Mark Warburton has already been scolded by Graeme Souness for claiming Sunday’s Old Firm clash is “just another game”.
Now Ronny Deila has disputed this description of a match the Celtic manager believes captures the imagination of the entire country.
“You can’t say that,” said Deila yesterday, ahead of Sunday’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final clash. “It’s a game of football but it’s a special one.
“This is not just about the clubs, you can see it involves the whole country. It’s a big, big game and something we’re really looking forward to.”
Souness, in interviews at Hampden on Monday, also rubbished Warburton’s contention.
“Really?” he said, when informed that Warburton had downplayed the significance of the fixture. “Well it certainly isn’t [just another game]. It’s the biggest derby I’ve been involved in.”
Warburton has not tasted an Old Firm derby yet so might well change his tune after Sunday. Deila secured a straightforward victory in his first and, to date, only game against Rangers, in last season’s League Cup semi-final. Asked in an interview with Sky Sports whether this gave him the upper hand over Warburton, Deila said: “We will see on Sunday.
“But of course we also have a lot of players here who know this derby. And that’s always a positive thing.”
Celtic have been given a boost with the news central defender Erik Sviatchenko, one of those without Old Firm experience, is recovering from a thigh strain sustained last week against Dundee and could feature.
“He has a good chance so we will see,” said Deila. “It’s too early to tell right now but it’s only a grade one pulled muscle so I think he has a good chance.”
Dedryck Boyata, another centre-half, missed training yesterday with something Deila described as “just a small thing”. He added: “Everybody knows what’s coming up and they want to make themselves ready for Sunday now.”
Deila seemed unconcerned – for now – by the furore over the state of the pitch, but is happy the Hampden authorities are relaying the grass. “It’s good that they are trying everything to get a good pitch because that’s good for everybody,” he said.
The manager issued a reminder that Celtic won last year on a poor surface, and hoped for the same outcome again. A victory, he conceded, would help put a potentially different complexion on a season that seems certain to end with the Premiership title, at least.
“Two trophies, of course, is better than one,” he said. “That would be much better. “We have put ourselves in a good position in the league but this is one game and it’s going to be tight.”
After the publication of the top and bottom six fixtures yesterday, it emerged Celtic, eight points ahead of Aberdeen, could claim the title against their nearest challengers at Celtic Park on 8 May. “We can’t think so far ahead,” said Deila. “You can have dreams but it’s about taking every game very seriously and doing your best. I don’t take anything for granted. It’s going to be hard work, the whole way.”
Celtic defender Mikael Lustig admitted he found last season’s Old Firm League Cup semi-final a stroll in the park but believes the pressure will be on his side on Sunday. “We got two goals up quite quick last year and then controlled the game,” he recalled.
“Goals always change games, especially in a semi-final. But when you get the lead you don’t want to play a different kind of football and I think we did well for 90 minutes. It felt quite easy but it could be different this time.”