Steven Gerrard refused to be drawn on a potential Rangers title challenge on Friday, saying the club are under enough pressure already as fans’ hopes grow that they can depose Scottish Premiership champions Celtic.
The appointment of the former Liverpool and England skipper and the team’s unbeaten start to their Europa League qualifying campaign have boosted optimism that the Glasgow giants can win their first title since 2011.
But ahead of their opening league match against Aberdeen on Sunday, Gerrard shrugged off questions about how ready his side are to take on Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic, who have won the title seven times in a row.
“It’s a difficult question to answer as it’s a long season and this is just the start,” he said. “We made a lot of changes for a reason – we felt the squad needed that amount of surgery to help it compete.
“We don’t want to put any targets or added pressure on them than is already on us at the moment.”
Gerrard said the aim was to have strength and variety in every position to allow Rangers to make a sustained challenge.
“Every fan, every pundit, every media guy will have his opinion on where Rangers are at the minute,” he said.
“I don’t think we need to get involved in that. We have confidence and belief in ourselves.
“We’re trying to create a culture, a winning mentality, in the dressing room which helps us grow stronger but it will take time.”
Aberdeen gave Premier League club Burnley a scare on Thursday as they forced Sean Dyche’s side to extra-time in their Europa League clash at Turf Moor before eventually slumping to a 3-1 defeat and a 4-2 loss over the two legs.
Gerrard’s men were also in action but did not need extra time, drawing 1-1 against Croatian outfit Osijek for a 2-1 aggregate victory and the Rangers boss wants his team to use their freshness to their advantage.
He said: “Aberdeen looked fit against Burnley, they look in good shape. They have played an extra 30 minutes than us and we’ve got to use that to our advantage.
“I think you’ll find today both teams will be tired. Both teams have put an awful lot of effort in trying to get qualification.
“I’m sure Derek (McInnes) is trying to pick his players up but it’s a great game for them to bounce back in as I’m sure they will want to turn us over.”
Celtic start their title defence at home to Livingston on Saturday.
Rangers and Celtic will meet in the first Old Firm derby of the season at Celtic Park on September 2.