Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou revealed that Reo Hatate is not fit to face Rangers this season but believes his squad has the quality to deal with that absence.
The Japanese midfielder, who has been instrumental in Celtic’s successes this season, has been out for three weeks with a hamstring injury but there had been hopes he would be fit to return in the derby.
That hasn’t materialised and Hatate will watch on from the sidelines along with other injury absentees Liel Abada and James Forrest.
Postecoglou will now come up with an alternative plan for his midfield but pointed out the wealth of options he has at his disposal, with Aaron Mooy available for selection and Callum McGregor, Matt O’Riley, David Turnbull and Tomoki Iwata all ready for action.
“It’s disappointing for Reo more than anything else because he loves playing these games and he’s had a major impact when he’s played,” Postecoglou said. “It’s disappointing for him to miss out, he tried really hard to be available but it’s not quite worked out.
“You’re always disappointed for a player when they’re not available but from a team perspective, we get Aaron back which is great. We’ve got good quality in that area of the park.
“Last week we had to play without Reo and Aaron and the boys handled it really well so I’m still confident the team we put out there will be able to perform at the levels we need.”
With Celtic nine points ahead of Rangers in the Premiership table and just eight games to play, Saturday’s match could be another huge step towards the title for Celtic but Postecoglou was wary of thinking in those terms.
“We’re playing against the team that’s closest to us so if we win the game, it furthers that distance between us,” he said.
“Games are running out so it could have a major impact in terms of the end of the season but ultimately nothing gets decided this weekend.
“The players understand that. They’re really good at focusing on what’s before us right now and what’s before us is we’re playing a team that’s second in the table, closest to us, and we have an opportunity to extend our lead at the top.
“Irrespective of what the outcome is, we’ve still got to front up the following week and make sure we perform well again.”
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