With the title gone, their main aim is to prevent newly-crowned champions Rangers going through the whole league campaign unbeaten - a once-a-century feat when Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic did it in 2016-17. Beyond that, the Parkhead side will be looking to avoid three straight home defeats against their bitter rivals for the first time in 29 years, and ensure they do not lose the first three league meetings between the Glasgow leviathans since the 1996-97 season.
Celtic interim manager John Kennedy must be willing to embrace positivity, though, in effecting a team change for an encounter that retains huge significance. Apart from the outcome and Nir Bitton’s momentum-altering needless red-card the last time the teams met in January, there was little wrong with Celtic’s display at Ibrox. They comprehensively outplayed their hosts...to the extent the game is the only one in the past decade in which Rangers have failed to fashion a single shot on target.
Celtic’s loss as the result of a Callum McGregor own goal was punishment for a series of missed chances. That afternoon, they operated with a twin strikeforce, and a midfield diamond. Frankly, with no forward but Odsonne Edouard justifying a start at the weekend, Kennedy should be open to tweaking that formation while retaining key elements.
Ismaila Soro operated impressively at the base of the diamond for his first experience of the fixture, but the Ivorian has since made way for Scott Brown. The game management of the Celtic veteran across the past two months has demonstrated his continued value. Yet an assignment against Rangers represents a step-up in intensity. The confrontation can be considered akin to those in Europe, wherein the 35-year-old’s inability to cover the ground as quickly as in his prime has engendered issues. The more fleet-footed but less naturally physical Soro can, then, be Brown’s foil.
The two players have never started together for Celtic. Fielding them as effectively double-anchors would allow Kennedy to set his team out in an enterptising 4-2-3-1. In this configuration, ahead of the Brown-Soro axis would be David Turnbull, flanked by Ryan Christie and McGregor to the right and left of him, respectively. This would replicate an attack line that had so much joy pinning Rangers in last time, and one propelled by the industry Christie and McGregor offered in wider roles.
The extra insurance offered by linking Brown and Soro would allow Turnbull to push up and play in and around Edouard. The slick interplay between the 21-year-old and the Frenchman - Celtic’s two principal goal sources in 2021 - has been one of the more progressive facets of the deposed champions’ stuttering form of late.
The 4-2-3-1 allows for flexibility - as evidenced by Rangers’ manager Steven Gerrard switching into it from his default 4-3-3 on occasion. And, of course, represents the system with which Celtic stormed to a first modern-day unbeaten league campaign. The uniqueness of which they should be now hell-bent on preserving.
Celtic’s best XI for Sunday (4-2-3-1): Bain; Kenny, Welsh, Ajer, Laxalt; Brown, Soro; Christie, Turnbull, McGregor; Edouard.