Relaxed Brendan Rodgers hails 'remarkable' Callum McGregor return and says storyline against Rangers is 'opportunity'

Captain is set to return from injury in time for clash at Ibrox

Brendan Rodgers believes Celtic are coming to the boil nicely for the title run-in as he prepares to welcome captain Callum McGregor back for Sunday’s mouthwatering showdown with city rivals Rangers.

The Hoops have been hindered by injuries to key men throughout the campaign but the possible return of winger Luis Palma and their influential skipper could restore them to full strength for the trip to Ibrox. McGregor has been sidelined for the last four matches with an Achilles issue sustained in the 7-1 win over Dundee at the end of February, and Rodgers is relishing the prospect of having the 30-year-old back in the frame at a time when Celtic hold a one-point advantage over a Gers side with a game in hand.

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“We’ll do one final run with Callum tomorrow in our last session but he’s done remarkable to be back, he’s way ahead of schedule from what we thought,” said Rodgers, who cut a relaxed figure during his pre-match media briefing on Friday. “It just shows you his professionalism and how hard he’s worked so he’ll be involved in the squad, and if he is, then it’s great news for us in every capacity because we’ll have a clean bill of health, really, for probably the first time this season. But we’ll make a final call on that tomorrow.

Celtic's Callum McGregor trains ahead of the Rangers match on Sunday.Celtic's Callum McGregor trains ahead of the Rangers match on Sunday.
Celtic's Callum McGregor trains ahead of the Rangers match on Sunday.

“He’s the type of player who can probably get by at 80 per cent. He has that level, that quality. But you also have to think about the fact there are remaining games throughout the season. It’s just about being logical and finding out where he’s at with all his tests and measurements. He’s been training, and clearly his quality is there, but we just have to gauge whether he starts, whether he comes into the game or what involvement he has.”

Celtic won 1-0 on their last visit to Ibrox back in September without influential players like Cameron Carter-Vickers and Reo Hatate, so Rodgers – who clearly feels his team have adopted the role of underdogs in the title race – is heartened by the prospect of going across the city with his full squad available. “The squad is much stronger (than September),” he said. “Just piecing together what the team and bench might be, we are going to have a bench that can really affect the game if needed.

“That power, pace and quality. We have a lot of tools that we didn’t have available earlier in the season but still, the mindset is important in these games and we go with a positive mind. They’re always big games and that’s what I’ve always relished and loved. Celtic v Rangers, Rangers v Celtic, they’re always fantastic games. The storyline for me is always about opportunity.

“I go back to the first game (at Ibrox). It wasn’t just a good lesson in football, but also in life because in that first game individually, collectively, as a club we were written off arriving into Ibrox, and it feels as if the narrative is pretty much the same, even though both teams are on four wins and a loss from their last five games. For me, it’s about the opportunity to go there and, like what we did earlier in the season and what we have done on a number of occasions, show that we have that mentality to get through any difficult moments in the game for us, but then come through in the end. That will be our focus this weekend.”

Brendan Rodgers cuts a relaxed figure ahead of the Old Firm derby.Brendan Rodgers cuts a relaxed figure ahead of the Old Firm derby.
Brendan Rodgers cuts a relaxed figure ahead of the Old Firm derby.

With another derby to come at Celtic Park after the split, Rodgers does not see Sunday’s game as make-or-break for either team. “There will still be six games for us, so there are still a lot of games,” he said. “It might not seem a lot of games but it is a lot of games in a football context because so much can change in those six games. My focus is purely on getting a positive result and then we can assess it afterwards. This is an important game for both teams. Our mindset is to go and do what we did earlier in the season, which is to win.”



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