On paper, this afternoon’s meeting at Parkhead between leaders Celtic and second-placed Aberdeen should be relatively straightforward. The champions have, after all, won every one of their last 24 home league games against the challengers.
They are also defending a 45-game unbeaten run against domestic opposition at Celtic Park which stretches back to Motherwell’s 2-1 victory against Ronny Deila’s side on 19 December 2015.
However, in the wake of the 4-0 demolition from Hearts at Tynecastle last weekend, nothing can be taken for granted. Aberdeen may have scented blood but Brendan Rodgers believes that Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Partick Thistle proved that Celtic are back on track. Then again, he never doubted that the response from his charges would be anything other than positive.
“It’s all part of the culture we have here,” the Celtic manager said. “We are very lucky because we have no d***heads; there are no pointing fingers. That’s what’s important. We are very self-reflective.
“We weren’t so good against Hearts. But, as I said to the players, you are defined on disappointment in your life. As a man and as a team, how do you respond and get up from it?
“The players did that. What could have been a very awkward game for us against a stubborn opponent [Thistle] who drew 1-1 with us at home last season went well. We controlled the game, particularly in the second half. What was important for our mentality was keeping our clean sheet again. It was a very good response.
“We win and lose together as a team and as a staff. Collectively, we didn’t have a good day [against Hearts]. But it is about how you respond to that.
“Also, it is about closing off what was an amazing achievement. Like I said, to go 585 days and 69 games without losing and win four trophies is actually a really good start. Your name is now carved in history. So now let’s push on to the next phase.”
Another home win today would see Celtic move eight points clear of Derek McInnes’s side (they were 21 points ahead of them at the same stage last year) and, due to McInnes rejecting the opportunity to take over at Rangers, Rodgers is expecting an exacting afternoon.
“I think the stability has really helped them,” he said. “Even before my time up here Aberdeen have really been the team that has been up closest to Celtic. Last year they were and they are this time as well.
“There was obviously a choice for Derek to make a number of weeks back and I think he maybe said himself at the time that maybe there was [a negative] impact on the team in the couple of games they had against Rangers but since that they’ve had a good reaction.
“They’ve shown the consistency in their last three games which they’ve had in recent years. The players look like a good honest group of boys focussed on winning games and they’ve done that.”
Full-back Kieran Tierney, meanwhile, has scoffed at suggestions from pundits Paul Ince and Mark Lawrenson on Football Focus last Saturday that, in order to improve as a player, the 20-year-old will need to leave Celtic and play in a stronger league.
“Someone had tagged me into it so I watched it on Facebook,” he said. “They’re big names in the game and they have their opinions. But I’m sure they know how big Celtic is – everyone does because we’re one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“I certainly know how big a challenge it is to play here; when you’re expected to win every week it’s difficult.
“Back in 2003 the team went on that run all the way to the Uefa Cup final, which is a great level to have played at. We have a young squad and last season we didn’t get anywhere in the Champions League group stage but this year we’re in the Europa League so we’re progressing and working hard.
“The longer we stick together the better we’re going to be. I don’t think about it too much because I’m only playing to impress my manager, my family and the fans.”
Tierney is now look forward to some time off next month. Some question the value of the winter break but the full-back is all for it. “I think I’ve played the same amount of minutes at this stage as I did in the whole of last season,” he said.
“It will be good to get some time off in January because I think the team needs it.
“It’s not only been about the last year. Since the gaffer came in we’ve been at it solid for 18 months.
“It’s been non-stop. Some of the guys got two weeks in the summer but, with the internationals, I think I got eight days.”