Celtic drawing Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final means the clubs are likely to play each other three times in the next seven weeks.
It has been posited that this prospect will not necessarily be as welcomed by followers of Brendan Rodgers’ side as much as would have been the case only four months ago. Perhaps the reverse may be true, though. For the assignments against red-hot derby rivals that begin with Sunday’s visit to Ibrox appears as if it will require them to show their best face.
They haven’t done that much this season following up their remarkable unbeaten treble. Yet, the patchy and uneven form produced across much of this season – again evident as they overcame a robust and compact Morton in Saturday’s quarter-final – has been no impediment to putting them on the cusp of a monumental historic achievement.
An unprecedented second consecutive clean sweep of Scotland’s domestic honours is very much within the grasp of Rodgers’ side. Indeed, it may only be a matter of six games away. Three of these required wins could be claimed through the trio of meetings with a Rangers side that boast better form than their rivals for the first time since their promotion two years ago. A six-point gap with a game in hand provides Celtic no cause for alarm about the outcome but defeat could cause a degree of discomfort.
The straightforward dismissal of Falkirk by Graeme Murty’s men yesterday brought them a sixth straight domestic victory. Celtic’s best such sequence this season is four games. A far cry from the 28-game winning run that saw them lay waste to Scottish opposition in Rodgers unrepeatable debut season. A huge factor in their invincibility was the lethal contribution of Scott Sinclair. The winger is a shadow of the performer that hoovered up the player of the year honours and it wasn’t until he was replaced at half-time on Saturday by Odsonne Edouard that Celtic were able to step up their intensity and pull their Championship opponents apart.
The on-loan Paris Saint-Germain player linked well with Moussa Dembele, who claimed a double – his 62nd headed opener followed by him being fouled just outside the box but granted a penalty anyway by referee John Beaton that he dispatched with aplomb.
In the final minute, Edouard struck the goal deserved by a contribution that must have Rodgers considering partnering him with his fellow Frenchman at Ibrox.
The Irishman fielded a back three at the weekend, with £1million January signing Marvin Compper making what he admitted was a “bumpy” start. That was down to a misplaced pass of a first touch for his new club leading to a second-minute opening for the visitors.
Rodgers must decide whether Compper is sufficiently close to match sharpness after two months on the sidelines to be let loose on a Rangers side scoring freely.
Edouard was described as the “key to the cup win” by his manager and, after a third goal in his past five starts, it would surprise were the powerful and purposeful 20-year-old not given a first taste of the derby.
“For me, this is the most important match of the year,” he said. “It’s against our biggest rivals. On these days, victory for the fans is very important. You cannot think about defeat. That’s why we’re all working towards a victory. We know it will be hard at Rangers’ home but we are used to high-pressure situations.
“Of course I hope I have done enough to be included in the game.
“It’s the same every day. I want to play in every match. I’ll need to work hard this week and see what the manager decides. It would mean everything to me to be involved.”