MURDO MacLEOD believes Ronny Deila’s reputation and credibility as Celtic manager is on the line this Sunday when he faces his first Old Firm assignment.
Deila remains in contention for all three domestic honours in his first season in the job and also has a Europa League last 32 tie against Inter Milan to look forward to in February.
But former Celtic midfielder and assistant manager MacLeod is adamant that the League Cup semi-final against Rangers carries the greatest significance for the Norwegian coach. The beleaguered Ibrox side go into the tie as massive underdogs against the Scottish champions and MacLeod feels it is a match Deila simply must not lose.
He said: “This is a massive period coming up for him in all competitions but I think the Rangers game is up there with any of them.
“Especially for the fans, you’ve got to beat Rangers when you haven’t played them for three years.
“Every Old Firm fan has been waiting for this game and with Celtic being the favourites going into it, Ronny Deila is going to get so much stick if they don’t win.
“It would be a sore one for him, with Rangers not being in the top flight and not playing as well as Celtic have been playing. The Celtic fans wouldn’t be happy and the Rangers fans would be partying for weeks. It would be the first highlight for Rangers in a long time.”
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MacLeod added: “Ronny would get plenty of stick and it would depend on how he recovered from it. I don’t mean just being knocked out the cup, but how he does in the league. That’s the most important thing.
“With Aberdeen having put in a challenge, there has been a wee bit of pressure on Celtic which they haven’t had to play under for a while. So they have to look at themselves and be more consistent.
“It’s a massive time for the manager, one that could see him advance in both domestic cups and progress in Europe. But I don’t think the Europa League games are the most important for him now. You have to look at the cup games, against Rangers in the League Cup and then Dundee in the Scottish Cup, and the league.”
Deila has declared he will be happy to win the Premiership title by a single point this season, although since he made that statement Celtic have reclaimed top spot from Aberdeen and are now three points clear with a game in hand.
MacLeod added: “If he had said that at the start of the season, about winning it by a point, I’d have found it strange.
“But now with the games closing in and the quality both Aberdeen and Dundee United have shown, I’m not so sure.
“The title is not a gimme any more for Celtic. I felt when they had that run of eight straight victories before Christmas, everything in the garden was rosy. Then they lost at Tannadice and drew at home to Ross County while Aberdeen were suddenly the team with momentum.
“Celtic have come back with another run of wins but I still think there is going to be a challenge from Aberdeen and maybe United. With the quality Celtic have, though, they should be comfortably clear at the top of the table already.
“Aberdeen have improved a lot. They are a well organised side with a good defence. I was at the game at Pittodrie when Celtic won 2-1 with a last-minute goal from Virgil van Dijk and there wasn’t much between the teams. I look back to 1986 when I was in the Celtic team which won the league on the last day of the season after Hearts had been at the top for so long.
“Hearts were hard to beat and didn’t really drop any daft points for a long time.
“That’s what Aberdeen need to do if they want to sustain a challenge for the rest of the season.”