BRENDAN Rodgers must make shoring up the Celtic defence that malfunctioned so badly in the defeat to Rangers last month his priority in order for his side to beat their city rivals to the Ladbrokes Premiership this season, he was last night warned.

Terry Butcher, the former Ibrox captain, believes that opposition teams will deliberately target the Parkhead club’s rearguard in the second half of the 2018/19 campaign after their unconvincing display in the 1-0 loss.

The ex-England internationalist claimed the last dominant centre half who the Glasgow club had was Virgil van Dijk – the Dutch player who was sold to Southampton over three years ago and who is now at Liverpool.

And Butcher feels that Rodgers has to ensure the double treble winners are far more reliable at the back if they are to win their eighth consecutive Scottish title come May.

“The Celtic defence showed in the Old Firm game they have got a mistake in them,” he said. “Rangers didn’t quite punish all the mistakes. That was down to Craig Gordon, who had an excellent game.

“They have to sort that out, of course they do. But how long have we been talking about Celtic centre halves? Since Van Dijk left really. Celtic haven’t really had a strong centre half who is fierce and competitive and who is going to lead the back four since him.

“You look at them and think: ‘He’s got a fault in him and he’s got a fault in him’. If I was a manager and my team was playing against Celtic that would be an area I would try to target.

“They have got good players going forward. They have a very strong midfield section, they have good strikers, they have goals. They aren’t mortally wounded after the Rangers game. But they will certainly be more worried at the back about making mistakes like that and being forced into mistakes.

“It wasn’t so much Rangers cutting them open with great passes. Celtic gave the ball away in midfield and especially at the back. Their own mistakes led to Rangers domination more than anything else. That is something I’m sure Brendan will want to get a grip of.”

Celtic remain ahead of Rangers at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership on goal difference and have a game in hand despite their painful defeat at Ibrox in their final game before the winter shutdown.

But Butcher feels they no longer strike fear into their opponents in the same way they did when Rodgers first took over.

“The first season Brendan was in charge they were unbelievable,” he said. “Last season wasn’t as great, but they still won the treble. This season they have won a cup already. You sort of think they are bang on course for another one.

“But they have lost games this season when teams have had a go at them. That wasn’t the case before. Teams were petrified of Celtic. Now teams are having a go at them. That is a big test for them. They have to come through that.

“It is probably the biggest test they have had in the Premiership since Brendan became manager. It is tight at the top of the table. Teams are now fancying their chances more against Celtic than they were two seasons ago.

“You need your back four now to come up trumps and do their job more than ever because they are under pressure and they haven’t been used to being under pressure.”

“Celtic will have to defend for the first time in a long while and defend better if they are to hold onto their title. There’s not only a threat from Rangers there’s also a threat from the other teams – Kilmarnock and Aberdeen and even Hearts aren’t far away.

“Celtic have never really been tested until this season. It started off with the Hearts defeat. Everybody got hope from that. The more teams do well against Celtic the more hope that everybody has. I am not saying teams should go gung ho against them, but they should have a bit more of a go. They lost in the past by being cautious. Why not have a go?”

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