Rangers will kick off today’s visit to Livingston trailing league leaders Hearts and their derby rivals Hibernian in the Premiership table, and manager Steven Gerrard admits that playing catch-up on a Sunday could work against his team and champions Celtic.
Both clubs guaranteed themselves a minimum of six Sabbath fixtures by qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League and, with Sky and BT Sport both prone to rescheduling the Glasgow giants’ fixtures for live broadcasts, they can expect to play 24 hours later than their rivals on a frequent basis.
Gerrard claims that he identified the potential for problems before the Ibrox club had negotiated a safe passage through the qualifying rounds and that the signings he has made have been in response to such a programme, which continues at Livingston this afternoon.
“I don’t know whether it’s a disadvantage for sure, playing Sunday-Thursday,” he said. “I think it would be if you didn’t have good players, a big squad with two good players for every position.
“The reason we brought in the volume of people we did – and the quality we tried to bring in – over the summer was to try and deal with that.
“I was also aware that the reward for qualifying for Europe was more games. I think someone mentioned to me the other day the minimum amount of games we can play is 58. That’s the reason why I stress it’s so important for every [fringe] player to be ready.
“It’s the reason we need players fit and in form, it’s the reason why we need players available because it’s important to pick the same 11 or work off 13-14 people when you have that amount of games.
“I have to use the squad the best I can. You’ve seen quite clearly what I’ve tried to do. I need to keep it fresh and energetic to get positive results.
“Of course, [on reflection] I’m sure it is a bit of an advantage for Hearts and Aberdeen – but it is what it is and we have to get on with it.”
Gerrard’s players have been praised for recording valuable draws in Macedonia, Slovenia, Russia and Spain this season but sharing the spoils at Aberdeen and Motherwell has not been so well received. Gerrard, though, is not overly concerned that only two of his side’s nine away matches have been won.
“It’s a different format in Europe because a draw more often than not can be a very positive result for you, especially if you’ve done your job well enough at home,” he said.
“League fixtures are completely different, especially when you are Rangers; there’s more pressure and expectation to go and take maximum points. We’re well aware that, in going to Livingston, anything other than three points will be seen as a negative result for us.
“It’s a tough game because they’re flying high and we’ll go there with a lot of respect but there’s no getting away from it – as a Rangers manager you have to go there and try to take maximum points.”
Neither Rangers nor champions Celtic have registered an away victory in the league but Gerrard refuses to read too much into that at such an early stage of the campaign.
“It’s not as easy as that,” he said. “Teams do try and nullify you. Things happen within games that sometimes you can’t control; for example, a red card [for Alfredo Morelos] away at Aberdeen and then, all of a sudden, none of your defenders realise you have to head a ball in the last kick of the game at Motherwell. Those are the reasons you don’t take maximum points in those two fixtures. This is what teams are trying to do against the likes of ourselves and Celtic, they try and do anything they can within their powers to take points away from us. We have to accept that, that’s how it is.
“Teams have different styles and ways of going about it. Livingston will be slightly different to Motherwell and Aberdeen but we have to go there and make sure we try and perform and do everything we can to take maximum points.”