Brian Laudrup admits he is expecting to see a different Rangers side turn up during Sunday’s Old Firm derby to the team that were humbled 3-0 by Celtic in February.
The reigning champions head into the Ibrox clash three points behind their city rivals with seven Premiership games remaining and the Gers legend reckons Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side can’t afford any further slip ups in the title race.
Laudrup labelled his old club’s first-half performance at Parkhead last month “spineless”, partly due to the absence of three key players from the starting line-up.
Writing in his Scottish Daily Mail column, Laudrup said: “Maybe you could even say that first-half capitulation was rather spineless, but I fully expect a completely different showing in Sunday’s epic encounter at Ibrox.
“In part, because I hope Rangers will have a very different spine to their team. Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Jack and Leon Balogun. None of those players started the 3-0 loss at Celtic Park on February 2.
“With varying degrees of importance, having them back could make a world of difference to how Rangers deal with this derby, and to their prospects of retaining the Premiership title.
“The pressure is well and truly on now. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side have to win. If they lose, and go six points behind with six games to play, it’s pretty much game over in my view.
“But Rangers have what it takes to turn the tide. I firmly believe that and they will ask Celtic a whole other set of questions if they can call upon that aforementioned trio of players at the end of this international break.”
Laudrup has urged the Rangers medical staff to do everything possible to ensure lead talisman Alfredo Morelos recovers in time to start against the Hoops.
The striker was sent home from international duty by Colombia at the weekend because of a thigh muscle problem and now faces a race to be passed fit.
Laudrup added: “Morelos is the biggest concern. Hopefully, from Rangers perspective, there is time for recovery ahead of the weekend.
“It’s critical to have him leading the line. We know he’s not been as prolific in these derbies as he has in the Europa League, but his presence on the pitch will worry Celtic.
“They know how annoying he can be. The menace he can present. As an opposition defender, you need to constantly have an eye on him.
“You’re aware he can drag his whole team up the pitch through his smart movement and strength. He’s so aggressive at home in particular.
“He feels like he owns the stage at Ibrox and I’m sure he will have been relishing the prospect of this game.
“Everyone at Rangers should have fingers and toes crossed that he is able to get out there in good condition, because there isn’t a like-for-like replacement.”
Ryan Jack’s impact from the bench was notable during the second half at Celtic Park and Laudrup is convinced the Scotland international has a pivotal role to play in the side.
Despite his recent injury troubles, the Danish hero compared Jack to his former Ibrox team-mate, Stuart McCall.
Laudrup stated: “He helped add stability when he came on at half-time at Parkhead, at a point when he was still working towards full fitness. Since then, he’s been outstanding.
“He brings balance to the team. He spreads calm to his colleagues, very rarely loses the ball, can control the tempo within games and has the tactical intelligence to put himself in the right place at the right time.
“A great quality for any players is to make your team-mates perform better. In my view, Jack does exactly that. That’s why you would never want him to go into an Old Firm game without him.
“In my time at Rangers, Stuart McCall had some of the same attributes as Jack. He knew exactly what he was good at. He played with intelligence and he kept things simple.”
Laudrup also singled out defender Leon Balogun for his standout performances in previous derbies, insisting his no-nonsense approach will prove beneficial this weekend.
The ex-winger admitted: “Like Jack, Balogun was a second half substitute in the last derby. The Nigeria centre-back doesn’t attract many headlines but he has a lot of experience and has played well in Old Firm games before.
“And, indeed, in the Europa League. Filip Helander is another quality option, but I suspect Van Bronckhorst might favour Balogun beside Connor Goldson, with Calvin Bassey at left-back.”