Callum McGregor believes the incentive of remaining undefeated against domestic opponents this season will sharpen the minds of the Celtic players as they embrace a hectic spell of five games in 15 days before the winter break.
The Scottish champions will look to make it 20 games unbeaten in the Premiership and League Cup under Brendan Rodgers so far when they face Dundee at Celtic Park today.
It is a sequence they hope to extend in the remainder of December with another home match against Partick Thistle on Tuesday night followed by a Christmas Eve trip to Hamilton. Ross County visit Parkhead on 28 December, before Celtic round off 2016 with the Old Firm showdown against Rangers at Ibrox on Hogmanay.
The post-war record of 26 domestic matches unbeaten from the start of a season, set by Celtic’s Lisbon Lions side in their triumphant 1966-67 campaign, is now within sight of Rodgers’ men.
“We said at the start of the season that we wanted to try to go unbeaten and do well in every game and it’s worked out that way so far,” said midfielder McGregor. “We’ve got a big focus on the next few games now to take us into the new year unbeaten.
“We want to win every game that we go into anyway, but there is that added focus that we don’t want to get beat to keep that run going. You’re not going to play well in every game, but as long as you can find a way to win, as we did last Tuesday night when we beat Hamilton 1-0 at home, that breeds confidence and we can be on a really good run.
“To be fair, the boys are just looking to the next game against Dundee for the moment and the manager is big on focusing on the next game. So that’s all we’ve been doing since the start of the season.
“I think we become a bigger scalp every week for the other teams, but again that’s down to us to prepare properly and go into every game with the right focus. We know Dundee will be a tough game, they’ve come to Celtic Park in recent seasons and done well.”
Rangers striker Kenny Miller stated earlier this week that the Ibrox men will not give up their pursuit of Celtic at the top of the Premiership, despite the significant gap already opened up, and insisted the champions are not unbeatable.
McGregor was unmoved by Miller’s comments and stressed that the Celtic players will not be distracted from their ambitions.
“Listen, we can let everyone else talk about what we are doing or what they are doing,” added McGregor. “We just know in here that we’re working hard, trying to improve and that we go out and try to win every game that we play and perform well.”
McGregor is relishing life under Rodgers at Celtic. The 23-year-old has established himself as a valuable member of the squad this season, showing his adaptability in a number of different roles where the former Liverpool boss has deployed him.
“Even though I’ve not started every game, everyone is playing their part and I’ve chipped in with a few goals and a few assists,” he said.
“It’s a great squad to be a part of. We’re on this run and enjoying the whole atmosphere, the whole regime – it’s been great. It’s been brilliant the way we’ve started the season. Everyone seems to be enjoying it, the manager seems to be enjoying it and there is a real feelgood factor to be part of.
“The manager has done a bit of everything for me, really, from the tactical side of the game and learning to deal with different situations that happen in a game. He’s got massive experience and anything you take from that will help you every day.
“I’ll play anywhere to get a game for Celtic. That’s been the case in the last few weeks as I’ve played in a few different positions. I’m always happy to help the team and play anywhere.
“Everybody is playing their part and the team is doing so well and when you get in you want to be a part of that. So everybody that’s not playing are working hard in training and when they get their opportunity, they’re desperate to impress.
“That breeds confidence in the whole group and everybody is happy. This could be a special season for Celtic and, especially as a home grown player, it would be great to be a part of that. So whenever you get the chance to play, you try to do as well as you possibly can to help the team.”