It was 2016, Rangers were back in the top flight and their supporters were making bullish noises about “going for 55”. But those title credentials were exposed as hollow in a devastating September afternoon at Celtic Park as Moussa Dembele rammed in a hat-trick and Rodgers showed he hadn’t moved north merely to finish second. As he prepares to resume hostilities with Rangers on Sunday afternoon, Rodgers reflected on that occasion and outlined his desire for more of the same.
“It was September 10, the sun was shining and I remember it all very well,” he recalled. “I had obviously watched the game for so many years on TV. But I was driving in when I realised that was me inside it, that I was in the game. We played ever so well. I remember Leigh Griffiths was out and Moussa introduced himself to the Celtic support. Everything in the game was just what I wanted to see. We were fast, powerful, creative, organised and there was an intensity there. That spilled into the stands, they had a great day. To win 5-1 was special. I think I was involved in 13 when I was up here last time and every game felt really big, really special. It’s such a big part of being here. I can’t wait.”
The gap between Celtic and Rangers is a lot closer now than it was at the start of Rodgers’ first reign but the Northern Irishman insists his mindset ahead of the trip to Ibrox hasn’t changed, even with no Celtic fans inside the stadium to lend their vocal support. “Our idea is to play the game we want to play,” he added. “And my way is always to attack the game. You play with no fear. This is where you get judged as a Celtic player, in games like this. Impose your way on the game, play with a speed and intensity and organisation in the game that is consistent from the first whistle to the last.”
Celtic have endured a few stumbles at the start of Rodgers’ second coming, most notably the Viaplay Cup exit to Kilmarnock and then last weekend’s draw with St Johnstone. The former Liverpool manager concedes it’s been far from flawless but believes it won’t take much to fix it. “We should win that (St Johnstone) game. There were few positives in it. But I look at the speed of it, the positioning and all the technical things and crystallise that in the review that we do with the players. And they are easily fixed. This is what excites me about the team.”
Rangers have endured their own struggles, too, most recently the midweek walloping by PSV Eindhoven that ended their Champions League aspirations. “PSV are a good side," reasoned Rodgers. "Rangers beating them last year maybe created that expectation of going there again and doing the same thing. You have to lick your wounds. It’s not nice, especially when there’s a Champions League pot at the end of it. Part of success sometimes is when you don’t get the results and you have to be strong enough to go again.”