Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes fears Celtic will have a caged animal ready to pounce when they unleash Ryan Christie at Pittodrie on Sunday.
The Hoops playmaker was forced to sit out this month’s Scotland triple-header as well as the opening Old Firm clash of the season following a coronavirus incident with the national team.
Christie was ordered to self-isolate when he was ruled to have been a close contact of Stuart Armstrong after joining the Southampton ace – who had tested positive – for a PlayStation session at the Scotland team hotel.
Both the player and Celtic, however, said the 25-year-old had followed Covid guidelines, including maintaining social distancing from his former Parkhead team-mate.
But even with a negative test result, there was no backing out of his 14-day stint in quarantine and Christie missed out on major games for club and country as he sat at home.
The former Aberdeen player did make his return as a half-time substitute during Celtic’s Europa League defeat to AC Milan on Thursday and McInnes now fears that with Christie freed from his shackles, he will be looking to really sink his teeth into the Reds.
He said: “Knowing how much Ryan loves his football, then he will have been like a caged animal. Getting back out on the pitch will mean everything to him.
“There will be a frustration there in that he hasn’t done a lot wrong and has returned a negative test. But knowing how enthusiastic wee Ryan is for his football and how much he loves to get his boots on to train and to play, then I’m sure he will be eager to get back.
“He’s one of the many players that Celtic have who can make a difference in a game. But there are no doubts he will be expecting to go and I don’t expect anything different.”
Sunday’s clash is a dress rehearsal for next weekend’s delayed William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final and McInnes urged his team to lay down a marker ahead of their trip to Hampden.
He said: “Both games are obviously different but I do think a win for either team will help with confidence going into the semi-final.
“From our own point of view we want to get the right result, which will do us no harm going into the game at Hampden.
“But if we don’t get a result on Sunday it won’t make us any less hopeful that we can get to the final.
“We’ve got to believe that our name is on the cup this year and when this game comes round we do all we can to bring a trophy back to the club.”