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Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 12:22 UK

Derby debutants at the ready

Scottish Premier League
Venue: Celtic Park Date: Sunday, 31 August Kick-off: 1230 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Sport website (UK users only), highlights on BBC Sport website from midnight

By Andy Campbell

Celtic defender Gleen Loovens
Dutch defender Loovens attracted interest from Rangers

Celtic host Rangers in the first Old Firm match of the season with both sides expected to hand derby debuts to some of their recent signings.

Last season's encounters all ended with victories for the home side, meaning that the destiny of the league title was decided by results in the other Scottish Premier League fixtures.

But the psychological blow of gaining three points on the nearest rivals cannot be underestimated, even at this early stage of the season.

Furthermore, a two-week international break will proceed the match, which will allow ample time for celebration and licking of wounds.

The home side have spent less and bought fewer players than Rangers this summer, but Gordon Strachan's side were already assured automatic qualification to the group stages of the Champions League and arguably had less need for major team reconstruction.

And one of their potential debutants could easily have been playing Sunday's game in the blue of Rangers rather than the green and white hoops.

Glenn Loovens was the subject of interest and a firm bid by Rangers before the lure of Champions League football took him from Cardiff City to Celtic Park.

The Dutchman made his debut in the recent win over Falkirk and is vying with fit-again Gary Caldwell to partner captain Stephen McManus at the heart of Strachan's rearguard.

Celtic's most recent capture, Shaun Maloney, was no stranger to the famous Glasgow derby before his spell with Aston Villa.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

The Scotland international played and scored against Rangers in his first spell with Celtic and may be deployed in a striking role with Georgios Samaras, who is now on a permanent deal following last season's loan spell from Manchester City.

Maloney's prowess at free-kicks and Samaras' aerial threat are just two of the potential dangers to Rangers.

Marc Crosas, on loan from Barcelona, and Paddy McCourt, a surprise acquisition from Derry City, have also been recruited by Strachan this summer, but they appear unlikely to dislodge the established midfield men of Scott Brown, Paul Hartley, Barry Robson, Shunsuke Nakamura and Aiden McGeady in time to make their derby bow.

Across the city, Rangers boss Walter Smith has so far brought in eight players during the current transfer window, but not all will be involved come Sunday.

Like Maloney, Ibrox forward Kenny Miller has previous experience of the fixture - but not just with one side of the Old Firm.

Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra
Bougherra joined the Ibrox club from Charlton Athletic

The 28-year-old is now in his second spell at Rangers, which sandwiched spells at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Celtic and latterly Derby County.

Miller, who became the first player to cross the Old Firm divide twice has yet to score in his second spell for Rangers and fans remain unconvinced of his pedigree.

He will be competing for striking places with fellow new signings Kyle Lafferty and Andrius Velicka as well as Kris Boyd, Nacho Novo and Jean-Claude Darcheville.

Lafferty, recruited from Burnley, and Velicka, who has faced Celtic in his previous stint in the SPL with Hearts, have both registered important goals so far this season and, if selected, will pose differing threats to Celtic.

The sale of Rangers' most high-profile departure, Carlos Cuellar, preceded the signings of midfield men Pedro Mendes, Aaron and Steven Davis, but Madjid Bougherra had arrived before the Spaniard's exit.

Former Charlton Athletic centre-half Bougherra and veteran David Weir will most likely form Rangers' central defence at Celtic Park.

Mendes has impressed in his fledgling performances for Smith's side but may not get the time and space to orchestrate his trademark passing in the frantic derby.

Davis is likely to play too, having featured in last season's Old Firm matches during the loan spell that eventually resulted in a permanent move from Fulham.

Aaron will almost certainly have to wait for his debut, the young winger having been restricted to the reserves since arriving on loan from Valencia.

However, Smith is also hopeful of including American international Maurice Edu in his squad, subject to international clearance. An unknown quantity to Rangers fans, the former Toronto man is more a defensive player than Mendes and Davis.

The first Old Firm match of the season can often be a marker for the rest of the campaign and, regardless of who makes it onto the park, Sunday's match is sure to be as absorbing as ever.


see also
Old Firm doubts for strike pair
26 Aug 08 |  Celtic
Maloney returns full of regrets
22 Aug 08 |  Celtic
Fulham's Davis moves to Rangers
21 Aug 08 |  Rangers
Celtic sign Loovens from Cardiff
16 Aug 08 |  Cardiff
Rangers complete Niguez transfer
13 Aug 08 |  Rangers
Cuellar seals 7.8m move to Villa
12 Aug 08 |  Aston Villa
Rangers sign defender Bougherra
31 Jul 08 |  Rangers
Lafferty completes Rangers move
19 Jun 08 |  Rangers
Velicka completes Rangers switch
16 Jun 08 |  Rangers
Miller delight at Rangers return
13 Jun 08 |  Rangers


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