Faycal Rherras is adamant Hearts can enjoy a strong second half to the season and secure a top-three finish in the Scottish Premiership.
The Tynecastle side signed off on a low note for the winter break when a 1-0 defeat at home to Aberdeen left them in fourth place, six points behind the Dons – who have a game in hand – and eight adrift of second-place Rangers.
Rherras is currently in Belgium as the Hearts players have been given this week off to rest before returning to Riccarton on Monday to begin preparations for the second half of the season. The left-back insists his team will be ready to rediscover their form after the break and haul themselves back into contention for a European place.
“Of course I believe we can catch Rangers and Aberdeen,” Rherras told the Evening News. “It’s not finished yet. Friday was disappointing but that is gone now. After the break, we will come back stronger. We come back to training on the 9th of January and then there will be 100 per cent training for the next game.”
Rherras admits his first six months in Edinburgh have been tough as he has battled to get to grips with the frenetic nature of Scottish football, while also having to overcome a bout of malaria he picked up on international duty with Morocco. However, the 23-year-old, who joined on a three-year-deal from Belgian club Sint-Truiden feels he will be a better player in the second half of the season.
“I have been adapting because Scottish football is not the same as the football in Belgium,” he said.
“In Scotland you have to be fighting every time, which is not what I was used to. But now I have been here for six months, I am learning to fight.”
Rherras made his debut his debut for Morocco shortly after joining Hearts, and had hoped to be included in the squad for this month’s Africa Cup of Nations. However, he was omitted when the squad was named last month, meaning he will be available to feature in Hearts’ Scottish Cup fourth-round tie away to Raith Rovers and the subsequent league matches away to Celtic and at home to Rangers.
“There is a little bit of frustration because it’s my country and every player dreams of playing in the Africa Cup of Nations, but it is okay because I can stay and play for my team in important games against Celtic and Rangers,” said a philosophical Rherras. “It’s not bad, I’m happy.”