Brendan Rodgers cranks Celtic mood music up to 11 as Rangers anthem doubles as derby day warning

The motto might belong to Rangers. But the recent shift in momentum suggests otherwise.

So when Brendan Rodgers concluded his team is in “simply the best” form of the season so far, he was also sending out a warning across the city of what lies in store for his rivals this weekend. If the Northern Irishman is being honest with himself, he’ll admit that his big return to Parkhead has not run anywhere near as smoothly as he would have wished it to, at least up until this critical point in the campaign.

In fact, he has done as much on several occasions. Rodgers has described it as one of the most testing periods of his entire managerial career in comparison to what he calls the ‘magic carpet ride’ he enjoyed during his first stint in Glasgow’s east end. This time around he started off in the knowledge he faced a personal battle just to win back the hearts and minds of a support which had not fully forgiven him for leaving for Leicester.

Then came the raft of injuries and fluctuations in form which combined to further hamstring a manager still searching for the kind of magic potion which Ange Postecoglou had previously used to intoxicate the masses. As results stuttered and Philippe Clement began to build something meaningful out of Michael Beale’s leftover rubble, so Rodgers began to show signs of a man feeling the strain.

-Credit:SNS Group
-Credit:SNS Group

But something has changed quite noticeably over these past few weeks. The mood is more upbeat. The options available have increased while also improving in quality.

The tempo of his team has picked up too, along with an upturn in results. And on Saturday, as Celtic built up a head of steam by sweeping to all three points against Hearts, Rodgers sensed everything click into place.

Perhaps for the first time since he walked back in through the front doors. That’s certainly the unambiguous message he was sending out from his Lennoxtown HQ yesterday when he conducted an in-house interview with the club’s own media team – and used it to come across as a man completely content at his work.

Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Tynecastle side ensured that Celtic will go into this weekend’s Old Firm showdown still three points and five goals ahead of Clement’s side with fixtures running out for the Belgian. And, after assessing that the most recent performance of his players proves his team is now finally beginning to peak, Rodgers began reaching back out to the club’s fans and asking them for one final big push towards the line.

They too have been fractured at times throughout a testing campaign but asked about the importance of having 60,000 of them on his side again, he said: “That goes without saying. The crowd in the Hearts game was brilliant for us.

-Credit:SNS Group
-Credit:SNS Group

“I mentioned before the game their importance at this stage of the season and really getting behind the football aspect of the club and the team. We saw that emotion roll out from the stands and onto the pitch. You see what it gives the players and how they respond.

“We need that to be exactly the same at the weekend and I know we’ll get that because the supporters are happy with what they are seeing now in the team. It should be a great occasion and I’m looking forward to it.”

This, of course, is his idea of having “a bit of fun”. Defeat Rangers on home soil, in front of a sold-out Celtic Park. Nail down the league title and finally secure his long lost hero status with the home support. Rodgers could not possibly have scripted a happier ending to the story of his first season back at the helm.

The alternative? Well, that doesn’t even bear thinking about. Which is why the mood music is being very deliberately cranked up to 11.

Rodgers went on: “I said it after the last time we played at Ibrox, this game was going to be crucial for us playing in front of our own supporters. I still feel exactly the same.

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

That, says Rodgers, involves his players being prepared to run through brick walls in pursuit of the big prize – a willingness to work for one another which he identified during Saturday’s performance against Hearts. He said: “It’s not a choice, it’s an obligation. It’s what you have to do. We are a running team and when we penetrate, when we press, when we counter-press, that’s our game.

“When we take the game to that level then we play the game to a good level. That was the pleasing aspect. We are playing against a good Hearts team that are doing very well in the league. I felt, especially after that first 10 or 15 minutes we got our pressing right.”

That derby-day specialist Kyogo Furuhashi netted twice in one game for the first time all season, also feeds perfectly into this blossoming feel good factor. But Rodgers said: “He clearly has a lot of joy against Rangers and his two goals at the weekend showed real quick anticipation of where the ball is going to go.

“But it will always be about the team, there won’t be one player who will have any greater importance or any greater burden to bear than the whole team. We’ll be very connected in the game.”