PHILIPPE Clement has thanked former Celtic manager Neil Lennon for making his job at Rangers easier by claiming that his players don’t have the mentality needed to lift the Scottish title.

Lennon claimed that Clement’s men lack the mental strength required to prise the cinch Premiership trophy away from their city rivals this season when he appeared on PLZ Soccer earlier this week.

The former Parkhead player and manager stated that the Belgian needed to strengthen his squad further in the January transfer window for the Ibrox club to become champions.

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"They still haven't got that mentality yet of squashing that hold that Celtic have over them and they need to break that if they're going to win the league,” he said.

“And to do that they need to bring in either players of better quality or better mentality."

The Herald: But Clement, whose team will attempt to reduce the top flight leaders’ cushion at the top of the table to five points by winning the first of two games in hand against Hibernian at Easter Road tonight, was pleased to hear Lennon’s comments.

The 49-year-old feels it will give James Tavernier and his team mates an added incentive to perform to the best of their abilities in the second half of the 2023/24 campaign and reduce the need for him to gee them up before games.

He also defended the mindset of his charges – who have pulled closer to Celtic in the league, lifted the Viaplay Cup and topped their Europa League group since he replace Michael Beale back in October – ahead of the trip to Leith. 

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Asked what he had thought about Lennon’s assessment, he said: “I am happy that people outside of the club help to motivate my players. I now need to put less time into that myself.

“I think the players have showed a lot of mentality in the last couple of months. Even at Celtic Park with 10 players, they did that (in the 2-1 Old Firm defeat last month). So we cannot speak about mentality in that way until now. We just need to confirm that in the next six months.”

The Herald: Meanwhile, Clement has warned Rangers will need to increase the size of their squad next season if they are to successfully negotiate all of their domestic and European fixtures after the SPFL announced they were scrapping the winter break.

The Champions League and Europa League will both move to a Swiss system in the 2024/25 campaign and each club in the group stages will play a total of eight matches instead of six between September 25 and January 30.

Clement, who took his players away to La Manga in Spain for a warm weather training break this month when the cinch Premiership stopped for three weeks, can understand why there will be no shutdown next term.

However, he is concerned about the demands which are placed on footballers by their club and country in the modern game and predicted he will need to have more players at his disposal to cope with a punishing fixture list.

“The winter break is important, I’m convinced about that,” he said. “There have been a lot of signals in the past two years from several top players that it’s becoming too much.

“You’ve seen also quite some injuries with the top players and the top teams, who are playing a lot of games. The more games we have, the bigger squads we need because you have to make rotations. 

“You need moments of physical rest and mental rest. You cannot play every three days during 11 months and perform in a top way as one player. We need to take that into account if there are more games next season, looking at the numbers in the squad.”

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Clement, though, is confident he currently has a strong enough squad to cope with all of the Premiership, Scottish Cup and Europa League games which Rangers will have to play in what promises to be another intense spell.

“All my players love to play,” he said. “I think now, after the period that they had, the players are looking forward to it. Maybe they like less of my training and prefer to play games, I don’t know!

“But I really feel it that way. They are all pushing and the more games we have the more chances they have to play. There will be a rotation because it’s impossible to play all those games with the same 11 players. Like we did in December, everybody will be involved and stay involved.

“Therefore in a way, if you ask the dressing room now, I think they prefer this. So they will be very happy about next season because there will be even more games with no winter break.”

Asked if it had been difficult to prepare for the Premiership encounter with Hibernian at Easter Road tonight because of the adverse weather conditions, Clement said: “Yes, but I come from Belgium. It’s nothing new, we have this in Belgium also.

“And I am not here to lie in the sun or on the beach. Or to get a tan. It doesn’t matter to me what the weather conditions are. It was the same in Dumbarton, it’s about doing the job and winning those games.”

Clement confessed that he was looking to make more top class additions to the Rangers squad in the final days of the transfer window and not just increase the options available to him.

“Everyone is working really hard to get more really good quality signings,” he said. “The club showed that already by bringing Fabio in because he could have gone to teams with a bigger budget than Rangers 

“We don’t want to bring only players who make the squad bigger. It can be maybe in one position to have more security. In general what we want is to strengthen the squad. 

“For the players who come in, it’s also a challenge because the squad is getting better and better. I see every month this team, all these players, becoming better. So players coming in also have a tough challenge to compete and be better than the guys in the building. 

‘It doesn’t mean if someone comes in they are guaranteed to play. It doesn’t work that way. The level of the team is rising so the challenge is also becoming bigger and bigger to get people in.”