Celtic interim boss John Kennedy insists he has shown Rangers "full respect" after his claim that "on our day we are still the best team in the country" drew a reaction from their Old Firm rivals.
Newly-crowned Premiership champions Rangers are 20 points clear of the Hoops, are unbeaten in the league and have beaten Celtic twice already this season as the Glasgow giants prepare to meet in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.
Kennedy recently claimed "on our day we are still the best team in the country", a remark that Gers defender Borna Barisic described as "disrespectful" and "the biggest joke I [have] heard this year", with Light Blues boss Steven Gerrard adding: "I know the reality and the truth."
However, Kennedy moved to bring some clarity to his opinion.
- Ryan Jack ruled out of Euros with injury
- Steven Gerrard 'loved everything' about Arsenal's win over Slavia Prague
- Scottish pod: 'Pressure off Rangers, Celtic owe fans'
"My take on it is, people make a story and a headline out of taking the comment out of context," said Kennedy.
"I was referring to us going into a cup game and on our day we can still be the best performing team in the country because we have that level in us.
"That is purely what it is. Several times in the last few weeks I have commented on Rangers thoroughly deserving to win the league because they have been the most consistent team, they have racked up the most points, so I have shown full respect to Rangers for what they have done.
"I am entitled to say that on any given day, especially going into a cup tie against Rangers, I fancy us on our day to come out on top.
"People sometimes take a small part of that statement and twist it and turn it into what they want to suit their argument and that is careless for me.
"To bring a bit of clarity to that, Rangers deserved to be the champions this season because they have been more consistent than us, but come a cup game, if we hit top gear and we can perform well, I fancy us to be able to go and win the game."
Kennedy also confirmed Polish striker Patryk Klimala is set to join New York Red Bulls. Klimala has been no more than a bit-part player at Celtic since signing from Jagiellonia Bialystok in January 2020 for a reported fee of £3.5m.
Kennedy said: "Patryk is close to finalising a deal to go there. It is an opportunity that came up for him and for both parties it was a good deal."
🗣️ #CelticFC Interim Manager, John Kennedy spoke to the media at Lennoxtown this afternoon.— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) April 16, 2021
"It’ll be a tough game. It’s a cup match, which means you can’t make any mistakes, you have to go into the game and hit top form."#ScottishCup pic.twitter.com/YhbI0k402W
It is not yet clear whether James Forrest will be available for Celtic's game against Rangers on Sunday. The Scotland winger has recently returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines following ankle surgery.
In his first Premiership start since September, he scored against Livingston at Parkhead on Saturday with his second goal in two games but came off just before the hour mark in the 6-0 win with a back and hamstring niggle.
Kennedy said: "He [Forrest] has come on reasonably well in the week. We got a bit of work into him yesterday [Thursday], it was more of a down day today to recover, and we will have a go at him again tomorrow.
"It will be a very late call but with the position we are in and the magnitude of the game we will give it as long as we possibly can and make a decision late. We are hopeful, we will keep our fingers crossed."
Meanwhile, Rangers have won three out of the last four derby clashes but were not at their best as they secured victory back in January thanks to Callum McGregor's own goal, or in the 1-1 Parkhead draw last month.
However, Steven Gerrard is refusing to worry about those displays as he eyes up a potential league and cup double.
"We are really proud of our season so far. A couple of defeats in late forties, nearly knocking on 50 games, I think it is a phenomenal record and a real level of consistency," he said.
"What has gone before in previous derbies or what has gone before this season will have no bearing on what is going to happen in the next 90 minutes, or possibly longer.
"It is very much for us. We need to find a performance that is good enough to progress and that is the only focus here right now."