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Rangers v Celtic: Same again is Rodgers' demand for Ibrox Old Firm debut

By Ronnie Esplin

Boss Brendan Rodgers is looking for his high-flying Celtic side to impose themselves on Rangers when he makes his first trip to Ibrox tomorrow. The Northern Irishman has enjoyed victories over the Light Blues at Celtic Park and Hampden since taking over the Parkhead club in the summer.

And the in-form Hoops will travel to Govan 16 points clear of Mark Warburton's men with a game in hand, unbeaten in 23 domestic matches (including four in the League Cup) this season having taken full points from the last 14 league games.

Consequently, Rodgers will not deviate from what has been working so well in Scotland, even against Celtic's traditional rivals who will be desperate for a win to give their fans some encouragement.

"I expect a very tough game, an intense game, a great battle I'm sure," he said. "But we arrive into the game obviously full of confidence and looking to impose our way of playing and our style on the game, but respect that it will be a tough match.

"In every game you have to win your battle. Individually and collectively. We always aim to play with big intensity and big aggression in our game and that is with and without the ball so we will anticipate that game again.

"What we have shown in the opening part of the season, there has been lots of games where you could say Celtic were under pressure. The Betfred Cup final (against Aberdeen), 2-0 down against Motherwell, the Champions League qualifier, numbers of other games and we have stayed calm and come through the pressure.

"So we know it will be a great atmosphere at the game but in terms of our game plan there is no change.

"We arrive into the game knowing we average three goals away from home in the league so far, so it points to us going into the game with a big confidence but we understand and respect it is a difficult game."

Rodgers experienced big derby matches as boss of Swansea and Liverpool and he looks forward to a typically frenetic encounter in the last fixture of the year before the Premiership teams take a three-week break ahead of the Scottish Cup fourth round on January 21.

He said: "My first game I played at Cardiff, we won 1-0, it was one of the first games they had won there for a while; the derby games at Goodison Park were very intense and passionate and that's what you expect and want.

"I am sure the Rangers fans will be really passionate about their team and that is how it should be, backing their team as the Celtic supporters do home and away. I am sure it will be a great atmosphere and a really good venue to play in.

"But it is a privilege for me wherever I have taken Celtic, from the very first game in Gibraltar where we had aeroplanes in the background, and we finish off this period of the season away at Ibrox.

"They're protecting an unbeaten run at home and their supporters will expect them to win. That all points to pressure.

"I expect a very tough game. It'll be a really intense game and a great battle, I'm sure."

"But, like I say, we always get a great support and we will have a good support this weekend as well."

"We want to win, but whatever the result, we've had a brilliant opening period to the season," Rodgers said.

"We'll go away, re-focus and be better in the second part of the season."

Celtic's unbeaten run puts them within three matches of equalling the 'Lisbon Lions' class of 1966-67 that went 26 domestic matches unbeaten at the start of the season - before losing 3-2 at Dundee United on December 31.

Belfast Telegraph


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