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Gers' spirited best remains no match for the class of Rodgers' Bhoys


By Julian Taylor

If an 11 point gap wasn't already enough to contend with, Rangers have just discovered there are approximately six million additional reasons which currently separate them from increasingly forlorn attempts at testing Celtic's Premiership stranglehold.

The news that the Parkhead club are poised to receive a vast bonus as part of a sell-on clause from the £75m transfer of Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool from Southampton - a player who was brought to Celtic for only £2.6m only four-and-a-half years ago - is another signpost of the Gers' ongoing marginalisation from lucrative jetstreams.

While each individual derby clash always presents particular issues for both sides, the fact is third-placed Rangers are under far more pressure to supply evidence to the long-held belief that, occasionally, characteristics such as spirit, desire and organisation can circumnavigate clear financial differences. This does require a proven, experienced manager, though - something of an Ibrox issue right now.

Contented Celtic chief Brendan Rodgers' luxurious concern is, arguably, his choice of top class striker to start tomorrow's home clash. Who to select? Leigh Griffiths, a keenly-motivated, in-form, big game specialist; or Moussa Dembele, already an established threat against Rangers and on the expensive shopping list of English Premier League clubs?

In the unlikely event of Rangers emerging with victory against a team who recently conceded that fantastic 69 game unbeaten domestic run, only certifiable fantasists within Ibrox would claim this current outfit, beset with inconsistency and lacking both significant managerial and financial direction, can force a Premiership challenge.

Any hopes of a new era at Ibrox faded with a subconscious admission by the board that they have categorically failed to deliver a quality manager capable of going head-on with Rodgers.

Rustling up Graeme Murty, the club's Under-20 coach, in haste to oversee first team matters until the end of the season indicates a major lack of purpose at the top of the famous marble staircase.

As a mooted replacement to the sacked Pedro Caixinha, Derek McInnes divided opinion at the Gers, but the blundering debacle which culminated in the Aberdeen manager remaining at Pittodrie sharply illustrates that the position of Rangers manager no longer holds special resonance.

Furthermore, a glaring example of this apparent inertia by chairman Dave King and managing director Stewart Robertson was swollen into cold focus earlier this week with the news that former Ibrox boss Dick Advocaat is to take over at Sparta Rotterdam.

Surely the Dutchman, who admits his time in Scotland was the happiest of a long, distinguished career, could have taken over to organise affairs until the end of the season? The Light Blues could then, potentially, have emerged as a strong second-best outfit and perhaps land the Scottish Cup as a sign of actual progress.

Murty, with respect, is not the answer to Rangers' troubles, and he himself has all but admitted as much. There seems to be no end to the malaise, and a number of good results against Aberdeen, Hibernian and Motherwell almost appear in spite of this.

Injuries to Graeme Dorrans, Kenny Miller and now Ryan Jack, hamper preparations for tomorrow. Jack has been an excellent acquisition from Aberdeen and his likely absence is a blow as Murty considers how to curtail Celtic captain Scott Brown.

Rodgers, meanwhile, demonstrated his constant, forward thinking outlook by ensuring his side didn't dwell on what was a chastening ending of Celts' unbeaten run, the 4-0 defeat to Hearts.

Comfortable victories over Partick Thistle, Dundee and, in particular, Aberdeen showcase an intact champions mindset. Just when the Dons, and even Rangers, dare to imagine cutting the gap, Celtic show their quality to extend it easily.

The upcoming winter break, and a probable consolidation of their lead at the top of the table, will be welcomed by Rodgers.

Not even Dembele's possible exit should unduly affect him. The Frenchman is the epitome of what Peter Lawwell, Celtic's chief executive, once classified as an "uncut diamond", ready to earn the club a reputed £18-20m fee sooner rather than later. And, on recent showings, midfielder Olivier Ntcham may even be the next example of this strategy.

It is perhaps elsewhere that Celtic can do extensive damage to their Glasgow rivals, however. The roving commissions issued by Rodgers to both James Forrest and Stuart Armstrong have emboldened the Scotland internationals once again this season and, like Griffiths, the bigger the game, the seemingly gilded the performance.

Yet Rodgers understands the folly of standing still. Signing Marvin Compper to stiffen a defence so horribly exposed in the Champions League should prove to be positive, and a leg break for luckless fringe man Jonny Hayes proves the Ulsterman has to adapt, albeit slightly.

Griffiths will be justifiably frustrated if he doesn't start, with Dembele's thoughts perhaps lying elsewhere.

Murty will realistically attempt to cultivate a siege mentality - similar to the type that earned a surprising 1-1 draw at Parkhead last term - as Rangers lack pace and confidence in comparison to Celts. It would be a brave, and probably foolish, move to attempt to press their brisk opponents as Hearts did so successfully at Tynecastle recently.

These days, Rangers are in damage limitation mode across all fronts. Expect Rodgers to therefore negotiate this skirmish without much concern.

Celtic vs Rangers

Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership

Celtic Park, Tomorrow, 12 noon

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