Why Brendan Rodgers clarified Celtic-Rangers 'disrespect' comments and reveals gameplan for Old Firm derby

Clement was irked by last weekend’s comments ahead of powderkeg clash

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has dismissed claims that he showed disrespect towards Rangers, saying such accusations are “without merit”.

Speaking after last weekend’s 3-0 win over Hearts, Rodgers declared his team “can have a bit of fun” when they meet their Old Firm rivals in Saturday’s potentially title-deciding clash at Celtic Park. His words provoked a reaction from his Rangers counterpart Philippe Clement, who said after his team defeated Kilmarnock 4-1 on Sunday: “That it is something that I would never say about an opponent. It’s not really respectful towards my team.”

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Those comments surprised Rodgers, who said at his pre-match media conference: “I think anyone who was at my press conference would have sensed the way in which it was said. The reaction to that is totally without merit. It has no context whatsoever. You mention my past record in these games, I have never referred to these other than being intense, being competitive. We never talk about the game as that but we talk about the whole occasion.

Brendan Rodgers' Celtic team host Rangers on Saturday.Brendan Rodgers' Celtic team host Rangers on Saturday.
Brendan Rodgers' Celtic team host Rangers on Saturday.

“The occasion is one of the most iconic games in world football. And I love it. It’s one of the reasons I am here, the great pride and privilege I have in managing Celtic in a Rangers game. So the whole emotion, the whole feeling around this game is absolutely amazing. I have seen some of the headlines around the ‘disrespect’ and whatever else but it is totally without merit. It was never in that context being said, and I never would be that person to disrespect another manager or another team. But I suppose it’s part of the build-up for you guys.”

Rodgers has a formidable record in the Old Firm derby, only tasting defeat once to Rangers across two spells at Celtic and winning 12 times in total. Clement has yet to taste victory in the fixture since taking over from Michael Beale in October last year, with the most recent contest finishing 3-3 at Ibrox last month. Rodgers says it is a fixture he revels in being part of.

“I have loved these fixtures, it was the ones I was really looking forward to since being up here the first time,” said Rodgers. “The record is great but it’s always about building – building more memories and great occasions in this game. But everyone responds and reacts in different ways. I understand the feeling and tension that can be around this game but that’s not me. My job is to find the calmness for the team and the players have been very, very relaxed but focused this week. The preparation has been first class, and that allows us to go into the game ready.”

Victory for Celtic would leave them on the verge of a third consecutive title with games against Kilmarnock and St Mirren to follow to claim the point they would need. A draw would also leave them in the driving seat but Rodgers is fully focused on the three points. “For us, our intention is to win the game, so we don’t prepare for anything else,” he said. “We look to attack the game, and that’s our only focus and we’ll see where that brings us.”



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