IT HAS taken Brendan Rodgers until the third last league game of the season to be in a position to deliver an astonishing admission.

As he prepares for the fourth derby since his return in the summer, the Celtic boss insisted: “This will be the best version of the team that I’ve had since I’ve been here.

“When I look at the amount of injuries that we’ve had and the disruptions, it felt like last weekend we were just about there in terms of player availability and fitness.

“After another good week of work and concentration on the training field, we’ll arrive in to Saturday’s game in as good a place as we’ve been all season.”

Rodgers took several pluses from the 3-0 victory over Hearts at Parkhead in which Kyogo Furuhashi netted his first double of the campaign and Matt O’Riley tucked away an unsaveable penalty-kick.

The champions return to the venue in three days’ time to take on Philippe Clement’s Ibrox outfit where a victory will push the hosts six points ahead with the finishing line in sight.

Rodgers is looking forward to the all-Glasgow encounter with an impressive record of 12 wins in 16 matches, three draws and a solitary loss.

The Irishman said: “The preparation is very much based around ourselves. Always respecting our opponent and what they might bring to the game, but then looking at how we play and our process in the game.

“It’s important to look after the details and focus on our own performance.”

Skipper Callum McGregor emphasised he was back to full match fitness against the Tynecastle side with two quickfire and determined ball-winning tackles and Rodgers, speaking to Celtic TV, continued: “Callum’s importance cannot be underestimated within this team.

“The experience he brings, the quality and how inspirational a leader he is.

Images courtesy Celtic TV.

“The run to challenge, not once, but twice, you actually see what that gives the supporters. The intensity of pressing and aggression sometimes gets a bigger cheer than a pass or goal.

“It was fantastic for him and the team, but also for me, knowing that he’s back to the level that he’s shown.”

The Irishman also hailed the fans who got solidly behind the team and added: “I think the crowd at the Hearts game were brilliant for us.

“I’ve mentioned before just how important they are at this stage of the season.

“You can see the emotion roll down from the stands on to the pitch, what that gives to the players and how they respond to that. So. we’ll need the same this weekend and I know we’ll get that.

“It should be a great occasion and I’m really looking forward to it.”

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