Steven Gerrard admits he wouldn’t have hand-picked a visit to Pittodrie for his first taste of domestic action as Rangers manager.
But that won’t prevent him from relishing every moment of an occasion which, since the 1970s, has come to foster more enmity in Scottish football than any match outside of the Old Firm fixture.
Gerrard may be new on the scene but he is far from uneducated in the history of the often combustible meetings of Aberdeen and Rangers. With Derek McInnes’ side having displaced their Ibrox rivals as the closest challengers to Celtic at the top of the Premiership in recent years, there is an added edge to the visit of Gerrard and his revamped squad tomorrow afternoon.
“Great, I love it,” smiled Gerrard. “I can’t wait. It wouldn’t have been my first pick if I had done the fixtures but, listen, you have got to play everyone home and away at some stage of the season. Some you have to play away more than at home in this league.
“We have to accept it and embrace it. It will be juicy, it will be tasty, the rivalry has grown over the years before my time and before a lot of the players’ time. We have to accept that and embrace it and go up there and try and do our club and our fans proud.
“I was aware of the rivalry between the clubs before I came up here. As a player, I was obviously a tackler myself and that is where the rivalry has come from in the past. So I would be very stupid to sit here and point fingers at anyone who threw in a bad tackle. But, you know, this is what happens.
“At Liverpool we had Manchester United as our biggest rivals and obviously everyone knew about Everton. Then the Chelsea rivalry grew for Liverpool. It happens, this is football. This is why we love the game and we are all fascinated to see the outcome at the weekend. As a player and a manager, I can’t wait for kick-off and I am really looking forward to it. I am looking forward to the stick I am going to get up there! I just hope that we are smiling when we come away from it.”
There have already been reasons to be cheerful for Gerrard and the Rangers support in the early weeks of his tenure with two qualifying rounds of the Europa League negotiated.
He was hugely encouraged by the manner of Thursday night’s 1-1 draw against Croatian side Osijek at Ibrox which secured a 2-1 aggregate victory and booked a place in the third qualifying round against Maribor. “I hope the players have taken a lot from it,” he said. “I watched the game back again when I got in on Thursday and it actually looked better than it did when I was standing on the sidelines, which is often the case.
“So I am delighted with the improvement and where we are heading into the new season. I thought we had some really strong periods in the second half against a good Osijek side and we probably should have put the game beyond doubt. If we read the final pass right, we would have scored more goals. The game should have been more comfortable, for sure.
“I’m very happy with where we are at the moment. It’s difficult to gauge that at the beginning of the season. You just have to let it go and let it snowball but in terms of how we look and our organisation, we are probably a little bit further on than I thought at this stage. But bringing good players in, I did have confidence that they would settle quickly and be able to help the team.
“I feel as though I have players who want to go out there and give everything, players who understand what it takes at a big club.
“It started for real for us as soon as we played our first Europa League games because there was something at stake. There is qualification at stake. But domestically, what a start to go in right at the deep end, Aberdeen away, right into that cauldron. Let’s see what we’ve got.”