Morelos is too tough for one man to handle, says McInnes
MANY have tried, many have failed. Laying out a defensive strategy intended to stop Alfredo Morelos in his tracks must feel like plotting to nail jelly to a wall. With a nail made of papier-mâché.
So yes, on the most basic level, Derek McInnes will know before a ball is kicked whether his Aberdeen players are mentally ready to face Rangers in a test of character at Pittodrie.
But the fact remains that the Dons could play well, improving significantly on their previous outings against both Celtic and Rangers this season, and still be undone by a moment of brilliance.
When it comes to the candidates capable of producing a little parcel of excellence? Look no further than the Colombian with 25 goals to his name already this season.
McInnes, addressing the obvious threat posed by El Bufalo, knows that he cannot simply deploy one defender to shackle the all-action 23-year-old.
‘Morelos doesn’t just stand against the centre-half,’ said the Aberdeen boss (right). ‘He can occupy the entire back four because he finds space and drifts off, so it’s not just one player that has to be aware of his threat.
‘Watching the game against Feyenoord in the Europa League last week, he scored two goals out of nothing — two unbelievable quality headers out of nothing.
‘That got Rangers a very important point, and players of that ability are invaluable in any team. He is a young player who is improving — and is certainly one we have to handle.
‘Every manager, at the minute, is up against the same issues when they play against Rangers and Celtic.
‘How do you stop the quality of their possession? How do you stop the quickness of their movement? The individual play, their intensity.
‘Both teams are going great guns at the moment.
‘We know we have to do a lot right on Wednesday night to make the game go our way. We have to be clinical and we have got a boy at the top of the pitch who is in brilliant form. We’ve got a goalkeeper who is second to none in the league.
‘We’ve got good enough experience and some good individual players starting the game, so it’s important we bring it all together and give ourselves the best chance of getting the result we want.
‘We can all wax lyrical about the positives of this Rangers team. They’re a good side.
‘When you play against a team who have that real attacking threat, it’s important you get the balance right between attacking and defending.
‘We’ve got to carry a threat in the game and a way of causing them problems.’
Asked whether lessons had been learned from the lack of oomph put into performances that ended in 5-0 and 4-0 losses against Rangers and Celtic respectively this season, McInnes stressed: ‘It’s too easy to say that.’
The one thing Aberdeen fans should be guaranteed tomorrow night, though, is a step up in tempo from a Dons side made to look terribly passive in shipping five unanswered goals at Ibrox back in September.
McInnes will not stand for a repeat of such timidity, as became clear when asked about discipline in a fixture that produced six red cards — and just the 37 cautions — in half-adozen meetings last season.
‘The fixture lends itself to being difficult for a referee to handle,’ he said. ‘It’s normally quite feisty — and both teams are quite committed, as you’d expect. I want to make sure our fans see exactly that. ‘We make no apologies for being fully committed. ‘Playing within the laws of the game, obviously, but making sure our opponents know we’re there.
‘We have always prided ourselves, in the last six-and-a-half years, in being close to Rangers and Celtic. We’ve taken a couple of sore ones against Celtic in particular over that time but we have always managed to beat teams of that quality. ‘I just feel that in those games (this season), we didn’t give ourselves the chance to do that. It’s important we have the mindset that we feel we are going to win the game.
‘That’s what I’ve felt in the past before these games from my players. I need to feel that in the dressing room and in the tunnel — that we can make it a very important night for us.
‘What you’re seeing at the minute are two teams, in Rangers and Celtic, where the quality of the one is driving the quality of the other. Despite their European exploits, they’ve both got squads built to deal with the games.
‘There is a real focus on each and every game because they know, to be honest, that any slip could be fatal in their quest to win the league.’
Plenty have tried to play on the pressure bearing down on both Rangers and Celtic during the early stages of an already-tight title battle.
A few have made Gerrard’s men struggle and sweat on occasion, too. And then, more often than not, Morelos has popped up to keep the momentum going.
If Aberdeen stop him, they have a chance. Sounds easy, when you say it quickly.