WITH a fine grasp of arithmetic, and possibly also reality, Hearts striker Soufian El Hassnaoui has suggested that this weekend’s top-of-the-table Championship match against Rangers may end with the Tynecastle side in a very enviable position.
“If you are nine points clear you can only throw it away, you would give it away,” said El Hassnaoui, saying out loud the thoughts of many people in the maroon half of Edinburgh, and elsewhere in Scottish football, too – the league could be Hearts’ to lose come Saturday night.
The early kick-off on Saturday will see the Ibrox giants attempt to cut three points off the six by which unbeaten Hearts lead them just now. Yes, it’s not even December, but with Hearts in imperious form for much of the season so far, not a few neutral observers and some fans of both clubs might consider a nine-point gap to be insurmountable.
El Hassanoui acknowledged that some people may see things that way: “Every game is important, but I can understand why people are talking about this one.
“We are confident going into this game, the team is in a good mood and that’s normal if you’re winning.
“Maybe it would give us a psychological advantage, but I don’t know really. All I know is that we need to stay focused.”
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This is certainly a table-topping clash with a difference – who really expected Hearts to be in such a strong position? Not El Hassnaoui, for one. He said: “When I first came here everyone was talking about the clubs who could be champions. And, of course, Rangers were one of them.
“I am surprised that we have a gap at the moment but anything can happen in soccer. We knew before the league started that even if you get a big gap it can go back.
“So you have to focus on every game and then look at the next one when that’s finished. The reality is that it’s six points at the moment. I didn’t have an expectation for where it would be at this stage.”
Long before arriving in Edinburgh from Sparta Rotterdam, El Hassnaoui knew about Rangers, and he has an interesting take on the differences between his club and Saturday’s visitors.
“Of course, we heard a lot of stories because Rangers had [Giovanni] van Bronckhorst, [Arthur ] Numan, [Fernando] Ricksen, [Bert] Konterman, a lot of Dutch players who played at Rangers, said El Hassnaoui. “But I prefer Spanish and English football so when I was young I was looking always for Spanish football. But of course it is still a big club in Holland.
“The football they are playing is a different style to us. I don’t think you can compare us to each other. They play more with crosses and we play more football. For me, it’s Dutch football. We play very good football.”
• Hearts v Rangers is exclusively live on BT Sport 1 from noon on Saturday, 22 November. BT Sport will bring fans live action of five SPFL games before the end of December, including Queen of the South v Rangers (12 December) and Dundee United v Celtic (21 December). Visit BTSport.com for more info.
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