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Jack Butland vs Matt O’Riley: Rangers and Celtic’s prized assets

The Old Firm game always throws up an array of extra narratives and among them this weekend are the futures of both clubs’ prized assets, as we approach the summer transfer window.

There was intense speculation in January that both Celtic midfielder Matt O’Riley and Rangers goalkeeper Jack Butland would leave Scotland, with O’Riley the subject of a significant bid from Atletico Madrid, while Rangers reportedly rejected at least one approach from a Premier League club for Butland.

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers was subsequently forced to speak publicly about keeping O’Riley, while Butland has since admitted he and his agent agreed with Gers’ staff that the time was not right to go – but there is expected to be serious interest in both of them again this summer.

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Relive all the goals from this season’s Old Firm matches as Rangers and Celtic prepare to go head to head again

The pair have been outstanding for the respective clubs in different ways, with O’Riley’s form earning him a breakthrough into the Denmark team while Butland is back on the England radar. Not only are both firmly in the running for Scottish Premiership Player of the Season (the odds currently have O’Riley as favourite), but they could also be running out for their countries at Euro 2024.

But before all that, both players have a crucial game in the hunt for the Scottish Premiership title this weekend, with just a point separating the two sides with eight games left for Rangers and seven for Celtic. Both players will want to come out on top, both in terms of their personal and team performances.

Midfield maestro O’Riley on top clubs’ radars

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 28: Celtic's Matt O'Riley celebrates after scoring to make it 3-0 during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and Dundee at Celtic Park, on February 28, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Image: Matt O’Riley has scored 12 goals for Celtic this season, providing 16 assists

It is almost 12 months ago that Sky Sports highlighted how O’Riley had smashed the data in Scotland on the way to lifting the Premiership title with Celtic, topping the charts on assists, chances created, winning the ball in the final third, and much more.

The test this season would be if he could continue to push his level even further ahead and he has done that, which is what attracted Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Girona and clubs in the Premier League to look seriously at signing him in the January window, or getting ahead of competitors for this summer.

O’Riley’s first half of this season was outstanding in particular – instrumental in the Old Firm victories at Ibrox in September and December, as well as away wins at Aberdeen and Hearts, and the 2-2 draw with Atletico in the Champions League that undoubtedly drew the eyes of Diego Simeone and the Atletico board.

O'RILEY

In his slightly adapted central midfield role under Rodgers, O’Riley scored every game bar two in September and then scored three weeks in a row in December too, while continuing to top the charts in assists, where he currently remains. He has also been involved in the most goals (23) of any player in the division so far and has more touches in the opposition box than anyone else.

Atletico and a raft of others from the Premier League and beyond are continuing to monitor his progress closely in the run-up to the summer, and – if in all likelihood – he goes to the Euros with Denmark and impresses there, Celtic will surely receive another club-record fee for the 23-year-old if they do decide to sell him in the next transfer window.

Butland the ideal Allan McGregor successor – but for how long?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Rangers' Jack Butland at full time during a cinch Premiership match between Rangers and Heart of Midlothian at Ibrox Stadium, on February 24, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Image: Rangers goalkeeper Jack Butland has kept 17 clean sheets in the Premiership this season

Butland has been instrumental in helping Philippe Clement revitalise Rangers since his appointment in October. Outstanding saves away to Sparta Prague and Real Betis in the Europa League ultimately helped Rangers win their group, while his reflexes were instrumental in seeing his side end their long wait for League Cup success.

But it is in the Premiership where Butland’s biggest impact has been felt. He has kept 17 clean sheets in 30 Premiership games, while the team has conceded just 17 league goals this season.

A highlights reel of his top saves from this campaign would not be hard to compile but perhaps his best came away to Kilmarnock in late February. Rangers were already 1-0 down at a ground that has proved problematic in recent seasons when, just after the interval, Butland got down low to somehow deny Matty Kennedy from 10 yards with a fine one-handed stop. Rangers rallied after the outstanding save to win the game 2-1 and preserve their lead at the top of the table.

Commanding in the air and in his box, quick off his line and a reliable last bastion of defence, Butland has reassured a backline that was in dire need of a reset in the summer, winning vital points for a team now locked in one of the tightest title battles in over a decade.

Butland already has a League Cup medal in the bag but, even if he fails to add any further team honours this campaign, the chances are he will be in the running when individual prizes are handed out at the end of the season, such has been his impact since his arrival in Scotland.

He may have missed out on an England recall over the last international break, but the feeling among the supporters who quickly adapted a song for him is that Butland is a “proper” Rangers goalkeeper, someone who, if he stays in Glasgow, will join that eminent list of ‘keepers who came before him and the ideal replacement for Allan McGregor.

Butland only signed last summer so still has three years left to run on his contract this summer, but he is an attractive prospect for any Premier League club looking for a new goalkeeper this summer.

Watch Rangers vs Celtic live on Sky Sports Football on Saturday from 11am; kick-off 12pm

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