Old Firm defeat for Rangers again in 2023, as the saying goes, “Everything has changed but nothing has changed”.

Philippe Clement’s short spell at the club falls into the former category. Rangers will be two points behind in the title race should they win games in hand, five better than the situation inherited by the Belgian, having won the League Cup and qualified top of their Europa League group. All is not broken in the wider context. There were positives to take from the performance at Parkhead if not the end result. There is still time to turn the dial further this season and enough evidence to suggest that, with a little help from Nils Koppen in the transfer window, more success can follow under Clement.

And yet, the outcome that mattered yesterday was very much a case of “nothing has changed”. Just like under Michael Beale in early September it was a Kyogo wonder-strike that split the two teams in a close encounter Rangers shaded on chances created. As was the case last season in a 3-2 defeat at the same venue, mistakes at one end and indecisive attacking play at the other spelt defeat for Rangers. It was not only a superb James Tavernier free-kick that drew a feeling of nostalgia watching yesterday's match with that April meeting in mind.

There has not been all that much between the sides in Old Firm meetings this calendar year. One predominant difference has been the presence of a match-winner at No.9. Kyogo has scored seven goals in as many matches against Rangers. The equaliser in that 2-2 draw last January, a double in the aforementioned 3-2 April encounter, both goals in Celtic’s February League Cup Final win, the winner at Ibrox earlier this season and the decider yesterday.

That’s not the only thread running through this fixture in 2023. Rangers have created a higher xG in six of the seven Old Firm meetings this year despite no meaningful win in the fixture:

30/12/23 (Scottish Premiership) - Celtic 2-1 Rangers - 0.61 to 0.81xG

3/9/23 (Scottish Premiership) - Rangers 0-1 Celtic - 1.9 to 0.96xG

13/5/23 (Scottish Premiership) - Rangers 3-0 Celtic - 1.58 to 0.98xG

30/4/23 (Scottish Cup Semi-Final) - Celtic 1-0 Rangers - 0.9 to 1.35xG

8/4/23 (Scottish Premiership) - Celtic 3-2 Rangers - 0.6 to 0.87xG

26/2/23 (League Cup Final) - Celtic 2-1 Rangers - 1.91 to 1.17xG

2/1/23 (Scottish Premiership) - Rangers 2-2 Celtic - 1.83 to 1.02xG

Yesterday, Clement’s side attempted a greater number of shots (14 to 12) and recorded a higher xG (0.81 to 0.61).

Expected goals do not tell the whole story of the game. For example, there was no value attributed to Cyriel Dessers’ one-on-one yesterday because the Nigerian failed to attempt a shot at the end of his run. And in a good number of meetings this season, the 3-2 league encounter in April, 1-0 reverse in September and Scottish Cup meeting last season, Celtic have been ahead for a large part of the game and likely limited their attacking output as a result.

Even considering the game state, however, stats back up the clear emergence of a pattern that has cost the Ibrox side dearly all year. In nervy fixtures against Celtic with fine margins, they’ve lacked players, James Tavernier aside, capable of scoring half chances and deciding the difference. In moments of ascendency, the Ibrox side have been unable to capitalise ruthlessly like Celtic.

Rangers’ area of significant outlay this summer was, of course, the attack. So far, the money spent on Dessers and Sam Lammers has not come close to returning to the game-deciding quality it was supposed to. Danilo’s shown promise when in the side but injury issues have prevented the Brazilian from a run of form to determine whether he’s the long-term answer at No.9.

Clearly in each one of the Old Firm derbies played out this year, only one side have been able to call upon a decisive scorer. Discounting a 3-0 win in May when the league was over, the only Rangers attackers to net in the fixture were Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos.

Clement had “questions” over the officiating in yesterday’s meeting. Citing a lack of second yellows for, presumably, Paulo Bernardo and Alastair Johnson as well as voicing his displeasure at the “excuse” of an offside offered up when VAR refused to send Nick Walsh to the screen for what appeared a clear handball by the Celtic right-back. Outside of those incidents, there was still more than enough in this game for the away side. This was another story of opportunities missed.

Both teams took risks with their respective approaches. Celtic’s intense pressure and risky passing out from the back ensured they were pressed into errors and at points the defensive high line was exposed - both situations resulted in the away side creating transitional attacks they failed to execute. 

In contrast, Rangers’ reluctance to play through the midfield didn’t allow them the control to relieve pressure in key moments, notably in the lead-up to Bernardo’s opener. Celtic's spell of pressure originated with a well-executed press when Rangers attempted to play out down the right-hand side and they sustained their territory until the goal from a corner with the visitors unable to get up the pitch.

READ MORE: Rangers seek SFA audio after Abdallah Sima penalty call against Celtic

It was not only Dessers’ one-on-one chance that qualified as a ‘moment’ missed. Clement’s men were the better side for the opening 20 minutes while failing to score when in the ascendency, unlike their opponents.

There was this chance at the edge of the box when Todd Cantwell failed to release Abdallah Sima. The No.13 appeared to take a heavy touch as he turned which offered Celtic the split-second required to recover a two-vs-three into a three-vs-three.

Moments before, Dessers was slow to play the ball to his left where his side had an overload after Dujon Sterling won the ball back and dug out a good cross.

After a clever backheel from Ross McCausland around 20 minutes in, Sima should’ve found Dessers’ angled run instead of shooting.

McCausland could’ve perhaps played in Sima, whose run was made in vain again, after Butland found the winger running behind.

Dessers, somehow, didn't pull the trigger when one-on-one after effective pressing from the visitors created another opening.

Most notably, Kieran Dowell’s decision to shoot from this narrow angle when Tavernier was free at the back post in injury time as Mikey Johnson repeatedly failed to track the Rangers right-back was a huge chance missed. Tavernier would have had a free header at goal to level the game.

Kyogo’s strike from a 0.05xG chance and Bernardo’s finish from a 0.06xG effort confirm that Celtic did not require clear openings to score. Although Kyogo’s effort perhaps exposed an area of Connor Goldson’s game which is not a strength - defending on his toes when being pulled into the midfield - his strike just like the game’s first goal appeared unstoppable.

What about the origin of the opener? Celtic had four corners in the game which all arrived before the half-hour mark, three from the left and one from the right. Given Luis Palma was taking from either side, Rangers had to vary defending against inswingers and outswingers just as Celtic’s structure differed.

Look at the first two corners from the left taken after four and nine minutes. Notice the positioning of Cantwell and McCausland marking short options and Kyogo as the free man at the back post.

The set-up is different at the scene of the goal, given it’s an outswinger from the right. This time only one Celtic player is offering a short option but both McCausland and Cantwell are drawn towards Callum McGregor at the edge of the box. Instead of five players attacking the six-yard box, Celtic have six and the visitors don’t react to this alteration.

Bernardo makes a curved run from the back post as the cross is delivered. Should Tavernier have moved with him? The captain’s instruction would’ve likely been to stay and defend his zone.

Should one of McCausland or Cantwell drop off to protect the six-yard box with an extra attacker to defend? More likely. Whether it was a deliberate ploy by the hosts or not to move one more man from the edge into the box, it proved effective. Bernardo was the free man at the back post this time, curving his run to the centre before scoring.

For all this being said, the chance only arrives because of Sima’s poor defensive header. How fine are the margins between Kyogo heading the ball into a Rangers path from first-half Tavernier free-kicks instead of away to safety? Very.

But too many Old Firm fixtures have been decided by fine margins this year for fortune to be blamed.

Does the top-line stat of Rangers ‘out-xGing’ Celtic in six out of seven Old Firm matches this season suggest that they should’ve won all those fixtures? Not at all. This isn’t a magic stat to predict football games and ultimately is a guide which doesn’t consider the quality of a player’s finish.

Does it show definitively that Rangers will not break free from this year's pattern until they have a player, or players, outside of Tavernier capable of deciding matches with low-quality chances and capitalizing on errors? Definitely.