PITTODRIE will, aside from the occasional shout from the sidelines or vocal exchange between team mates, be unusually quiet for an Aberdeen game against Rangers when the new Premiership season gets underway early this afternoon.

With fans not being allowed to return to Scottish football grounds until next month due to the coronavirus pandemic, the normally incendiary fixture between the two bitter rivals will take place inside an empty stadium. 

The silence will be in stark contrast to the noise that has accompanied the visitors’ build-up to this campaign; speculation about the future of their talismanic striker Alfredo Morelos and chatter about their chances of stopping Celtic from making history and completing 10-In-A-Row this term has reached deafening levels in recent days. 

Yet, Steven Gerrard, whose position as manager at Ibrox will come under threat after two trophyless seasons should his side fail to perform to the required standard, has never had any difficulty blocking out external distractions either as a player or a coach. He will make shielding his charges from such hysteria a priority going forward so they can perform at their best.

“We can’t control the noise, we have to accept it, it is what it is,” he said. “I think everyone is aware of it (10-In-A-Row), the board, the fans and the players. Of course it comes up in conversations. I would be a liar if I said it didn’t.

“We know and respect that there’s going to be a lot of noise on the outside, but on the inside it is my job to keep them focused on the next challenge and not really add unnecessary pressure to the players. There’s no getting away from it, we have to accept the situation and where we all are and just give our best shot for this football club.

“At Rangers you don’t have the chance to pick and choose what you want to prioritise and what you want to put all your efforts into. We have to go for everything that’s available. Of course, if I could pick one of them it would be the league, of course it would because the league’s so important.

“But as a Rangers manager we go for every game, face every challenge, try and win everything that’s in front of us and do our best in every competition we enter.”

Gerrard can see many reasons to be optimistic ahead of what promises to be a memorable 10 months. He is convinced that both he and his charges are better placed to lift the Scottish title than at any stage during his time in Glasgow and is keen to see them show that in their first competitive fixture in four-and-a-half months. 

“When I got the job, people spoke about my inexperience, but I’ve certainly gained experience over the course of that last two years,” he said. “I know the players are a good bunch and I know they want to strive to get better.

“In terms of where we are, I was pleased with pre-season. We are keeping clean sheets, we are defending well. But we have to be ready to hit the ground running against Aberdeen.”

In his first two years in the dugout Rangers have pushed Celtic strongly up until Christmas and then fallen away in the second half of the season. He is adamant the likes of Borna Barisic, Ryan Jack and Ryan Kent will be far better placed to sustain their challenge as a direct result of those disheartening collapses. 

“I hope they will have learned,” he said. “From that kind of experience all you can do is improve, learn and grow.

“It has to. I think I was the same as a player. I always tried to move on quickly from success but also tried to get back after bumps on the road and use them to fuel your desire to be more successful. That’s what we need to do as a team.

“We did come very close (in the Betfred Cup final). The performance was really good and I couldn’t have asked for any more from the players in terms of what they gave. That goes for the two years.”

Much, of course, will depend on what transfer business Gerrard conducts between now and close of the transfer window in October. He has brought in Calvin Bassey, Leon Balogun, Ianis Hagi and Jon McLaughlin. But he confesses he needs more still if his team is to compete with their city rivals for silverware. 

“I think we’re in better shape than we were last year,” he said. “The additions we have made so far have enhanced our squad, but we would like to make it even better.

“We want to add to it and we want to bring some help to the individuals who are already here. Over the course of nine months we could play 50 games so you always want to add quality.

“These players need some help in the door to try and help improve the XI and the squad and make us more consistent over a full season and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

The absence of spectators will bring a strange dynamic to the opening weeks of the Premiership. Gerrard suspects not having a vocal and sizeable travelling support at Pittodrie today will be detrimental to Rangers’ hopes of victory. But he knows it will affect their hosts too. 

“It will be different,” he said. “Not having our own fans there is a disadvantage because the support we’ve had up there has been phenomenal.

“But we’re hoping to capitalise on a quiet Pittodrie because it can become noisy, they can get behind their team there. We’re hoping to take advantage of that. It’s a game we’re really looking forward to. It’s a fantastic challenge, a great fixture to start the season off.”