I’VE written before about how much I enjoy the Scottish Cup so it should come as no surprise to learn I’m really looking forward to what I think ought to be two cracking semi-finals this weekend. The Old Firm game on Sunday will likely command most of the attention but tomorrow’s tie between Aberdeen and Hibs shouldn’t be overlooked either as it has all the ingredients to be a compelling contest as well.
You could already class this season as a success for Aberdeen. They reached the League Cup final and are looking good to finish second in the league but they’ll be desperate to reach another final to try to make amends for that disappointing show against Celtic in the last one. Derek McInnes has made it clear that he thinks Aberdeen ought to be competing regularly for trophies and there will be an extra incentive given this is a cup the club hasn’t won since 1990.
It will be interesting to see if Niall McGinn features as Ryan Christie did really well last weekend and Derek tends to pick the same team week in, week out if he can. But both are terrific players so it’s a good dilemma for the manager to have.
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Hibs’ form hasn’t been as good as Aberdeen’s as they’ve drawn four out of their last six games but they’ll be absolutely buzzing after winning the Championship title last weekend. That allows them to go into this game with a bit more of a carefree attitude as the league was the priority this season and that’s now done and dusted.
But as the cup holders they won’t want to give the trophy up without a struggle. A lot of the squad were involved in last season’s triumph so they know what it takes now to get it done. They’ve also got a decent record against Premiership sides over the last few years so that will stand them in good stead, too. Aberdeen will be the favourites tomorrow but Hibs have shown in the past they have the mentality and ability to raise their game when they are the underdogs.
Sunday’s tie is another interesting match-up. It’s the first real test for Pedro Caixinha since he became Rangers manager and, if he were to win, it would go a long way in helping him gain the trust and backing of the fans. He has already improved Rangers defensively with four clean sheets in five games and they look less vulnerable at the back which is perhaps surprising given he’s pitched in two young players in David Bates and Myles Beerman.
But it shows that Caixinha’s coaching methods are already having a positive effect. He’s got the balance of the team looking better in a 4-2-3-1 formation which gives added protection in front of the back four. I think it suits Rangers better in the way that they play.
This is their last shot at silverware this season and also their final chance to stop Celtic moving ever closer to the treble. It’s been an indifferent season for Rangers so far and they haven’t delivered what their supporters would have hoped for last summer. They’re going to finish third and if they don’t win either of the domestic cups then the season should be deemed a failure, in my opinion.
They will still be hurting from last season’s loss in the final to Hibs and those players still at the club won’t want to feel that pain again. They can take positives from the last Old Firm game at Parkhead when I felt Rangers matched Celtic on the day. That showed they can cause Celtic problems in a one-off match but I don’t expect Rangers to come out on top this time.
For Celtic, it’s all about completing that treble. Brendan Rodgers will know that what he’s achieved so far was largely expected of him but achieving the domestic clean sweep will elevate him and his players to the status of true greats. It would complete a season of utter dominance.
They’ve had three draws in their last six games which would suggest the foot has come off the gas a little with the league tied up, but I think this cup tie will heighten their senses again and their performance levels will rise accordingly. If Celtic raise their game again as I expect then they should be too strong for Rangers. Moussa Dembele coming back to fitness is massive as he’s been such a big player in the Old Firm games already this season.
Celtic will, of course, also have Scott Brown available despite his red card last weekend. It doesn’t make the SFA look too clever that such a loophole exists that means a player can postpone a ban on a technicality, but there isn’t a team in the league who wouldn’t have acted the way Celtic have to allow their captain to play. It’s just another subplot in what should be a terrific weekend of cup football.