Undoubtedly, Celtic will need to perform at peak capacity in order to claim a victory at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup this weekend.
Cup ties are never straightforward, though eliminating Rangers in the Scottish Cup fourth round would send an enormous signal of intent to our arch-rivals moving forward. Furthermore, removing the toughest opposition Celtic are likely to face in the tournament early could have considerable merits.
With a quarter-final tie at home to either St Johnstone or Clyde scheduled for the winner [Glasgow Times], the Hoops could be in with a great chance of recording a fifth consecutive Scottish Cup triumph. Here are three players who could be crucial to making these hopes into a reality in Govan.
Starting at the back, the Norwegian will need to demonstrate the leadership qualities that have seen him become irreplaceable in the Hoops rear-guard. Likely to be marking Alfredo Morelos, Ajer will need to keep his discipline against his hot-headed adversary.
Impressively gaining 3.2 successful aerial duels on average per game, the 22-year-old can be entrusted to hold the defensive line [WhoScored]. However, his ability to initiate attacking moves from deep might be his most important function come kick-off.
His ball-playing aggression is something Celtic have lacked this season
Too often in 2020/21, Celtic have performed passively in regard to their crunch fixtures domestically and in Europe. One key responsibility shouldered by Ajer in recent months has been his ability to carry the ball into promising offensive positions. This is reflected in his 88.2% pass rate in the Scottish Premiership, which is in and around the highest in the Hoops squad [WhoScored].
As seen on Saturday against Livingston as he provided an assist [BBC Sport], the Norway international is able to play this role to devastating effect. His galloping runs may be pivotal to Celtic advancing to the next round of the competition.
A cornerstone of the fixture, Scott Brown is likely to feature in what will be his penultimate Glasgow Derby. Captaining the side, Brown will need to cover the tracks of Ajer as well as breaking up the Rangers’ play. Encouragingly, the 35-year-old turned in a dominant display in the previous meeting of the clubs [BBC Sport].
Scott Brown will need to lead by example against Rangers
Sustaining roughly 1.3 tackles per 90 minutes, the trophy-laden midfielder will need to constantly alert to danger come later this week [WhoScored]. Leading by example has become a signature trait of his during these games. He will need to again use all his know-how to exert his siege mentality on proceedings as Celtic look for a first derby victory this campaign.
One of the Hoops in-form players, the 26-year-old could hold the key to making the goal-scoring breakthrough for Celtic. Registering the opening goal in the 1-1 draw at Parkhead last month [BBC Sport], the Norwegian will be determined to illustrate his adept nature in pressurized situations.
His goal-scoring exploits could well be the difference at Ibrox
Converting 4 goals in his last 3 outings [SoccerBase], the Norway internationalist seems to have re-found his confidence in John Kennedy’s new look set-up. His ability to sniff out openings and link the play intelligently with Odsonne Edouard make him a prime starting candidate.
With Rangers’ preference to push their full backs higher up the field, space will be left in behind for Elyounoussi. If he can exploit the space, we may well end up celebrating a Hoops victory.