BRENDAN RODGERS is an expert of the Glasgow Derby.
With 11 wins in 14 fixtures against Rangers (a win rate of 79%) the manager knows all there is to know about the biggest fixture in the domestic calendar.
Make no mistake, he’ll be fully prepared for whatever Saturday throws up.
But he may have to do it without one of his most influential players.
Cameron Carter-Vickers hobbled off early in the second half against Dundee and his fitness is a situation that’s had to be closely monitored by Celtic’s backroom team.
Having already missed half a dozen games this season with a hamstring issue Celtic were taking no chances with the USA international at Dens Park, withdrawing him just after Paulo Bernardo’s opening goal.
Speaking after the game Rodgers said,
“Thankfully his hamstring hasn’t gone, but he just felt a little bit tight. We’ve said to him before that if he feels anything, it’s better letting us know. So he just started to tighten up a little bit, we were able to take him off, and Stephen Welsh comes in and was excellent.”
Whether he now makes the Derby is very much 50/50.
When pushed on his availability the manager added,
“I don’t know, the medical team will assess him and see where we’re at in the coming days.”
The form of Liam Scales tells us that it’ll be him plus one other should CCV fail to make it with the smart money being on Stephen Welsh to step in.
Maik Nawrocki and Gustaf Lagerbielke – a starter in the 1-0 win at Ibrox in September – remain conspicuous by their absence.
DUO TO RETURN?
Whilst Carter-Vickers injury remains a concern some positive news has emerged regarding the availability of key duo Liel Abada and Reo Hatate.
Out since September and October respectively there’s no doubt that Celtic have missed their creativity and it seems that there’s an outside chance they’ll be involved at the weekend.
Rodgers has conceded that neither are ready to start, but could they play a part off the bench on the day?
It may well be mind games from the manager as he looks to keep the opposition guessing but even the prospect of either player being in the squad would be a welcome boost ahead of the big one.
“Reo’s at a good level, but not a level to start. We’ll see how he goes over these next few days.
He’s training hard, working well and it will be like having two new players when we get those two back.”
Like their manager these two are particularly familiar with this fixture, and no more so than that special night back in February 2022 when their goals sealed a memorable 3-0 win over their Glasgow rivals.
Let’s see what Saturday brings for them.
THE MIKEY QUESTION
Perhaps one of the most intriguing calls the manager will have to make will be his wide men on the day.
Despite his poor form since returning from injury Daizen Maeda plays a vital role in this fixture with his incredible industry and the way he defends from the front.
More often than not this completely nullifies Rangers Captain James Tavernier and may well be an approach that Rodgers deploys once again.
This would mean a switch of wings for Honduran star Luis Palma and – despite also not being at his very best – his creativity will undoubtedly be of benefit against Rangers.
The alternative is to gamble on the weekend’s two-goal hero that is Mikey Johnston.
A player that the manager clearly admires a place on the bench may be the most likely outcome, but if required the Irish international will approach this one with renewed confidence.
“The beauty with Mikey is that he’s stayed fit. It’s up to him whether he’s going to be a Celtic player, but we keep working with him and we feel he can come into the game and make an impact.
We were really pleased for him to get the two goals.”
SATURDAY FAST APPROACHING
A lot can change of course in the coming days and there’s plenty to occupy the manager’s thoughts in the meantime.
Injury and availability will play its part as the weekend approaches as will the mood in the camp as the team target a third clean sheet in a row.
A win on Saturday would also represent the first time this season that Rodgers’ side have recorded three consecutive wins.
A disappointing stat, yes – but no better time to current it than the new Year’s Derby.
Listen to The Final Whistle Show following Celtic’s Boxing Day win in Dundee.