CELTIC cannot afford a slip when they face a double crunch in the capital with the game against Hearts at Tynecastle tomorrow and Hibs at Easter Road a week today.
The champions are now seven points ahead after eight games as they remain focused on winning their twelfth title in 13 years and they are determined to close down any hopes of a change in fortune for new Ibrox boss Philippe Clement.
It’s a tough and testing return to club football following the two-week international break and sandwiched in between the Edinburgh encounters there is the must-win Champions League Group E meeting with Atletico Madrid under the lights in the east end of Glasgow on Wednesday.
GREEN FOR GO…Brendan Rodgers is preparing for a hectic period for the champions.
Brendan Rodgers can now see the fruits of his labours with the champions getting into their stride following some false starts earlier in the campaign, including the Viaplay League Cup exit against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in August.
Former Hoops goal hero Chris Sutton said: “Twelve months ago, Celtic really stepped on the gas and left Rangers in their dust. Giovanni van Bronckhorst was sacked as they powered away and Michael Beale spent almost a year failing to catch up.
“Rodgers has a new challenge now with Philippe Clement in the door at Ibrox and he will not, and should not, be underestimated. As I said last week, the Celtic manager will be relishing the opportunity to throw a spanner in the workings of another Rangers manager.
“But the Belgian will get the respect I feel he deserves because, unlike Beale, Clement has a proven track record. Winning titles is the barometer and the fact he did so on three separate occasions in Belgium with Genk and Club Brugge tells you plenty.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “Seven points is nothing with 30 games to go in the title race and, from Celtic’s perspective, it’s crucial they keep a foot on the pedal.
“Domestically, a return against Hearts is not easy. Same with Hibs the following week. Celtic need to be right on it and give Clement and Rangers no glimmers of light.
AIR WE GO…Cameron Carter-Vickers climbs above a Hearts rival to head clear in Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win at Tynecastle last season.
“Cameron Carter-Vickers’ return has been a big boost and a couple of sub appearances for the USA offered more important game time.
“Reo Hatate is back to form and stepped it up again with Japan. Kyogo scored. Matt O’Riley returns with even more confidence after winning his Denmark call-up and the same goes for Liam Scales after a senior debut for the Republic of Ireland.
“Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor will be bouncing after reaching the Euros with Scotland and Luis Palma seemed to have a good spell with Honduras having shown plenty of promise in the matches prior to the national-team break-up.
“Rodgers also has guys such as Maik Nawrocki returning from injury.”
The one-time England international striker added: “Celtic seem to be in the best place they’ve been since the manager returned.
“It’s up to them to take full advantage and, as well as racing on in the Premiership, they also really do need a jump-start in the Champions League.
“The team wasn’t really ready for the first two games against Feyenoord and Lazio and that was no-one’s fault but their own. However, it feels better prepared now for the double-header against Atletico Madrid during this next block of fixtures.
“Of course, getting anything in the Spanish capital will be tough. To feel as if they are moving in the right direction, Celtic really need to get at least a point off Atletico in Glasgow.
“It’s a massive spell in the season. Crunch time. And a time for Rodgers to see the full effect of his hard graft in the workshop.”