NEIL LEN­NON says to­day’s mas­sive game won’t de­fine the sea­son.

I’m sorry to dis­agree with my old team-mate but it def­i­nitely could. If Rangers lose it, they won’t re­cover. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, it would be a huge blow for Steven Ger­rard’s team. The buildup to this game has put a fresh dy­namic into the fix­ture.

I t seeme d barely a day went past at one stage over the past fort­night when Celtic were not hav­ing a player ruled out of the game with the Covid-19 pan­demic be­ing the prin­ci­pal cul­prit.

Celtic are not go­ing to be any­where near full-strength.

They have lost Ryan Christie, Nir Bit­ton and Hatem Abd El­hamed thanks to the virus.

And even if Od­sonne Edouard makes the squad to­day he’s not go­ing to be him­self af­ter a long spell of self-iso­la­tion.

James Forrest is al­ready ruled out with an an­kle frac­ture while Al­bian Ajeti won’t be fully fit ei­ther hav­ing been out with a ham­string is­sue.

Rangers have gone from fan­cy­ing their chances to be­ing tagged as the favourites to win due to these cir­cum­stances.

Let’s be hon­est, there was al­ready a feel­ing Ger­rard’s team were in a bet­ter place with the rhythm of their play be­fore the in­ter­na­tional break.

Even though Celtic have dropped fewer points, their play has been bitty. It hasn’t been flu­ent. Chuck the ab­sen­tees into the mix and Rangers will never have a bet­ter chance of win­ning the first Old Firm game of the sea­son for the first time in a long time.

How­ever, there’s a flip side. With odds stack­ing up in their favour, so does the ex­pec­ta­tion.

If they lose in Glas­gow’s east end, it’ll be a bru­tal set­back, whereas Celtic proved af­ter the last derby game that los­ing it doesn’t knock them too much.

As I said a cou­ple of weeks ago, if I was in the Celtic dress­ing room right now, I’d be look­ing at the sit­u­a­tion since the start of the sea­son and feel­ing as though things had turned out al­right.

We haven’t got started yet, we are only at 50 per cent of form and, if we win our game in hand, we’d be two points clear at the top of the ta­ble.

That’s what I’d be think­ing. Es­pe­cially given all of the plau­dits which have been dished out to Rangers.

If Celtic go out and win this game, that would the­o­ret­i­cally put them five points clear when they haven’t re­ally even got out of sec­ond gear and their ri­vals have been nearly at their best.

It would be a sick­ener for the Rangers play­ers and in­flict the type of blow they’d find it tough to re­cover from.

Team se­lec­tion and tac­tics are go­ing to be crit­i­cal. Given the sit­u­a­tion Celtic have been faced with in an at­tack­ing sense, I’d hand Pa­tryk Kli­mala the job of lead­ing the line.

The Pol­ish striker is raw and not the fin­ished ar­ti­cle but you have to ad­mire his hunger, his at­ti­tude a nd he would not give the Rangers backl ine a minute’s peace.

I just don’t feel you can go into this game half-baked. It doesn’t mat­ter if Edouard or Ajeti are 80 per cent fit, I don’t think 80 per cent is enough.

Leigh Grif­fiths scored in the last game but he was blowing af­ter­wards and was only on the pitch for 15 min­utes. He doesn’t look ready to start and Mo­hamed

Ely­ounoussi could even get the nod along­side the Pole.

Kli­mala would run the Rangers de­fend­ers and move them around. And he can fin­ish.

De­fen­sively, Celtic are likely to go with Shane Duffy, Christo­pher Jul­lien and Kristof­fer Ajer. Len­non could go to four at the back with the Nor­we­gian go­ing to right-back but I can’t see it.

Duffy is go­ing to rel­ish a bat­tle against Al­fredo More­los. This type of phys­i­cal con­test is right up his street and it’s go­ing to be a great duel to watch.

The Ir­ish­man will tinker with the Colom­bian’s tem­per and it will be fas­ci­nat­ing.

Ryan Kent is the real Rangers weapon and has the abil­ity to take ad­van­tage of any spa­ces which Celtic leave in be­hind.

That’s where I feel Celtic have to be cute. Nor­mally, they are on the front foot at home. In any do­mes­tic game they are ex­pected to flood for­ward and push into at­tack.

How­ever, I be­lieve that would just suit Rangers. Ger­rard’s team are good on the counter and have most of their prob­lems fac­ing sides who are nar­row and keep it tight and com­pact.

There are not 50,000-odd home fans roar­ing Celtic for­ward and they might just sit in a lit­tle more than usual. Why would you open your­self up and leave your­self wide open to Rangers’ big­gest strengths?

That does not make a lot of sense, es­pe­cially when you con­sider ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened in the build-up to the game. Len­non and his team want to win but a point would not be a dis­as­ter for the home team.

What am I ex­pect­ing to hap­pen? Putting all in­gre­di­ents into the mix, I’m go­ing to sit on the fence. It will be a 1-1 draw and that’s a re­sult both teams would set­tle for if you asked them qui­etly this morn­ing.

Celts have to be cute. They might just sit in a lit­tle more than usual

POLE PO­SI­TION Kli­mala, right, should get the nod up front with Ajeti, left, and Grif­fiths, be­low right, not 100 per cent fit for derby af­ter all three trained yes­ter­day

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