Jaded Celtic need a rest as Rangers get a boost
Even for a game of opinions, there was a striking difference in the assessments of the second Old Firm derby of the season, which finished goalless at Parkhead on Saturday.
Several of the press room regulars felt it had been a lacklustre event, short of fluency because Rangers played a high press against a Celtic side who looked - not for the first time in recent weeks - somewhat jaded.
On the other hand, this correspondent was part of the Radio 5 broadcast team, which included Pat Nevin as summariser and Alistair Bruce-Ball as co-commentator, and it was striking that both remarked upon the positivity of the match, compared with much of what they watch week-to-week in the Premier League.
Even without goals - in a derby that could easily have had five or six - there was far more to compel attention in the east end of Glasgow than had been witnessed at the midweek meeting of Newcastle United and Manchester City.
Celtic fans left the ground less satisfied than their Rangers equivalents, although the result was better for their team in that it maintained their comfortable advantage at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
The Rangers contingent, meanwhile, were relieved at not having been shredded by their arch-foes - as many had feared - and optimistic that if, in his spell in charge until the end of the season, Graeme Murty can eke consistency out of his players, they might chip away at Celtic's superiority.
It remains to be seen how many personnel changes there will be on each side of the city in January.
Moussa Dembele has looked for some weeks now as though he has already gone elsewhere in his head and, in that regard, the Celtic striker has a counterpart in Carlos Pena, who has never seemed comfortable since Pedro Caixinha spent £2.5m to bring him to Rangers last summer.
Both camps, though, were united in welcoming the break afforded by the Scottish Premiership's short winter break.
Brendan Rodgers has given his players a week off before heading for warm weather training in the Middle East, while Rangers fly to the USA to take part in the Florida Cup, where they will meet Atletico Mineiro and Fluminense of Brazil.
"We wanted to win and we wanted to go into the break of the back of a good win and performance, but it's been a long year for us with a lot of football," said Celtic's Stuart Armstrong, who played 54 games for the Hoops in Scotland in 2017.
"It's been one of the busiest seasons we have had. There was not much break in the summer and now that we're sitting here at New Year's looking back on all our achievements, we should be happy and proud.
"The break is important, especially when you have been playing, playing and playing over back-to-back seasons with jaded legs and jaded minds."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
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