Celtic to be ‘best version of the team’ against Rangers, says Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers spoke to Celtic TV’s Gerry McCulloch ahead of the Glasgow Derby at Celtic Park on Saturday afternoon where a victory for the Bhoys will see our lead stretch to six points with two games to play and will also see an important increase in our goal difference which is currently plus five.

Celtic v Hearts- Scottish Premiership – Joe Hart with Callum McGregor after the 3-0 victory in the match at Celtic Park, on Saturday May 4, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

Looking back to the game against Hearts at the weekend when Celtic just about reached our strongest in terms of starting XI and the matchday squad put in the best performance of the season. With Daizen Maeda coming off the bench to great acclaim, the Celtic manager knows he now has a full squad to choose from and the team practically picks itself with Maeda for Nicolas Kuhn being the one change to the team that started against Hearts.

“It was a very good performance and we came through it really well. We’ll have a good preparation this week and we’ll really look forward to this game at the weekend,” Brendan said.

“It’s important each day just to look after the details in the game and focus on our own performance. It’s obviously the last home game for us and I’ve said it before after the last time we played at Ibrox that this game is going to be crucial for us playing in front of our own supporters so I still feel the exact same.

“But the preparation is very much based around ourselves, always respecting the opponent and what they may bring to the game but then looking at how we play and ultimately our process in the game.”

Quality of football and the determination shown at the weekend was very pleasing so is the team battle ready for theRangers game?

Alastair Johnston  vies with Scott Fraser during the Scottish Premiership match between Celtic  and Hearts at Celtic Park on May 04, 2024 (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“Yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt. We’ll arrive into the weekend’s game and this will probably be the best version of the team that I’ve had since I’ve been here. When I look at the number of injuries that we’ve had right the way through, it felt like the last weekend was about there virtually in terms of player availability and where the team is at fitness-wise.

“I think after another good week of work and concentration on the training field, then we’ll arrive into Saturday in as good a place as we’ve been all season.”

Kyogo’s double last weekend and his record against theRangers in the Glasgow Derby will be a huge concern for theRangers on Saturday.

“He clearly has a lot of joy against (the)Rangers and his two goals at the weekend, it was real quick anticipation of where the ball is going to go. He’s so alive within the box.

“And then the second one is a great pass by Matt and then it’s what he does best, playing on the shoulder of the defender and he’s timed his finish really well. It will always be about the team. There won’t be one player that will have any greater importance or burden to bear than the whole team. We’ll be very connected in the team and that’s how we always play.”

Callum McGregor at full time in the Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Hearts at Celtic Park  on May 04, 2024 . (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Callum McGregor’s double tackle against Hearts early in the second half was celebrated like a goal, according to the Celtic manager.

“Callum’s importance cannot be underestimated with this team, the experience he brings, the quality and view of the game and how inspirational a leader he is. It was just a case of building him up and that moment, that run to challenge and win the ball not once but twice… you see what the gives the supporters.

“That intensity and impression sometimes gets a bigger cheer than a pass or a goal even. But he in that moment, it was fantastic for him and the team, but also for me looking at him knowing that’s him back to the level that he’s shown.”

Pleased with the intensity of the performance against Hearts, the work-rate shown by his team was immense at the weekend.

“It is, but it’s not a choice. It’s an obligation and what you have to do. We are a running team and when we run and penetrate, when we press and when we counter-press, that’s our game. And when we take our game to that level then we play the game to a good level. That was the pleasing aspect, that defensive pressure.

“We were playing a good Hearts team who have done very well this season. They like to build the game, Steven has coached them well to build through the pitch and they’ve got some dangerous players. But I felt after that first 20 minutes or so, we got our pressing right. Everyone collectively was synchronised and moving together with and without the ball. That culminates in a good performance.”

What the Celtic support can bring to Glasgow Derby in terms of atmosphere, is something that will be hugely important this weekend in the last of these matches without both sets of fans being present (and remember it was all theRangers doing!)

“I think that goes without saying. The crowd in the Hearts game were brilliant for us. I mentioned before about their importance at this stage in the season and they’re really getting behind the football aspect of the club and the team. And we see that, and you see that emotion just rolled down from the stands right onto the pitch. You see what it gives the players and how they respond to that.

“We’ll need that exactly the same at the weekend and I know we’ll get that because I think the supporters are happy now with what they’re seeing in the team and we have of course have to play our part in that. But it should be a great occasion and I’m really looking forward to it,” Brendan said.

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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