24 Apr Gers players tense
Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha admitted his assistant had raised concerns about his players’ frame of mind before their William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic kicked off.
Caixinha felt his players were too tense as Celtic strolled to a 2-0 victory at Hampden to set up a May 27 showdown with Aberdeen.
Callum McGregor slotted home an 11th-minute opener and Celtic were utterly dominant for the first hour, by which time they were two ahead following Scott Sinclair’s penalty after James Tavernier brought down substitute Leigh Griffiths on a breakaway.
Rangers showed some signs of life later in the game, with Kenny Miller having several chances after being moved up front, but Caixinha revealed he had altered his team talk after assistant Helder Baptista’s warning.
Caixinha said: “Helder came to me just before the end of the warm-up and told me: ‘Please, in your pre-match speech, don’t be strong, don’t be so tough. They need to feel a little bit more freedom.’ He thought they were totally focused but not enjoying it.
“Maybe when you are not feeling that freedom, you don’t enjoy it and perform the way you need. So we were a little bit blocked. If you are blocked, even if you have the best organisation and ideas in the world, then you cannot perform.
“It wasn’t a question of being frightened, it was a question of not letting things flow in the direction you need to take them.”
The Portuguese coach went into great detail about how they had intended to close Celtic down high up the park, but they did not press at all effectively and he confessed that “the way we prepared the game and the way we performed the game was totally different”.
He added: “I think we gave the opponent too much respect, especially in the first half. We dropped off too much on the park. It was not what we were preparing for during the week.
“We could not annul Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong, who, according to my analysis of previous matches, were the guys that can create all the imbalance.
“If you add the early goal, it was difficult to find a way to have the ball and a way to have counter-attacks.
“At half-time we tried to change things, we changed two players and changed Kenny in order to be more in position to contain Scott Brown. We got better in the first four minutes until the penalty, and the penalty changed things for the next 10 minutes.
“At that moment Celtic definitely had the momentum. After that we got into the game and had some chances, but didn’t score.
“They deserved to win and we could have done, and should have done, much better.”
In contrast, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was delighted with the way his side handled the occasion as they moved one step away from the treble.
“I always say to my team, you have to stay calm,” Rodgers said.
“We know the consequences of this game, we also know what it means to people, but you have to perform. And you can only perform when you stay concentrated and stay calm.
“What we have been able to do over the course of the season is keep adding to the games when you perform under pressure.”
Rodgers, who revealed Moussa Dembele would have a scan on his injured hamstring, said: “I thought we played absolutely brilliantly: everything you would want your team to play in terms of composure, temperament, technical quality.
“The first half in particular we were outstanding. It was a great goal and the only disappointment was we didn’t score more.
“At 2-0 we were comfortable. Going forward we are showing a good balance to our game, but how we can improve is sometimes at 2-0 you are comfortable in the game and sometimes you look for the rest, and you are better to rest with the ball than without the ball. That was my only pointer in the game.
“That allowed them a little spell of 15 minutes when they had a couple of opportunities. But over the course of the game, to play a Celtic-Rangers game to that level makes me very proud of the team. Twelve months on from where they were last year it really shows the level they have got to.”