This specific Celtic v Rangers clash acquires new mark of quality - and how key men play it will be fascinating

Along with the usual fanfare associated with the countdown to games between Celtic and Rangers, there would be no surprise if the Celtic Park DJ dropped the Champions League theme tune into the medley of pre-match tunes.

The opening Old Firm derby of the season is a Champions League game in all but name on this occasion.

It is also the only league fixture that could ensure the danger that players’ minds might drift towards encounters with Real Madrid and Ajax in the real version of that tournament next midweek is a redundant concept.

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Ange Postecoglou certainly scoffed at the suggestion that this was a potential risk.

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst has tactical decisions to ponder ahead of the trip to Celtic Park.
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“You know the answer, mate,” the Celtic manager said. “Look, that game will be great, but I’d hate to think what our supporters would think if I somehow was looking at one game 24 hours out from a derby.

“All our focus is on what happens this weekend. After that, we’ll look to Tuesday.”

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The Spanish aristocrats can wait their turn. Even given all the glamour attached to that fixture, there’s little point asking a Celtic fan which of the two games they’d rather win. The same applies to Rangers supporters given the choice of three points in the east end of Glasgow or three in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Focus is guaranteed to be trained on the task in hand with Rangers particularly desperate to do what they did last season and win the first meeting between the teams.

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Celtic striker Kyogo Furuhashi has started this season in blistering form.

They can ill-afford to let a five-point gap develop. Not that there are any guarantees. As much as many treated it as the first significant step on the march to glory, the win last August, thanks to Filip Helander’s thumping header, did not herald a second successive title.

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By the time they next played, over five months later, Postecoglou's new signings and the manager himself had settled in. Celtic blew their rivals away to take over at the league summit. They didn’t relinquish top spot again.

It will be a surprise if there’s a repeat of such a one-sided fixture today. Even the very evident respect between Postecoglou and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, his opposite number, speaks of higher standards. It is a meeting between a side who contested a European final as recently as May and one writing re-writing the record books at a club that’s been in existence since 1888.

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That’s not to say the clash will be any less fiercely contested. Nor is there likely to be any less niggle. It just seems suddenly to have acquired a new mark of quality.

Antonio Colak has made an instant impression at Rangers since his arrival from PAOK.
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Although not quite the same as when the likes of Ronald De Boer and Henrik Larsson went head-to-head, the protagonists are as accomplished - and, indeed, exciting - as has been the case for several years.

Kyogo Furuhashi and Jota will relish this lunchtime appointment while Antonio Colak, Rangers’ main goal threat, has already demonstrated what he can do on the big stage. The slightly low rent feel of Graeme Murty trying to outwit Ronnie Deila has long since been shed.

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Television-watching neutrals presented with a straight choice between Old Firm and Merseyside derbies might be tempted by the former on this occasion. That wouldn't always have been the case in the past.

Such an improvement does come at a cost and inevitably, it’s the Scots who have paid the price. Celtic will likely feature just two in their starting line-up. It is very possible Rangers might have only one – goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin.

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The retention of Glen Kamara’s services amidst interest from Nice reduces the chances of Ryan Jack starting, for example. Van Bronckhorst is likely to play the Finn alongside John Lundstrum, as happened to such good effect last month in Eindhoven.

“That really helps in big games, when you have the control,” the Ibrox manager said. “That’s what we have to show tomorrow as well – the desire to win and the willingness to do everything to get a result.

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“We also have to make sure that when we have the ball we play the game we want. In the last two games we did that. Tomorrow that will also be important.”

Van Bronckhorst claimed that he will settle on a strategy as late as this morning after a discussion with his coaches.

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“We have trained really well and we still have a meeting tomorrow about the way we want to play and our game plan,” he said. “But from what I have seen from this squad is that they are always prepared for anything that can happen in games. Tomorrow will be the same.

“When you are concentrating on your performance when you are on the pitch - when you have the ball, when you have to press - those are movements we trained for in the last couple of days. You have to show that in games even though the atmosphere will be very hectic and hostile. It is our job to perform in any circumstances we will face.”

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The busy schedule in recent weeks has helped create a sense of this fixture having been overshadowed although Celtic have at least been spared the relentless chore of early European qualifiers. That, too, could be a factor.

Not that Postecoglou was taking seriously any suggestion that the game has been robbed of some of its lustre due to it falling between the transfer window deadline and opening Champions League commitments.

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“It might be low key in your household mate, but I can assure you I’ve not seen that to be the case!” he stressed after this was put to him.

“People haven’t failed to mention the fact we’re playing a derby. It’s a significant game.

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“They (Rangers) have started the season strongly as well and we’ll have to play to the best of our ability.

“At the game time, we’ve been consistent and improved a little every week, and that’s what we’ll take into this game. We know we are hard to stop when we are at our best.”