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Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers claims accusations he showed disrespect towards Rangers are “without merit”.

Rodgers sparked a reaction from Rangers boss Philippe Clement as he looked towards Saturday’s derby clash between their teams in the wake of Celtic’s 3-0 victory over Hearts last weekend.

The Celtic boss declared his side “can have a bit of fun” after stressing they would take nothing for granted in the title race, keep their composure, work hard and prepare their plan.

After Rangers cut the gap at the top of the cinch Premiership back to three points and five goals with a 4-1 victory over Kilmarnock 24 hours later, Clement said: “That it is something that I would never say about an opponent. It’s not really respectful towards my team.”

Rangers v Celtic
Philippe Clement embraces Brendan Rodgers following the 3-3 draw at Ibrox (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Those comments surprised Rodgers, who said at his pre-match media conference: “I think anyone who was at my press conference would have sensed the way in which it was said. The reaction to that is totally without merit. It has no context whatsoever.

“You mention my past record in these games, I have never referred to these other than being intense, being competitive. We never talk about the game as that but we talk about the whole occasion.

“The occasion is one of the most iconic games in world football. And I love it. It’s one of the reasons I am here, the great pride and privilege I have in managing Celtic in a Rangers game. So the whole emotion, the whole feeling around this game is absolutely amazing.

“I have seen some of the headlines around the ‘disrespect’ and whatever else but it is totally without merit.

“It was never in that context being said, and I never would be that person to disrespect another manager or another team. But I suppose it’s part of the build-up for you guys.”

Rodgers’ record in the fixture is impressive with 12 wins and only one defeat in 16 derbies. Clement has experienced one defeat and a 3-3 draw at Ibrox last month and Rodgers was asked whether the reaction to his comments showed what the pressure of the contest can do.

“I don’t know, I can only talk for myself,” the 51-year-old said. “I have loved these fixtures, it was the ones I was really looking forward to since being up here the first time.

“The record is great but it’s always about building – building more memories and great occasions in this game.

Rangers v Celtic
Brendan Rodgers and Joe Hart celebrate at Ibrox in September last year (PA)

“But everyone responds and reacts in different ways. I understand the feeling and tension that can be around this game but that’s not me.

“My job is to find the calmness for the team and the players have been very, very relaxed but focused this week. The preparation has been first class, and that allows us to go into the game ready.”

Victory for Celtic would leave them on the verge of a third consecutive title with games against Kilmarnock and St Mirren to follow to claim the point they would need. A draw would also leave them in the driving seat but Rodgers is fully focused on the three points.

“For us, our intention is to win the game, so we don’t prepare for anything else,” he said. “We look to attack the game, and that’s our only focus and we’ll see where that brings us.”