Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has called on his team to play smart and avoid being dragged into Celtic’s mind games.
In recent encounters between the two sides, Celtic players such as Mikael Lustig and Scott Brown have targeted Dons players, with Lewis Ferguson in particular on the receiving end.
Ferguson was sent off in the Scottish Cup semi-final between the two sides last month for a wild lunge on Tom Rogic, as Aberdeen finished with nine players in a dispiriting afternoon at Hampden Park.
With Celtic on the verge of clinching another Premiership title and the potential for a celebration at Pittodrie, McInnes is at pains to ensure his side remain calm and do not get sucked into needless confrontations.
He said: “Listen, it’s the game. They’re out there playing, you can’t play the game for them. But, whatever happens in the game, you want them to show calmness and focus on the job in hand.
“Whatever the game throws up, hopefully it’s a smart performance for us.”
The challenge for McInnes and the Dons hierarchy, after four seasons of finishing second until this year, is to get back to being direct challengers to Celtic again.
McInnes added: “Scottish football, traditionally, has Celtic and Rangers as the dominant teams. There’s certain periods when teams can get in amongst that and try and make it different. We’ve been a team who, in despite of the huge financial gulf, we’ve always tried to and take pride in that we can be competitive against them. We take pride that we can be consistent over a season, and certainly in the cups, to challenge. By and large, we have done that. Our fight is always with ourselves to make sure we’re proud of our work at the end of any season.
“If the Old Firm are doing their job well and recruiting well with the financial power that they’ve got, then it does make it more difficult for teams like Aberdeen, Hibs, Hearts, Kilmarnock and St Johnstone, teams that have been in and around the top six for a while. Our fight is always with ourselves and our fight for the summer, and my concern is recruiting good players that can give us a team that we can be pleased with and it gives us a chance that we can have a team that can maybe meet the demand. That’s what we’ll try and do.”
McInnes has previously spoken of the extensive rebuild he faces this summer, with key figures Graeme Shinnie and Gary Mackay-Steven set to leave and five loan players due to return to their parent clubs.
He added: “Clearly, if look at who is under contract in our team, there a lot of youngsters under long-term deals. But we’re short in certain areas. Central midfield, left back, potentially centre back, wide players. There are areas across the board where we need to recruit.
“We will try to give younger ones the opportunity. But, to be ready for the start of the season, we need to do some really good work.”