Richard Gough once remarked, if slightly exaggerated, that « Aberdeen only plays four times a year ».
Legend of the Rangers made the bold statement many years ago that the Dons tended to put their shoulder behind the wheel with excessive force when the Light Blues were on their radar compared to the rest of their domestic opposition.
There may once have been a gem of truth in Gough’s assessment, especially considering how such excitement is all associated with a club strangely locked in a little corner of its own bloated imagination and self-meaning. Not this season, however, when Rangers have won both home and away games so far.
Today the Rangers are back in action in Granite City, where the goal is to continue last weekend’s Old Firm triumph. How the Ibrox men would love to extend their Premiership resulted in a massive 22 points over Celtic, who recklessly shudders from bad to bad on and off the park. That could be the kicker when it comes to this season’s title quest.
Despite these previous wins, it will be a tough test at Pittodrie – and the Gers have injury concerns. Steven Gerrard has to orchestrate things without key midfielders Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield, as well as in-form striker Kemar Roofe.
Rangers boss Gerrard admitted at Friday’s press conference that Jack and Roofe will miss at least the next couple of games, but is confident those who are left are more than capable.
At least one of Bongani Zungu or Ianis Hagi will start in Pittodrie, with the Light Blues still determined to maintain their incredible undefeated Premiership record. The South African zungu may be able to provide the stuff and expertise Jack normally enjoys.
Meanwhile, Hagi made a difference when he faced Celtic with his directness, and the Romanian’s eye for goal could cause problems for Aberdeen.
At times like these, Gerrard can of course rely on Northern Irish skipper Steven Davis to use his experience and gaming intelligence to make up for the absenteeism.
The nature of the job in question will give the manager answers he’ll be looking for when he thinks about the Rangers slump last year that ended title hopes. Psychologically, a win even at this stage could arguably drive a conclusive nail in Celtic’s dwindling hopes of 10 in a row before hosting Hibernian.
Of course, given their excitement so far this season, Rangers are a far more rugged outfit than they were 12 months ago. In terms of mentality, the contrast is very sharp.
Regardless of whether you are referring to the desire, the narrow lead over Celtic, the previously undetectable strength and outstanding achievements of Captain James Tavernier, the athleticism, form and flinty 4-3-3 organization of the Whole team figuring out, it’s pretty clear that the trust in the methods of Gerrard and his staff in the back room has been confirmed. And that’s before you realize that Rangers also have the Europa League level where they’ll play against Royal Antwerp in February’s knockout stage.
However, the Gerrard narrative is deliberately fixated on « taking every game as it comes, » as boring as that may sound for an Ibrox support lacking in success. The showdown against the Belgians is another, very different challenge. Until then, a lot can happen.
Today’s Rangers win would be just as important as the 1-0 win over Celtic. Not only because of the obvious aspect that every game is worth three points regardless of the opposition, but also because Aberdeen are a team in good shape. Three wins and two draws in the last five games with just one goal conceded give Don manager Derek McInnes confidence against the leaders. In fact, Aberdeen’s last loss in the league was at Ibrox in November.
Rangers shouldn’t take anything for granted this afternoon. The shock of the League Cup after St. Mirren was of course only last month. In fact, today would be time for Ryan Kent to rejuvenate himself. The winger has had a slight loss of form recently but has scored twice against Aberdeen this season.
Despite these injury setbacks – inevitable hallmarks of a season – Gerrard’s men, who have had a week to prepare, are able to get their business done. You’ll have to do it the hard way, however.
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