Last December Derek McInnes rejected the chance to replace Pedro Caixinha at Rangers but as the anniversary of the Portuguese manager’s dismissal comes round, the man who opted to stay at Pittodrie is impressed by the job Steven Gerrard is doing.
McInnes preferred the stability of life at Aberdeen to the chaos behind the scenes at the club he used to play for, just as he had done when struggling Sunderland failed to lure him south of the Border the previous summer.
Rangers limped on to the end of last season with Graeme Murty and Jimmy Nicholl in charge while Aberdeen finished runners-up to Celtic in the Premiership – but what a difference a year has made.
McInnes admits the arrival of Liverpool legend Gerrard in the summer has transformed the team they face in Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final, making them a much tougher prospect than would have been the case last October.
He said: “It’s clear Steven has really imposed himself on the club, both in terms of the playing staff and building a strong squad.
“The club have bought into him and so have the supporters, especially during the European run – they’ve been very impressive and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
“To get Rangers in the group stage at the first attempt has been a great effort and they have dealt with those European games brilliantly.
“It’s clear in his short spell there the big influence he is having on the whole club, not just the team.
“The team itself… Rangers have always had big squads over the last few seasons in general but they have got a squad of quality and real depth now. I don’t think that has always been the way in recent seasons.”
Sunday’s semi-final at Hampden Park will be the first time the teams have met in either major knockout competition since 2004, when Rangers won 2-0 at Pittodrie on the way to lifting the League Cup. Gerrard’s side go into the game as favourites to reach their first final under the new manager but McInnes has warned his Ibrox counterpart to expect a stiffer test against Aberdeen than the one he got on the opening weekend of the league campaign.
It took Bruce Anderson’s last minute goal to rescue a point for the Dons against a Rangers side who played for 78 minutes with ten men after Alfredo Morelos was sent off, leaving a frustrated Gerrard claiming his side were clearly superior.
McInnes is too canny to refer back to that in public, but it’s sure to be mentioned in private in the build-up, although he does stress: “Physically we were nowhere near it on the first day of the season – we were awful.
“But there were reasons for that, we’d played Burnley and pushed them close over normal time then extra time on the Thursday night, then didn’t get back until 5am.
“So there was a physical factor, although I was disappointed with our game intelligence that day. We had fatigue in our heads and fatigue in our minds on the opening game of the season.
“This time round, we have had a much better chance to prepare for it. So I expect us to be better physically and hopefully we will be better in all aspects, because clearly we will have to be.
“Rangers have dealt with the European games this season particularly well and I think a blind man can see they are hands-down better than what they were over the last few seasons.”