Celtic head into their first league fixture against bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers in four years in a confident mood.
They’ve just about booked their place in the group stages of the Champions League and they are so far unbeaten in the league. All of which has seen Brendan Rodgers pick up the August manager of the month award.
However, having taken over at Celtic during the summer, the former Liverpool boss must now face into an Old Firm derby game that will arguably top anything he has experienced on Merseyside. The Hoops go into the game with a one-point advantage over their neighbours, but have also played a game less. A victory on Saturday would be a huge step towards retaining the title, even at such an early stage of the season.
In his pre-match press conference, Rodgers acknowledged the enormity and uniqueness of the fixture:
“Every derby is different. Having experienced derbies before there is a uniqueness to each one and this is iconic throughout the world and one that I am really looking forward to.”
They may be hot favourites, but they won’t have it all their own way at Celtic Park. Rangers have enjoyed a solid start of their own since their return to the top flight. Under manager Mark Warburton, whom Rodgers worked with at Watford, Rangers are also unbeaten in the league this season with two wins and two draws propelling them to second place.
For Rangers and their fans, who realistically won’t have their sights set on winning the league this year, the battles against Celtic will each carry an extra layer of importance. Celtic may ultimately win the war, but if Rangers can topple their arch-rivals in Saturday’s game it will go a long way to easing the pain endured over the last four seasons.
Realistically though, logic would suggest that Rodgers’ men will have too much for their opponents on this occasion. They have made some sensible signings during the summer, bringing in Scott Sinclair from relegated Aston Villa and added veteran Kolo Toure to their defensive line-up. With Leigh Griffiths continuing to find the net up front, they will be confident of a comfortable victory.
This, however, is not a game that can be won on paper. It will be a fiery and emotional affair.
Referee Willie Collum will have a tough task on his hands, and any indiscipline from either side could be a deciding factor in the outcome. Joey Barton and his team-mates will undoubtedly try to set down an early marker, but ultimately you’d expect the Old Firm bragging rights will go to the green half of Glasgow this time around.
Ger Power, Pundit Arena