Rangers can stun Celtic just like I did, says Peter Lovenkrands
After what seems like an eternity, a certain substantial skirmish is poised to engulf Glasgow - and Rangers goalscoring hero Peter Lovenkrands can only see one winner.
All eyes will be on Saturday's Old Firm clash, as a pair of warring rivals prepare for a first league collision in over four years.
Celtic: Scottish champions, confident, coasting the swelling waves of the Brendan Rodgers revolution. Rangers: free-spirited, determined, and newly-installed in top tier, following financial meltdown and demotion.
Rodgers is as knowledgeable and, indeed, personally affable as any manager in the modern game. However, as he takes his place in the Celtic technical area, even the Carnlough man will sense the dark mists and usual mayhem which colour this unique fixture. It's a rare kind of coach that keeps cool under the volcano.
The Parkhead side are favourites to claim victory which could be a real psychological step towards a sixth successive title, whereas Rangers are still gradually progressing.
The mood music at Celtic is peaking under Rodgers. Qualification for the group stages of the Champions League has ensured supporters are very much on-message with the Ulsterman's fresh philosophy. Pressing, pass and move, high energy football, ensures Celts have a genuine impetus.
Mark Warburton, the Rangers manager, meanwhile, is a realist. Yet a landmark Scottish Cup semi-final triumph last term indicates a self-belief and awareness of the occasion.
Can the Light Blues stop the momentum, injected by Rodgers? There is pressure on both teams, but former Ibrox hero Lovenkrands, a seasoned veteran of these corrosive congregations, feels Rangers can cause an upset at Celtic Park.
"I'm a Rangers man, so of course I hope they will win, but often you find that in the first 10 minutes or so of an Old Firm game you can get an indication of how things will go and tactics can fly out the window," the Dane told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Celtic will be under a bit more pressure because they are the title holders and have home advantage, but you must remember Rangers will feel they can handle the occasion after last season's Scottish Cup semi-final. They were so dominant that day. Celtic will certainly think they are favourites but Rangers can win."
Rodgers has embraced the challenge of fulfilling Celtic's potential, particularly in the European sphere. Despite his previous frontline experience with Liverpool, he has been well-warned that there are few coping strategies for the Glasgow derby.
"It's different for Celtic this time," Lovenkrands explained.
"Brendan Rodgers has come in and reshaped them, which has been interesting to see. But actually, I'm not that surprised he came to Scotland as he wants the challenge of guiding Celtic to success. He's a big name with a lot of experience at other clubs, but that doesn't prepare you for an Old Firm game. Nothing does really.
"I played under Alex McLeish and the best managers at both Rangers and Celtic do their best not to let the players see the pressure they are under, especially in the week leading up to the game. Alex would approach it like any other game and work on tactical stuff, for instance. Good managers will take the pressure off their players and Brendan will be the same."
Lovenkrands - who netted 54 goals in 182 appearances for the Light Blues between 2000 and 2006 - had mixed experiences of meeting Celtic. Overall, though, they were mostly warm. And how the ex-winger fondly recalls a certain last minute winner in the 2002 Old Firm Scottish Cup final, a piece of drama establishing him in eternal Ibrox folklore.
"My first experience of an Old Firm game was not good," he admits. "We lost 6-2 at Parkhead and I only came on very briefly as a sub after warming up for the whole game.
"But for me, nothing will ever beat the feeling of scoring that goal in the cup final. It was a game which had everything, even for the neutral. It was unbelievable how the game ebbed and flowed and to score at the end was just so special."
Both clubs have been active this summer, strengthening their squads. Celtic splurged on wide man Scott Sinclair who has been an instant hit, plus defenders Kolo Toure, Cristian Gamboa and striker Moussa Dembele. The new Ibrox arrivals include large chunks of experience, midfielders Joey Barton, Niko Kranjcar and defender Phillippe Senderos. Facing the heat, Lovenkrands believes their presence is essential.
"They are all experienced players who have played at a high level but it still takes time to get used to Scottish football," he said. "How they will help the other players and especially the younger ones on this occasion is so important.
"Joey is very vocal and dominant on the pitch and I would expect him to do well as it is a massive game for Rangers."
Regarding the revived occasion itself, Lovenkrands echoes the mainstream view that the Scottish game has badly missed this world renowned box office showdown.
He said: "When I was playing in England with Newcastle, all the players there were buzzing to watch this game and it was the same everywhere in England, such is the appeal of Rangers-Celtic. But once Rangers were demoted everyone just lost interest.
"Now they are back the focus will be on the Old Firm again and the interest is worldwide.
"It's always so hard to call but I'm going to go for a Rangers win."