THE fear of losing is still there for Rangers. The fear of Celtic isn’t.

Gone are the days when Rangers entered the Old Firm arena knowing it was a case of how many their historic rivals would beat them by.

That mindset is a thing of the past. So, too, are the players who were outfought and outclassed by Celtic at Parkhead, Ibrox and Hampden.

There is no guarantee that Steven Gerrard’s side will win the first derby of the season this weekend. But the Gers can go into it with confidence in their own ability and belief in those around them once again.

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A year on from his first Old Firm fixture, Gerrard can see Rangers are in a far better place as they go in search of a third consecutive win over Celtic on home soil.

“Certainly before the first Old Firm at Ibrox I could still feel, even in the first fixture away, a bit of anxiety and maybe a lack of belief and a bit of fear hanging about because Celtic were coming,” Gerrard said. “This team and some of the people involved had taken some real serious knocks in previous games against them.

“It was all about finding a performance and a collective effort to get the first Old Firm win and I think that gave us a lot of confidence and a lot of belief because there was a big improvement when we went back to Celtic Park.

“Again, we managed to beat them at Ibrox. We all believe we have closed the gap.

“We have still got a lot of respect for Celtic, they are still the team to beat and catch. But we believe that if we find our level and our best at Ibrox then, not just Celtic, anyone coming to visit is going to be find it very difficult to beat us.

“That is not really important to me, what bookmakers think or pundits or people on the outside. What is important to me is the belief and confidence in the dressing room and what shape we’re in. we have virtually got a full squad to pick from in terms of injuries.

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“We should be confident, should be bouncing into Ibrox and the crowd should be right behind us from the first whistle. It should be a game we go into with no fear and confidence and belief that we can go and win the football match. That is how I want the players to feel.”

The squad that Gerrard inherited had suffered more than its fair share of Old Firm blows and the damage was too great for some players to recover from at Ibrox.

He has increased the quality and improved the mentality, though. Last year, the first derby was lost but Rangers go into the opening one this term with real momentum after the victory over Legia Warsaw.

He said: “I think it is only normal for any footballer if you have played against a team many times throughout a season and you consistently get beat and beat well and it is a bit of a mismatch.

“It is only normal that you are not looking forward to an Old Firm away on the back of a really tough game in Ufa where you have had to run your socks off for 90 minutes.

“It is pretty normal to have a bit of anxiety and fear going into that game and it showed in the first 45 minutes. But things have changed. We are a better team, a better squad, the confidence and belief is back.

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“We have shown on enough occasions that we are a better team and better squad. We still want to get better, and we will. But anyone coming to Ibrox now, if we can find our level then they will have to play well to beat us.”

By the time Rangers made the trip to Parkhead last term, they had already faltered in the Premiership as needless points were dropped at Aberdeen and Motherwell.

This time, though, the Old Firm are tied at the top of the table after winning their respective fixtures in the first three weeks of the campaign.

Another win tomorrow would only further boost the feelgood factor around Ibrox at present but Gerrard insists there will be no more meaningful consequences at this stage of a battle that could go down to the wire.

Gerrard said: “It won’t say much [about the title race]. I can only look at ourselves and where we are at. We’ve done fantastically well to qualify for Europe. We are four points better off than this block of fixtures last season regardless of what happens this weekend.

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“It’s an opportunity for us to take maximum points from our first four games and go top of the league.

“That’s all it is about. There are many twists and turns to be made.

“Celtic beat us in the first one last season and opened up a gap, but we clawed it back and went level at the New Year. A lot will happen between now and the end of the season but it’s an opportunity to make a statement. That’s all what’s at stake.”