Steven Gerrard has warned Celtic to beware a Rangers backlash on Sunday after insisting this is the game his side have been waiting for.
Gers wrapped up their first league crown in a decade over a month ago and still have another four weeks to go before they at last get their hands on the trophy.
But Gerrard admits his team have suffered a title hangover and struggled to rediscover their best form since the wild celebrations which followed the capture of the club’s 55th title.
But he believes that could all change as the team prepare to take on Old Firm foes Celtic in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup at Ibrox.
Hoops caretaker boss John Kennedy has drawn scorn from the blue half of Glasgow by insisting the Parkhead men remain the best team in Scotland.
Now Gerrard says his players are ready to show who are the real top dogs.
He said: “We obviously had two real difficult ties against Slavia from a European perspective. We picked ourselves up and got a decent result away in an Old Firm, if you like, and then we have backed it up from there with a win in the cup and a strong win against Hibs.
“But you can see, and I have been aware, that there has been a slight drop-off compared to where we were in the title run in.
“But I think we have almost been waiting for a fixture that has got an edge about it and a real importance about it and the preparation has been slightly different this week.
“You can see the focus in the players, see everyone in the zone and really ready to try and put in a top performance at the weekend.”
And Gerrard will order his team to fly out of the traps at their bitter rivals.
He said: “Cup football is certainly different. It gives everyone a chance. You’ve seen it down the years, the magic of a cup competition is that it gives everyone a chance.
“Intensity and the tempo of the game is something we’ll be trying to strive for so we’re at our best.
“I believe as a team we play our best football when we’re aggressive and we play quick.
“We’ve won a lot of football matches when we’ve played at an exciting tempo so it’s something we’ll try to strive for.”
Last month’s 1-1 draw at Celtic Park might have been a laboured display from the Light Blues but it saw Alfredo Morelos finally break his derby duck at the 15th attempt.
And Gerrard knows the Colombian will be determined to add to his Old Firm tally.
“I think he will definitely have the bit between his teeth and that goes without saying,” he said.
“Anyone who knows Alfredo having worked with him close, the one thing you can never, ever judge him on is whether he’s game. Whenever he crosses that white line he’s always up for it. He always gives his best.
“I think it was big for him from a personal point of view to get that goal because a lot of people were obviously speaking about that.
“He’s got the belief and the confidence from myself, the staff and all the players.
“We know what he can do and if he’s selected I’d have no doubt that he will have the bit between his teeth and no doubt he can put in a top performance for us.”