Steven Gerrard yesterday conceded that a Europa League tie in Russia three days before Rangers are due to play at Celtic Park was not “ideal” preparation for the first Glasgow derby of the season.
The aggregate victory over Maribor secured in Slovenia on Thursday leaves only Russian side Ufa standing between Rangers and the group stage. The away return leg of the Ufa tie will see Gerrard’s team return from the Bashkortostan capital little more than 48 hours before facing the Scottish champions on their own patch on 2 September.
The Ibrox manager maintains further signings will be required before Friday’s transfer deadline to allow him to feel confident that his squad can cope with the rigours of juggling domestic and continental commitments.
Gerrard has already brought in 11 players but the pursuit of Hearts striker Kyle Lafferty is ongoing, along with the quest to find a third new centre-back.
When it was put to him that it was not ideal to be heading to Parkhead straight off the back of the play-off tie in Russia, Gerrard said: “No, it’s not. In an ideal situation, we’d have preferred the other team [Luxembourg side Progres Niederkorn, who lost to Ufa]. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that. But the players have put so much commitment into getting where they are that I’m sure they’ll want to face the Russian team and give another good account of themselves.
“When you sign these players, they have dreams of playing in Europe, they want to experience big nights at Ibrox. In terms of the travel and looking at it from a negative point of view, we won’t use it as an excuse. We’ll go and do it. We’ll try and support the players the best we can. It is what it is. It is a tough schedule but if we don’t get a result at the weekend, you won’t see me standing in the press conference saying: ‘Oh my players are tired’.”
The “no excuses” mantra from Gerrard extends to his team playing on plastic against Kilmarnock in today’s Betfred Cup clash.
“Look, it’s different,” he said of the synthetic surface. “And Kilmarnock have got a good record on it. They have got a good manager, good players and they play on this surface a lot. I assume they train on this surface a lot more than we do.
“In terms of [having] an advantage on the surface, yeah they do. But we have got players who can handle it, who are capable of playing on it.”