Bet­fred Cup

Evening Times - - SPORT - Matthew Lind­say

OLIVIER Ntcham chooses not to watch Rangers games on tele­vi­sion, even though the Ibrox club are just a goal behind Celtic at the top of the Ladbrokes Premier­ship ta­ble and are set to play them in the Bet­fred Cup fi­nal on Sun­day.

But the French mid­fielder has gained enough ex­pe­ri­ence of the Glas­gow derby match in the past three years to know this week­end’s en­counter at Ham­p­den will be a keenly-con­tested af­fair.

Ntcham be­lieves the con­vinc­ing 2-0 win Neil Len­non’s side recorded over Steven Ger­rard’s team in Go­van at the start of Septem­ber is an ir­rel­e­vance now.

Goals from Od­sonne Edouard in the first half and Jonny Hayes late on saw Celtic tri­umph over their city ri­vals away from home for the first time since the num­ber of trav­el­ling sup­port­ers was re­duced from 7,000 to just 800 last year.

Asked what he had thought of Rangers this sea­son and how he saw the fi­nal pan­ning out, Ntcham said: “I don’t even watch them, to be hon­est. I think it will be a good game against them re­gard­less.

“Ev­ery derby is dif­fer­ent. Even if you have won the pre­vi­ous game com­fort­ably, the next one can be com­pletely dif­fer­ent. You have to be fully fo­cused on the game.”

The 23-year-old missed the 4-1 league win over Ross County in Ding­wall on Sun­day af­ter pick­ing up a slight knock in the 3-1 Europa League tri­umph over Rennes last Thurs­day, But, like all of team-mates, he is des­per­ate to be in­volved on Sun­day.

He has en­joyed some great mo­ments against Rangers dur­ing his time in Scot­land. He netted a penalty in a 4-0 Scot­tish Cup semi-fi­nal tri­umph two sea­sons ago and scored the only goal of the Premier­ship game at Park­head at the start of last sea­son.

But Ntcham, who may re­turn in the league meet­ing with Hamilton to­mor­row night af­ter sit­ting out the Ross County game on Sun­day, feels tak­ing on and beat­ing the Ibrox club in a cup fi­nal will top any­thing he has done in the world-fa­mous fix­ture be­fore.

“I have some nice mem­o­ries al­ready in this fix­ture and hope­fully I will have more af­ter the fi­nal,” he said. “It will be nice to play in a derby match in the cup fi­nal. It’s a big game for ev­ery­one.

“They are im­por­tant games. Ev­ery­one will want to play in the fi­nal. To play against them is al­ways spe­cial. It’s a derby and you don’t play in a derby – you win a derby.”

Ntcham has once again started only spo­rad­i­cally for Celtic in the 2019/20 cam­paign due to the ex­cep­tional form of Scott Brown and Cal­lum Mc­Gre­gor in cen­tral mid­field and Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic ahead of them in the play­maker role.

But Len­non, who op­er­ated in his po­si­tion dur­ing his own play­ing days, is a huge ad­mirer of the for­mer France Un­der-21 player and is set to utilise him more dur­ing his side’s hec­tic run of games in De­cem­ber.

The in­jury-time win­ner he scored af­ter com­ing off the bench in the Europa League match against Lazio in Rome last month was a re­minder of the qual­ity Ntcham pro­vides.

As was his dis­play in the em­phatic tri­umph over Rennes last week that en­sured the Park­head club will fin­ish on top of Group E – some­thing never achieved be­fore in their his­tory.

The for­mer Manch­ester City player be­lieves Celtic can look for­ward to the knock­out rounds of the com­pe­ti­tion with con­fi­dence, given how well they have performed to date in their sec­tion.

The Scot­tish cham­pi­ons are sure to be drawn to face qual­ity op­po­nents next month – they will come up against one of the 12 Europa League run­ners-up or four third-placed Cham­pi­ons League sides – even though they will be one of 16 seeded teams.

How­ever, Ntcham feels, hav­ing beaten Lazio home and away as well as Cluj and Rennes at home and won no fewer than 10 games in to­tal in con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion this term for the first time ever, that no team will rel­ish be­ing drawn to face them.

“The re­sult and the per­for­mance against Rennes was very pleas­ing,” he said. “The man­ager told us be­fore the game the club had never won the group be­fore, so it was a big mo­ti­va­tion.

“To fin­ish top of the group is a big achieve­ment and we can look for­ward to the game in Cluj and then the last 32.

“Last sea­son we didn’t reach the Cham­pi­ons League and we did okay in the Europa League. This time around, okay, we didn’t get the Cham­pi­ons League again, but we have played very well in the Europa. We have not lost a game.

“To com­plete five games in the group with four wins and a draw is a great achieve­ment, es­pe­cially when you see the teams we have faced.

“It’s al­ways nice to play well against any team but, yes, per­son­ally it was good to do it against a French team. But the most im­por­tant thing was the team do­ing well, putting on a good per­for­mance and get­ting the re­sult.”

Ntcham added: “I don’t know how far we can go in Europe. I hope we can win it. You never know what could hap­pen. Fin­ish­ing top of the group a big mes­sage for us to send out to other teams.

“I know for sure, any team who will face us will know they will have a tough game.”

Celtic mid­fielder Olivier Ntcham, right,

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