Strachan: Gerrard’s Rangers can’t afford another Old Firm loss

Gordon Strachan knows all about the pressure of the Old Firm derby - he says Steven Gerrard can't let his team get too caught up in the occasion....

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You can always find an angle in an Old Firm game but, because of the difference between the two clubs in the last few years, I don’t think they’ve been as exciting as this one is.

There’s definitely a wee edge to this one, which will bring pressure, stress, and erratic behaviour.

Before my first Old Firm derby I tried to manage that by showing the guys videos of players losing their temper – telling them that whoever gets a man sent off will likely lose the game, so they had to keep their focus.

GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM – APRIL 16: Neil Lennon and Gordon Strachan of Celtic are seen celebrating with the Scottish Premier championship win after the match between Celtic and Hibernian at Celtic Park April 16,2006,Glasgow in Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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Unfortunately, Alan Thompson dived into a tackle and left us with ten men for an hour. Afterwards, in the dressing room, I was saying to the players ‘we lost our focus, we got a man sent off’.

Then this little voice behind me goes ‘no, we had two sent off, gaffer – Neil Lennon was sent off coming up the tunnel’. For goodness sake!

So it’s a match which tests you, that’s for sure. Celtic are the more grounded squad, they’ve known each other for a long time, as the group’s been together since Brendan Rodgers went there.

That’s why I say they’re two years ahead of Rangers, in terms of match preparation, team shape, and consistency in the group. They’ve also got a right good experience of the Old Firm games now.

There are some in the Rangers team who haven’t played that many. That matters. You need to know how to handle it, how to go about the game.

There is a point where people can get over-psyched and too worked up over the game, and that can be a big problem.

Steven Gerrard’s been trying to gee his squad up after the Hibs draw. But there’s a risk you can go over the top with the psyching up. He needs to find a balance, whether that’s what he says to the media, in the dressing room, or in team meetings.

Of course, he’s right, you have to use the crowd’s energy. But you don’t play to them. You use their enthusiasm to make you jump higher, run faster, run further. It can boost you. But when the crowd are losing their focus, you don’t follow them.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – APRIL 29: Rangers fans set up flares prior to the Scottish Premier League match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park on April 29, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

That’s something both teams will be working on, but Steven will have to make sure his players focus on their game plan, on the way Celtic play, and how to counteract that, or they’ll be in trouble.

Because Rangers can’t afford to get beat on Saturday.

Let’s face it, it’s very unlikely that Celtic will drop points in three games and Rangers go undefeated for the rest of the season.

Stranger things have happened, but losing would be hard to come back from. Has it been done? Absolutely. Could Rangers do it? Possibly. Not probably.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – SEPTEMBER 02: Players of Celtic applauds fans after the Scottish Premier League match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park Stadium on September 2, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

BRENDAN WOULD MISS THE MADNESS OF PARADISE

If Brendan wanted to move anywhere just now – and I know the Peter Lawell and the Celtic fans will be having a heart attack reading this – he’d want a team playing in the Champions League.

That’s what turns you on as a manager.

You hear some say ‘I’d rather win a trophy that play in the Champions League’ – really? You only need to beat five teams to win a cup.
I’d rather be playing against Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus than sitting with a League Cup winners’ medal.

And that’s what Brendan wants. Coming up to Scotland, there are one or two games which aren’t as attractive, that’s for sure. You have to really switch on your concentration when it’s horrible plastic pitches or in front of small crowds. You have to really dig out your professionalism.

Then when it comes to the Champions League games, you love it. When one’s finished, you want another straight away.

So no disrespect to Leicester, who Brendan has been linked with recently, but he’ll be holding out for a move to a huge club, with regular European football.

When you leave Celtic, you think you’re going to enjoy the peace and quiet somewhere else but you miss the madness. I enjoyed being a lunatic.

Soccer Football – Scottish Premiership – Celtic v Rangers – Celtic Park, Glasgow, Britain – September 2, 2018 Celtic fans Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

WHOEVER WINS – SCOTTISH FOOTBALL IS THE WINNER

After the Boxing Day results, the pressure has been thrown back on to Rangers.

There’s been a lot of hype around the club and the arrival of Steven – and quite rightly so, because he’s given a higher profile to the league.

When you’ve got two quality people like Brendan and Steven, who’ve done so much in football, leading the teams out, it’s box office.

We’ve seen better players on the pitch, on both sides, over the last 50 years, but that doesn’t diminish the value the game has – it’s going to be a cracker.

I’m expecting a very good game. The Celtic vs Aberdeen game was an excellent advert for Scottish football, and I see no reason why we won’t get another. It’s great from the neutral’s point of view.

I think if Rangers get above Aberdeen, they’ve had a good season. If they get into single figures behind Celtic, or keep the league going into the last two weeks of the season, that’s really good.

It’s been a great season, we’ve got more top of the table clashes than ever before. Teams like Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Hibs deserve a pat on the back for that.

People are the world now think that something interesting is happening in Scotland.

Though I don’t think the standard has risen. I think Celtic have fallen short compared to their standards of the last two seasons, so for them to be top of the league, it shows they’ve got something about them which means they can keep winning games, and they have individuals who can rescue them when they’re in trouble.

Alfredo Morelos will score a goal to keep Rangers going, but I don’t think they have those same individuals as Celtic up their sleeve.

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