Glasgow (AFP) – No one is more excited than Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers when after a four-year hiatus the Old Firm derby returns on Saturday with his side hosting fierce foes Rangers.
It will be the first time since 2012, when Celtic ran out 3-0 winners at Parkhead, that the two Glasgow giants have met in the league following Rangers’ financial meltdown and subsequent liquidation.
It took the Ibrox club a year longer than anticipated to regain their top-flight status — after they were forced to start life again in Scotland’s bottom tier — with three promotions in four years.
Although not all will admit it, Scottish football has missed this fixture, which involves one of the most intense and bitter rivalries in the world.
While there are some unsavoury elements that go with it, few fixtures in football can match the atmosphere off the pitch and the pressure on it than the Old Firm match.
The clash at Parkhead will be the 402nd competitive fixture between the sides but the first in charge for Rodgers and a number of his new recruits.
“It’s games that I have watched, games that I have listened to all my life, so to actually be involved in pole position in the game is going to be exciting, especially the first game being at home,” said Rodgers.
“And having supported and felt the emotion of them, they are always tense, sometimes they are not the best of games.
“No matter what you say to players, sometimes the whole intensity and occasion can make it difficult for football,” added the Northern Irishman.
– Barton v Brown –
Rangers’ absence from the Premiership has allowed Celtic to dominate with the Parkhead club winning five league titles in a row.
Two cup clashes in the past two seasons have whetted the appetite for the regular return of this fixture and it’s expected the derbies this term will go some way to determining who will be crowned champions.
The top of the table already has a familiar look to it with Celtic and Rangers occupying the top spots.
Former Liverpool boss Rodgers can take heart from his side’s flying start to the season, which has seen Celtic qualify for the Champions League group stages for the first time in three years and a 100 percent winning start in the league.
Rangers too are unbeaten in the league, but draws against Hamilton at home and Kilmarnock mean they trail Celtic by a point at the top having played a game more.
Manager Mark Warburton recruited heavily in the summer as he added 12 new players including former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton.
The battle between Barton and Scott Brown is keenly anticipated after the English midfielder took aim at the Celtic captain shortly after signing.
“He’s not even in my league -– he’s nowhere near the level of player I am,” said the ever-prickly Barton.
While his comments in the media may delight the fans, it is on the pitch that Barton has been signed to make an impact and on current form there seems to be only one winner.
The 34-year-old Englishman looks a shadow of the player who was crowned Burnley’s player of the year on the way to securing promotion to the English Premier League last season while Brown has been outstanding for Celtic.
Both players have had a reputation for being hotheads and all eyes will be on these two to see how they cope in Saturday’s red-hot atmosphere.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless otherwise stated)
Celtic v Rangers (1100), Aberdeen v Inverness CT, Dundee v Kilmarnock, Hearts v Hamilton, Partick Thistle v St Johnstone, Ross County v Motherwell
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