PEDRO Caixinha affects a charming innocence about the bearpit he is likely to experience at Ibrox this Saturday. Having freshly guided Al-Gharafa to a mid-table finish in his maiden season in the Qatari Stars League at the time, he has only “heard some things” about the previous meeting between Rangers and Hibs, the seismic Scottish Cup final in May 2016, which ended in a injury-time drama, a historic five-goal thriller, and a number of supporters of both sides rampaging around the Hampden playing surface. While the more poisonous ingredients of that one will be hopefully be posted missing this time around, Saturday at the very least promises to be a proper football match.

Likewise, his opposite number, Neil Lennon, is a man he has never met, even though the former Celtic firebrand’s involvement is another source of fascination for some on Saturday. “I just went to watch their last match,” says Caixinha, whose Mexican side Santos Laguna had close links to Lennon-era Celtic. “I was in the stand and he was on the bench. Supposedly it is not going to be a welcome reception [for him], but I don’t know. That is not my problem, I don’t care about it. I just care about my time.

“I have heard some things, especially regarding two seasons ago and the cup final,” the Portuguese conceded. “But I am not going to recall that moment, I don’t need to recall that moment. I prefer to be concentrated on the moment that we are living now and our own team and all the good things that we are doing, while respecting the opponent.

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“It [Hibs] is a good team, a good squad with very good players and a very good manager,” he added. “We know because of the history and the confrontation of both clubs that it is going to be a great challenge. But we are looking forward to having it. We will play at an Ibrox that is sold out, it is going to be our first home match in the league and, as usual, it is the most important one because it is the next one and we want to do everything to get the three points at home.”

Sweet smiles and innocence or not, Caixinha is well aware that this is a match which will crackle with all the intensity of an Old Firm derby, particularly in the early stages. Having been rolled over fairly comprehensively in that forum last season, he feels his side - marshalled by the wily, warlike Bruno Alves and featuring flinty midfield competitors like Ryan Jack - are well equipped these days to be combative without stepping over the line.

“I know that our team this season is more physical and we can get more in the duels,” he said. “When we need to put that presence on the park, we can do it.

“It is not our style of play - I want the team to be combative, a team that fights, but aggression is another thing,” he added. “I want to be loyal and strong on the ball, I want the players to be coordinated and organised and pressure all the team. I might call that a combative team. We expect our team to act like that and from what I have watched on video and what I watched live at Easter Road, they are also an aggressive team. We might expect a game in that direction but we want the team to understand what is going on and deliver their game.”

If this Portuguese matador is bullish about the abilities of his side right now it must be because he is buoyed by what he calls their best performance of his time, the 6-0 victory against Dunfermline. Rangers appear to be building momentum after their humbling aggregate defeat to Progres Niederkorn but a bad result at home on Saturday against an in-form side could quickly puncture that bubble.

“I could watch it, quietly, almost for the entire second half. But there is more to come. Since Bruno and Dorrans arrived we have improved and by a few more weeks we will have improved even more.”

While, with 20 days to go, there are still further arrivals to be sealed, [“You need £2million for a player with a value of £1m,” he said. “In Mexico, for example, it was the same.”], it seemed churlish yesterday not to dwell a while longer on the impact of those two pieces of transfer business. While the lift the former has provided this club with his mere presence since arriving following Confederations Cup duty with Portugal was consolidated by a wicked free-kick goal, the latter has orchestrated play through the midfield with an applomb which makes Caixinha feel the 30-year-old could add to a rather paltry return of 12 caps for his country.

“I have not been surprised by his [Alves’] impact,” said Caixinha. “If you know Bruno like the Portuguese know Bruno then you know you are not going to lose. He is a leader, he is a winner and he leads by his presence. After his first game against Marseille, and he only played 55 minutes, everyone understood he was at a different level. He is one of our key players and he will help us get to where we want to be.

“I know Bruno can take free-kicks, only in Portugal they don’t ask him because Ronaldo won’t allow it. But we have Bruno, Niko [Kranjcar], James Tavernier and [Daniel] Candeias who can all take free-kicks.

“I am not surprised that Graham hasn’t got more caps, it’s not my issue and not my work,” he added. “But I do expect from now that he could get that opportunity. He is a Scottish player, a great player and professional and he’s a great guy too. Being closer to those who analyse and make the decisions will help him. If he continues to do well I think he will have his chance and I hope he does. Technically he is one of the best. He has great vision for the game and also a great understanding.”

Caixinha admits, for now at least, are their rivals. “It is our next rival, our next opponent. All of them are our rivals and we want to beat them all, one at a time.”

Listen to the Herald Sport podcast: We discuss Kieran Tierney's Celtic future, Rangers battering Dunfermline and ponder a Motherwell cup victory.

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