing attackers Joe Garner and Andy Halliday in favour of Barrie McKay and Joe Dodoo, but it seemed a cosmetic change more than anything else, as the former duo had had nothing to work with in the first half, although Halliday had been booked for a hefty challenge on Patrick Roberts early on.
Rangers undone by Celtic’s pace on the break
Right-back James Tavernier went bombing down the Rangers’ flank and crossed for Dodoo to have a shot but his effort was snaffled away and Celtic broke at speed. Roberts slid a ball through to Griffiths and his pace took him one-on-one with Foderingham. Tavernier, struggling to get back into position, poleaxed the former Hibs favourite in the box and gave the referee an easy decision in pointing to the spot. Tavernier saw yellow.
Up stepped Scott Sinclair and his penalty was placed close enough to Foderingham for the ‘keeper to get both hands on the former Villa man’s effort, but the power behind the shot was sufficient to see the ball ricochet off Foderingham’s gloves and into the back of the net, via the post, to double Celtic’s advantage on 51 minutes.
Even with 40 minutes to play you would have got very long odds on Rangers making a comeback in this game; there was a tangible feeling from both sets of fans within Hampden – Celtic’s jubilant, Rangers’ downcast – that the contest was over.
Foderingham tipped a smart Griffiths snapshot over the post a couple of minutes later as the one-way traffic continued and just past the hour Man City’s on-loan midfielder Roberts also had a decent effort saved by the weary Rangers custodian. His opposite number in the Celtic goal, Craig Gordon, had barely a grass stain on his retina-searing luminous yellow kit.
Kenny Miller’s close-range shot with 10 minutes remaining – scrambled away by the Celtic rearguard at the second time of asking – was Rangers’ swansong as an attacking threat in a game which had been completely dominated from start to finish by Celtic.
Celtic substitute Tom Rogic took the paint off the base of Foderingham’s right-hand post in the last minute and, besides a long-range strike by way of reply from Dodoo – beaten away by Gordon – that was that on a sun-dappled Glasgow afternoon.
Food for thought for Caixinha
Asked after the game why his side had appeared to be so “passive” in the face of the Celtic onslaught, Caixinha asserted that this had not been in his game plan, that he had “played 4-4-2 and hoped for some mistakes from Celtic”, but these mistakes simply never came. With the two sides due to meet again on league business this coming Saturday, today’s performance will give Caixinha plenty of food for thought when Rangers face a Celtic side 33 points clear of their own in the SPFL.
Caixinha’s meal might not be wholly palatable though. On today’s evidence – and on the evidence of the league table which has champions Celtic streets ahead of third-placed Rangers with five games to play – the gap between these two sides is inarguably massive. How does Pedro bridge this gap? I’m struggling for an answer but, fortunately, that’s Caixinha’s job, not mine. I don’t envy him in his efforts to find a winning solution.
by John Hunt (@johnhunt1892)