Glasgow: Steven Gerrard says Rangers will not let arch-rivals Celtic land a record-equalling ninth consecutive Scottish Premiership title without a fight as the new season gets under way this weekend.
Celtic finished nine points clear of second-placed Rangers last season after turning the title race into a procession once again.
Even the arrival of former Liverpool star Gerrard for his first season at Rangers could not galvanise the Ibrox club enough to put Celtic under serious pressure.
Celtic’s dominance of Scottish football is so complete that they have won the domestic treble for the past three seasons.
Champions for the past eight years, only twice since 2011 have Celtic finished fewer than 10 points ahead of the second-placed team in the final table.
If Celtic lift the trophy for a 51st time this season they will equal their own record run of nine straight titles (1966-74) and the run of Rangers (1989-97).
The last genuinely competitive title race came in 2010/11, when Rangers won the most recent of their 54 Scottish crowns after finishing one point above Celtic.
Whether the inexperienced Gerrard is the man to lead Rangers back to the top remains in doubt after they finished his debut season without a trophy.
But ahead of his side’s opener at Kilmarnock on Sunday, the 39-year-old is adamant he can cope with the pressure of dethroning Glasgow rivals Celtic.
“I knew what I was facing here when I signed up for it 12 months ago. It will be the same, if not more, this season, but that’s what I live for. That’s why I get out of bed in the morning,” Gerrard told the Sunday Post.
“The day I’m not up to that pressure, when I’m not up for taking on that responsibility, I won’t be standing here talking to you.”
Celtic and Rangers shared two wins apiece from their league meetings last season, with Gerrard certain his team will be better during this campaign after he learnt lessons during his first year at the helm.
“I know where we went wrong. I came into a big job and thought I knew what was coming my way,” he said.
“A lot of things didn’t surprise me but certain things did and I had to learn and improve. I can’t be putting it all on the players here.
“Together we need to find better consistency if we want to challenge Celtic in the league.”
Standing in Gerrard’s way is Celtic boss Neil Lennon, who is an old hand at the fight for Scottish supremacy after leading the Hoops to four title triumphs in his two spells at Parkhead.
Celtic’s Scottish Cup final victory over Hearts in May earned Lennon the job on a permanent basis after he replaced Brendan Rodgers on an interim basis in February following his predecessor’s move to Leicester.
Under Rodgers and Lennon, Celtic have sucked all the drama out of the title race, but the former Hoops midfielder does not believe the title race is a forgone conclusion.
“People will say it’s a two-horse race. But the likes of Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts will want to have a say in it as well,” Lennon said before Saturday’s clash against St Johnstone.
“The league will be very competitive, as it always is. We just have to make sure we are at the top of it come the end.”
Lennon’s priorities are more domestic success and coming through the Champions League qualifying rounds to reach the group stage, which would be a significant boost to morale.
“The priorities are getting into the Champions League, which would be fantastic. A great sort of foothold in the season,” he said.
“And then the main priority is the championship, which is the same every season.”
Celtic v St Johnstone, Hibernian v St Mirren, Livingston v Motherwell, Ross County v Hamilton (all 6pm UAE)
Kilmarnock v Rangers (4.30pm), Aberdeen v Hearts (6pm)