It is a measure of Brendan Rodgers’ remarkable record in Old Firm combat that he will face a fourth different Rangers manager in just two years of the famous fixture tomorrow.
Having seen off Mark Warburton, Pedro Caixinha and Graeme Murty, Celtic boss Rodgers now has his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in his sights.
While the Scottish champions’ build-up to the opening showdown of the Glasgow giants this season has been far from ideal, with the distractions and player discontent of the transfer window, they are still odds-on favourites to continue the dominance over Rangers they have enjoyed under Rodgers.
Starting with the 5-1 drubbing of Warburton’s side back in September 2016, Rodgers has won nine and drawn two of the 11 Old Firm games he has taken charge of so far with an aggregate score of 30-6 in Celtic’s favour.
Rangers head across the city tomorrow still unbeaten after 12 games of Gerrard’s debut season in management but Rodgers believes the former England skipper will never have experienced anything as intense in his storied career.
“He’ll feel the sense of occasion, that’s for sure,” said Rodgers. “Steven is from Merseyside and as a local boy he experienced the whole Liverpool v Everton thing, or the Liverpool v Man Utd thing. But he’ll feel the raw passion of this one. This game is different.”
Rodgers admires the early work Gerrard has done in re-energising Rangers but insists the identity of his counterpart in the rival technical area has no added relevance.
“I’ve always been respectful of every manager at Rangers,” he added. “Everyone who has gone in there has given it their best. These are just very special games. I have been involved in eleven of them, there’s been a special atmosphere and we’ve played well in them. We aim to do that again this weekend.
“Rangers have done very well since Steven came in. They were obviously planning from the back end of last season, with a view to getting a higher level of player quality in, and you can see that in their performances. I always felt this was the route Stevie would go down in his career. In terms of him coaching, it was something we spoke about during our time at Liverpool, when him and Kolo Toure both started their badges.
“It was clear he was going to go down the management route and it was then a case of when he stepped in to a job. He’s made a really good start, which is nice. It can be difficult when you come in to a club, depending on what time of the season, but he’s adapted very well, He’s brought in some good players.”
Rodgers, who sent Gerrard a congratulatory text on Thursday after Rangers qualified for the group stage of the Champions League, also dismissed suggestions there has been a strained relationship between the pair since the 38-year-old Liverpool legend’s Anfield career came to an end while he was manager.
“I’m not sure where that all comes from, to be honest,” said Rodgers. “I think some people would like to go down that route but it’s certainly nothing I’m aware of.
“You’ve heard his words and feelings about my management, how I work and everything else in the period we worked together. Of course, it’s never easy whenever you leave your club and move on. But that’s football. It’s never been an issue at all. He was great for me there as a captain. I think he’s said something likewise when I came in as a manager – that I helped him change role and his position in the team. He had a couple of great seasons for me. He was brilliant for me in his time there, so there’s no problem.”
There will be a new dynamic to the fixture off the pitch this season, with the number of away fans restricted after Celtic responded in kind to Rangers’ decision to cut the allocation for rival supporters.
That is a development which has disappointed Rodgers. He said: “It will be interesting to see how the games are now.”
“I didn’t see a lot wrong before, with both clubs having that real extra level of support away from home.
“That really makes for the atmosphere when Rangers come to Celtic Park and likewise when we go to Ibrox with our supporters.
“Our focus is on the pitch but it will be a great advantage for us having more of our supporters on Sunday.”
Asked if he now expects Rangers to emerge as Celtic closest title rivals, Rodgers was non-committal.
“We’ll find out,” he said. “At the beginning of this season, I said that this year the challenges keep coming onto you.
“Aberdeen will be better as will Hibs and Hearts. And obviously we expect Rangers with their investment and Stevie coming in, you’d expect them to be better. But time will tell.”