Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos has been ruled out of Sunday’s clash with Celtic at Ibrox.
The Colombia forward was sent home early from international duty due to a muscle issue which sparked speculation about his fitness for the crucial Glasgow derby.
Gers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst confirmed at his pre-match press conference that Morelos, who has scored 18 times this season for the Light Blues, will sit out the visit of the cinch Premiership leaders and could also miss both legs of the Europa League quarter-final clash with Braga.
The Dutchman said: “We will know in the coming days because he will be assessed longer but I think it will be a long-term injury.
“We don’t know how long yet but hopefully we can give you more news after the weekend but he’s out for sure.
“He had an injury while on duty with Colombia, a muscle injury so unfortunately for him, for all of us, he won’t be available on Sunday.
“We won’t have him back in the next couple of weeks that’s for sure”.
Morelos’ absence is a blow to the champions, who trail Celtic by three points at the top of the league and have an inferior goal difference of 14 as they go into the penultimate Old Firm league meeting of the season, with a Scottish Cup semi-final between the teams scheduled at Hampden Park in between.
Rangers secured their 55th title on March 7 last year and ended up 25 points clear of Celtic but Van Bronckhorst acknowledged the competitive nature of this season’s title race.
The former Rangers player said: “Of course last season we were champions for three weeks already at this point.
“So that shows how quickly last season was decided. This year is closer and with the remaining games anything can happen.
“It’s definitely a close season, very competitive and I think it will go all the way to the end of the season.
“We have to make sure we win this game on Sunday then the remaining games will be all finals.
“It’s a challenge, but you want challenges in life and you must embrace them and work hard to be successful.”
Van Bronckhorst knows Rangers will have to perform a whole lot better than they did when they were swept away in a 3-0 defeat at Celtic Park in February.
He said: “I’ve seen Celtic play a lot of times this season and of course I saw the game we played in February.
“We didn’t play well, especially the first half where we had the option and the space to play our normal game that we always do but didn’t have the patience and the calmness to play our possession game.
“You don’t come into the game only defending and I think that’s one thing we’ve learned.
“I think the team is much more controlled, much more confident with the ball and that’s also what we need on Sunday against a strong opponent but we’ve shown we are strong at home.
“I’m confident my team will perform well on Sunday and have a better performance than we had a couple of months ago.”
“We need to win no matter what.
“It’s an Old Firm game, of course, when you look at the standings, it’s a big opportunity for us to go on level points, that’s the objective we have, that’s why we’ll work hard to be the winners on Sunday so yes, we want to win.”
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