The anticipation is now growing with Celtic’s Scottish Cup semi-final showdown just a matter of hours away, with the Bhoys hoping to maintain their bid to secure the treble by edging past their Old Firm rivals at Hampden Park.
Rangers – who are the current holders in the competition – have not tasted victory in this fixture since Ange Postecoglou’s first derby outing back in August 2021, although the Light Blues will certainly be keen to halt the Parkhead outfit’s domestic clean sweep by securing victory later today.
Michael Beale’s men will also be hoping to exact revenge having suffered defeat when the two sides met at Hampden in the League Cup final back in February, although they will be faced by a Hoops side who have lost just once on the domestic front this season.
Celtic’s chances of yet again getting the better of their long-time foes will have been boosted by the news that the likes of Liel Abada, Jota, and Reo Hatate could all be set to return from injury, with the latter man having notably missed the last four Scottish Premiership games.
Will Hatate start against Rangers?
It would certainly be a real lift for Postecoglou and co to be able to welcome back Hatate, in particular, this afternoon, with the Japanese sensation having previously been the difference-maker against the Ibrox side.
The 25-year-old – who arrived in Glasgow back in January of last year – memorably made an instant impression in his new surroundings after scoring twice in the 3-0 victory over Rangers at Celtic Park back in February 2022, having subsequently been hailed as “outrageous” by Scotland international, John McGinn.
That devastating derby double was a sign of things to come for the diminutive gem, as the former Kawasaki Frontale man has gone on to arguably prove the “best signing” of the Postecoglou tenure thus far, according to pundit Frank McAvennie, having proven himself a “tremendous” asset in the centre of the park.
The 5 foot 8 ace has particularly shone when coming up against today’s opponents having recorded two goals and two assists in just seven meetings thus far, notably teeing up compatriot Kyogo Furuhashi in the League Cup showpiece just a few months ago.
That contribution came amid a performance that saw Hatate prove “head and shoulders above the rest” on the day, according to former Hoops midfielder Mark Wilson, having been “incredible” in his midfield berth.
As such, the hope will be that the £12k-per-week ace can prove his fitness and return to the side alongside Matt O’Riley and Callum McGregor, ahead of the likes of Tomoki Iwata and Aaron Mooy.
In the case of the latter man, there may be concerns regarding his potential inclusion in the starting lineup having endured ‘one of his poorer games in a Hoops jersey’ against Beale’s men in the recent, 3-2 win, as per Football Scotland’s Mark Hendry.
Therefore – fitness willing – it should be Hatate’s chance to shine again this time around…
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