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,