Celtic head to Ibrox on Sunday knowing that a win will hand them the initiative over Rangers in the title race, while even avoiding defeat would mean that their destiny would remain in their own hands.

Here are five things that Brendan Rodgers’ side must do if they are to earn their third win of the season over their city rivals, and the most crucial to date.


It seems that all season, Celtic manager Rodgers has been forced to explain why the attacking section of his team hasn’t been functioning at full tilt. There have been injuries, the loss of key personnel like Jota and Liel Abada, and acclimatisation periods for those who have stepped into the breach.

Perhaps chief amongst the reasons for their stilted attacking play at times, and certainly the main explanation put forward for the struggles of Kyogo Furuhashi for stretches of this season, has been that teams have been lying in ever deeper low blocks against Celtic and denying their attacking players any space in behind.

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Ironically then, it may be that matches against their strongest domestic opponent suit Celtic’s strengths best, with the Ibrox crowd not likely to accept any notion of their team sitting back or keeping their full backs at home.

Rangers will push both James Tavernier and Ridvan Yilmaz on and leave the sort of space in behind that the likes of Kyogo and Daizen Maeda feast upon.

Even lesser teams like Motherwell have managed to counter on Rangers effectively lately, the Fir Park men sealing a shock Ibrox win by exploiting that space on the transition, while Hibs also got a lot of joy on the counter last weekend without executing their opportunities.

Celtic’s ability to do so could be a critical factor in the outcome. It is not by chance that Kyogo has flourished against Rangers over the past year while not being at his best over the piece.


One of Celtic’s weaknesses, undoubtedly, is their ability to defend set plays. They have one of the worst records in the league for conceding directly from corners, for instance, losing four goals this way, and opposition teams often target this vulnerability.

Goalkeeper Joe Hart has been an excellent servant for Celtic and has been in fine form of late, but he has a reluctance to leave his goal line when defending corners, and when you witness the costly equaliser they lost to Motherwell late on back in November, for example, it is easy to see why.

Knowing this, teams tend to swing the ball right in on top of him, managing to get joy by loading the six-yard box. The back post area is also a concern, as evidenced as Lawrence Shankland scored a free header in Hearts’ 2-0 win in December at Celtic Park.

The crumb of comfort for Celtic fans is that Rangers aren’t particularly prolific in converting their corners into goals, but James Tavernier and Ridvan Yilmaz will undoubtedly look to profit from this avenue by whipping the ball in on top of Hart, and both the goalkeeper and his centre backs must stand up to it.


The Celtic skipper has been a pivotal figure in these matches in recent years, with Celtic’s success almost always directly related to the influence that McGregor can have on these games. When he does well, Celtic tend to do well, and when Rangers manage to blunt his influence, they tend to have a better chance of taking something.

The games this season at Ibrox and Celtic Park have been a case in point, with McGregor running the show in both of them as Rodgers’ men recorded wins on both occasions, and there is no doubt that Rangers manager Philippe Clement will be working this week on devising a strategy to at least get someone close to the midfielder.

Rodgers has been somewhat coy over the fitness of McGregor, playing down the severity of his Achilles problem at times but admitting it is a long-standing issue and that he has been in some discomfort.

My gut feeling is that he is being held back for this game precisely because of how important the fixture is in the context of the title race, and how pivotal his influence on these matches can be.

If the Celtic midfield holy trinity of McGregor, Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley is finally restored, their chances of winning will greatly increase.


This point is two-fold, with Celtic having to blank out any narrative around this fixture in the build up this week, and then manage the fact that they will have 50,000-odd hostile Rangers fans to contend with on Sunday and no Celtic supporters in attendance to counter their din.

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This is where the experience of manager Rodgers will be vital, and the Celtic manager expertly guided his players through both of these exact same scenarios when he took his team to Ibrox in the first Old Firm clash of the season in early September.

Celtic travelled across the city at well under full strength due to injuries, particularly in their backline, and the groundswell of opinion in the days prior to the game was that Rangers would have too much for the depleted champions.

They managed the situation brilliantly though, recording a clean sheet and coming away with a huge victory thanks to Kyogo’s opportunistic strike.

Celtic are in a much better place in terms of the strength of their team as they come into this one, with Cameron Carter-Vickers back and Hatate returning to the midfield. If they can get their captain McGregor on the pitch too, they should have a great chance, with those experienced men likely to also be vital in handling the occasion.


The winger had a slow start to his Celtic career as his dental issues and subsequent weight loss stunted his trademark burst of pace, but he has now regained his strength and looks a different proposition altogether on the right of the Celtic attack.

He followed up something of a break-out performance against Livingston in the Scottish Cup win with a goal against St Johnstone, and he was impressive again in the league win over Livi on Sunday.

This will be a different kettle of fish altogether, but Kuhn has been on the books of some big European clubs and said himself that he has sampled some huge derbies.

This would be a great time to show he has that big game pedigree, and that he has arrived as a Celtic player.