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Comment: Another Celtic hammering could be the beginning of Rangers manager's end

 

By Julian Taylor

Relentless Rodgers, relentless Celtic. Six Premiership points already separate the Scottish champions from Rangers. And ahead of tomorrow's much-anticipated Old Firm clash, it is a marker engaging the minds of the Ibrox public, who have had plenty to scrutinize of late regarding important showdowns.

Celtic can anticipate - in so far as it's possible when these two meet, naturally - business as usual.

Brendan Rodgers has still to taste domestic defeat since arriving at Parkhead last summer, and his drive and dedication shows no sign of waning since guiding Celts to the Treble. European football is another, different, challenge, yet this first Glasgow derby of the season is habitually reassuring. That cascading lava of pressure. How the hurricane can envelop even the most placid of personalities.

The absolute ferocity to be found at Ibrox tomorrow is utterly clichéd, but it's what continues to attract a relatively decent standard of player, whether we speak of those in the first flush of precocious scoring, like Moussa Dembele of Celtic or, in the case of Rangers' Bruno Alves, an opportunity for the Portugal international to compare this game with those of similar high-corrosion across Europe.

Celtic have blithely carried on from where they left off in Scotland last term. The appetite of each player - whether youthful Kieran Tierney or old hand Scott Brown - to consistently learn makes Ulsterman Rodgers' job much easier.

Pedro Caixinha, Rodgers' opposite number, meanwhile, has the unenviable task of constructing a formula to gain at least a draw and, in doing so, provide evidence of improvement, in addition to a personal ability to learn from major errors of judgement.

The Ibrox close season overhaul which saw eight players arrive was imaginative.

However, questions swirl over whether Caixinha is the coach to get the most from them. One intriguing, if minor, observation from his homeland is that the Portuguese is 'too affable' and 'talks too much'.

Only time will tell if these are character defects for a modern Rangers boss and if a reshaped squad genuinely has the deep connection with Caixinha as Rodgers clearly enjoys across the city.

New recruits such as Ryan Jack, Graham Dorrans and Alfredo Morelos have quality and, as such, Caixinha deserves a certain amount of latitude.

Still, it would be remiss to ignore a record so far which can be measured in terms of failing big tests. A 5-1 thrashing at home to Celtic at the end of last season was as abject as the scoreline suggests, and exiting the Europa League to Luxembourg minnows Progres Niederkorn prompted calls for Caixinha's immediate dismissal from a noisy minority.

An Ibrox defensive crisis - injured captain Lee Wallace is out for two months - has seen initial optimism fade a little, increasingly so in the wake of free-scoring Dembele's return to Celtic action.

Caixinha was grossly naive in the last meeting, believing the team he had inherited could actually overcome their commanding old rivals.

Currently, Rangers tend to play neat movements with width, utilising another eye-catching new signing, Daniel Candeias, to good effect. Such a strategy is doomed to failure against Celtic, with their finer speed, steel and game management combined.

Of the two managers, the spotlight is on Caixinha to extract answers rather than Rodgers, who knows fundamentally his side is superior. If Rangers are to take anything then a more pragmatic approach is imperative; a robust, five-man midfield, leaving Morelos to forage upfront.

There are times, and glaring occasions like this, where finesse can be justifiably shelved.

Even accounting for the fact it is currently Aberdeen, and not Rangers, in second spot, the main challenge to Celtic's pre-eminence will always come from Ibrox.

Celtic can count on goals from all areas, from Tierney going forward on the left side of defence to James Forrest, Dembele, Callum McGregor, Leigh Griffiths and Scott Sinclair. The latter's pace can kill opponents and the Englishman's sublime grace is Scottish football's gain.

Rangers have high hopes of 'El Bufalo' Morelos. Coach Jonatan Johansson deserves credit for harnessing the 21-year-old towards Caixinha's mission from HJK Helsinki.

Morelos, who has scored eight goals in 10 games, is adaptable, with a fledgling career already having taken in Colombia, Finland and now Scotland. The epitome of a rough diamond, he has the imprint of Luis Suarez-style aggression and, if given service, has potential to unsettle Celtic's central defence.

Another comfortable afternoon for Celtic will further validate the Rodgers 'brand' and his package of devilish, lightning-quick football.

The outside possibility of a Rangers victory would, crucially, fire up a major psychological launch pad not seen for many years, plus the idea that the club does actually possess a manager capable of going toe to toe with Rodgers.

Perhaps it all comes down to moments when Celtic's standards, very fleetingly, dip. St Johnstone, under Tommy Wright, discovered this upon gaining a recent point at Parkhead. This possibility may be all the Gers can hope for.

Rodgers can reshuffle and, vitally, remains confident of his squad's mental recovery to win any game in Scotland. As an example, the Celts brushed aside Ross County days after their chastening Champions League opener against PSG.

However, respect for Celtic's gifts should never be a reason for a Rangers side to shirk confrontation. The present outfit show promise; character is another elusive question.

Back in April, Caixinha was a sullen onlooker as Celtic danced extravagantly across Ibrox.

He must realise by now such history repeating itself will signal the beginning of the end.

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