Moussa Dembele announced his arrival for Celtic the first time he came up against Rangers.

The striker’s introduction to this fixture resulted in a hat-trick in an emphatic Hoops win and he has maintained an impressive record against the Ibrox club.

And Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers believes that the French striker is inching his way back to that kind of form after the distraction of the January transfer window.

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Speculation about his future has been a perennial narrative since Dembele first arrived at Celtic but the back-to-back hamstring injuries that he had at the close of last season and the beginning of this campaign arguably had a bigger effect on the 20-year-old.

A player for the big occasion, Dembele has come to life for Celtic when the full glare of the spotlight has been on the team. And as Celtic prepare for a trip to Ibrox on Sunday afternoon, it is Dembele whom the Parkhead side will look to in order to deliver the goods.

“I think he is a big-game player, Moussa,” said Rodgers. “The players need to do it at Celtic in every game.

“But certainly in those big games he has always come up trumps and shown his qualities.”

Judging by the chat that has emanated from the Ibrox dressing room this week, Rangers fancy their chances of putting Celtic under a bit of pressure on Sunday.

Graeme Murty’s side have momentum behind them as they go into the game – they have dropped just three points since they last faced Rodgers’ side in the festive draw – but any result for Celtic would effectively propel the Parkhead side to a seventh successive championship win.

With Leigh Griffiths injured it remains to be seen whether or not Rodgers deviates from his favoured solitary striker philosophy to pair Dembele with Odsonne Edouard, who made an impressive impact when he came off the bench in the weekend Scottish Cup win over Morton.

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Certainly, though, Dembele will be regarded as one of the catalysts for Celtic as they look to quell any noise about a title race. The striker claimed a brace on Saturday but it is his overall play that has caught the eye of late.

“I think the background noise has gone,” said Rodgers in reference to Dembele’s recent form. “That’s absolutely key for any player.

“I think what you see now is a young player free now in his mind to focus on his strengths.

“When he is that he is a real handful. He was terrific in the game here against Zenit.

“In the game over there he played very well when the team, collectively, was not at its best. Against Aberdeen he showed his power. And now he is just moving as I would expect.

“You have to work really, really hard. You have to have an intensity and we see that in his game now.

“He is using his strength, his power and he is a top class young striker.”

It is difficult to underestimate the psychological impact of the hamstring injuries that disrupted Dembele in the earlier stages of the season. Certainly, Rodgers believes that having got regular game time under his belt, the manner in which the striker has been able to build up some momentum will have put his mind at ease somewhat.

“The unfortunate thing, especially with dynamic and fast players is that they can tend to have that issue,” said the Hoops boss. “Moussa had a few and you are always trying to monitor and watch it.

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“It’s never easy when you have those muscular injuries. And again it’s coming to terms with so many games.

“He started the first part of last season and it was very good.

“The second part was unfortunate, he was injured for a lot of that period. He started this season a little bit like that, but it could be the second part of the season he comes alive.”

Dembele netted 32 goals in his inaugural campaign at Celtic. So far this term he has bagged 12 but Rodgers anticipates that he will finish the ten remaining league games strongly as the Parkhead side sustain their quest for back-to-back trebles, a feat that has yet to be achieved by any Scottish side.

“There is no doubt he has that hunger and energy back in his game,” said Rodgers.

“It’s very important for us. There are various reasons for that.

“He has worked very hard to get his fitness right and get his level of fitness and like you see now he looks much better.”