Things have not gone quite as expected at Rangers this season, with many fans hopeful of a strong showing in the league that would see the club test their local rivals Celtic in a bid to mount any sort of title challenge, ultimately putting a stop to the Hoops’ quest for ten league titles in a row.
Some strong performances, including a decent run under Graeme Murty which saw the club go unbeaten in six games, conjured some hope that the gap at the top of the table had begun to be bridged. However, a couple of Old Firm derbies later and Rangers’ season has crashed back to reality.
Not only is the prospect of winning silverware gone for another year, the Gers run the risk of slipping down the table and away from a second-placed finish, with Hibs, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock hot on the Ibrox side’s tail.
As the season nears its end, we look back on Rangers’ campaign and pick three major lessons learned from 2017/2018.
The majority of the squad are out of their depth in a Rangers shirt
Rangers’ current squad has a lot of quality but, as a collective, they seem incapable of meeting the demands that come with playing for a club of this magnitude.
The Scottish Cup semi-final was clear evidence that the majority of the team are incapable of putting in a spirited and passion-driven performance and, as Barry Ferguson rightly pointed out on the PLZ Soccer Show on 18 April 2018, the expectation that comes with wearing the shirt is simply ‘too heavy’ for most of them to bare.
In the coming seasons, the Gers must bring in stars who have experience of playing in front of a large crowd, and must understand that it will turn hostile at times when things do not go their way. All fans are capable of hostility, but as a player it is how you deal with that and go about transforming that from hostility to positivity that really counts.
Stop discussing the need to win titles and appoint a manager who will be allowed the chance to build
To put things into perspective, Rangers have not even spent two years back in Scotland’s top flight yet. To expect the club to be challenging Celtic, who have been developing as the country’s most dominant side since 2012, is simply ridiculous, despite the prestige of Rangers as a club.
The sheer gulf in terms of financial strength alone is enough to suggest that Rangers are far off the Hoops, therefore the comparison between the two teams should stop being made. The Gers need to concentrate on themselves and be selfish, look to build a strong spine worthy of the shirt and build some momentum under the same managerial figure, rather than continue to chop and change.
Graeme Murty has been scrutinised heavily since taking over, but it is difficult to achieve anything for a man with no prior experience as a first-team boss, inheriting a squad built by another man and given minimum funds during his first transfer window.
Had Rangers stuck with Mark Warburton, you could argue that they may be in far more stable a position now, and this is something they will need to be put right in the summer.
At times like this, use your most experienced players, rather than chase them out the club
Earlier this month, news broke that Lee Wallace and Kenny Miller had been suspended by Rangers, and that both looked unlikely to ever kick a football for the club again. To treat two club legends like this is simply astounding and, as two highly passionate individuals who clearly love the club, following a defeat and performance like the Scottish Cup semi-final, it is understandable that the duo were irate.
Having the likes of Miller and Wallace on the pitch may not have added a wealth of quality, but in derby games it is experience of the big stage that often gets you through. Miller knows better than anybody what it means to play for the badge and would have undoubtedly given his all, and that in itself should have been enough to inspire the rest of the XI to put in a slightly more spirited performance compared to the embarrassing display that followed.
Rangers may not have won that semi-final with Miller in the starting line-up, but you can be sure the striker would not have allowed such an abysmal performance to be played out had he been on the pitch.
Instead of utilising a player of such experience, the Gers have gone the opposite way and cast him out, which seems absurd when the club have been crying out for characters and leadership within the dressing room.
Three things learnt from Rangers’ qualification over Maribor: Morelos hasn’t learned
Rangers only needed a 0-0 draw to see out a 3-1 first leg win and secure qualification for the Europa League’s final qualifying round by beating Maribor in Slovenia.
A 91st minute penalty was the closest either team came to breaking the deadlock on the night with the hosts proving to be the more dominant of the two teams, but they failed to turn their chances and possession into goals.
Here’s what can be learned from the game…
McGregor is the quality of goalkeeper Rangers need
Having made six saves, including an injury time penalty from Marcos Tavares, Alan McGregor has continued to show that he is the kind of goalkeeper that the team need having failed to ever really replace him.
Now being asked to perform at a higher level than ever before to push the team into European football, the 36-year-old is showing that he has what it takes after having been with Hull in the second tier.
Gerrard is going for the Mourinho style of media management
Steven Gerrard remains unbeaten in his role as a manager at senior level, yet many are still beginning to learn what to expect from the former Liverpool captain. Perhaps surprisingly, his attitude when addressing the press has drawn comparisons to Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, who he has never hidden his admiration for.
“They had confidence, they had ego, and they are devastated. They had no respect for us, but my players have proved over two legs we are better than Maribor, and that gives me great confidence going forward.”
The former England man’s ‘us against the world’ attitude was previously evident following claims of refereeing conspiracies against Aberdeen. He’s made it clear that he is no novice learning his trade, but is willing to come out fighting.
Morelos hasn’t learned
Despite having been sent off against Aberdeen, only for the decision to later be overturned, for lashing out, Alfredo Morelos was at it again against Maribor. His temperament got the better of him and, in a heated affair, he was involved in numerous altercations.
Few doubt his potential and his ability, but concerns over his discipline remain. With Bordeaux having made a £3.75 million bid, which was instantly rejected according to BBC Sport, Rangers may well be tempted to cash in if he can’t prove that he can behave himself and avoid referees having to take action.
Rangers fans will be pleased Dynamo Kiev deal collapsed for Borna Barisic last summer
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard brought Borna Barisic to Ibrox this summer and he’s already impressed in Glasgow.
It is fair to say that Rangers have been impressed with the early signs from Croatian newbie Borna Barisic. The £2.2 million signing from Osijek impressed in the 2-0 win over St Mirren at the weekend, playing 62 minutes on his debut.
Rangers fans know what the left-back is capable of. They faced him in the Europa League qualifiers earlier this season. The Croatian international looks like being a future star for Rangers and the Ibrox faithful will hope he continues to improve under Steven Gerrard.
They will also be thankful that a transfer deal that looked all set and done for last summer never went through.
“I had agreed everything with Dynamo Kiev and then I do not know what happened…
“In the end Kiev went to (Josip) Pivaric, a great guy, who is certainly not guilty, but I had missed the transfer, everything was clear, someone had undermined it.”
The new Glasgow hero nearly headed to Kiev in the summer of 2017. As reported by Sportske Jutarnji, the player had agreed to join Dynamo Kiev last August.
A deal looked as good as done for the player. However, at the last minute, it fell apart. Instead, Kiev signed his Croatian compatriot Josip Pivaric.
Rangers fans will no doubt be pleased this deal fell apart. As a result, they have a top left-back at Ibrox who could go on to be a real star for Gerrard’s team.
Whoever managed to break up the Barisic to Kiev deal, deserves a big thank you from the Ibrox faithful.
Three things Rangers fans learnt after victory over St. Mirren: Discipline concerns
Steven Gerrard picked up his first league win as Rangers boss as the team in blue overcame newly promoted St. Mirren. Alfredo Morelos and Conor Goldson raced the team into an early lead with a promising start.
Then, a sending off for a rash challenge from Ross McCrorie gave the visitors hope though it was not enough for them to work their way back into the game as they were forced to settle for defeat.
Here’s what we can take from the game:
Discipline is a concern
Two SPL games and two red cards is not the start that Steven Gerrard would have wanted. A hot head in his younger days as a player, he knows all about that aspect of the game but will be keen to stamp it out from his Rangers side as quickly as possible.
“I thought the officials were really, really good today. They got the decision spot-on and we’ve got no complaints. I’ve spoken to the team and praised them for the result. But I’ve also spoken about discipline and composure out there. It’s difficult enough with 11 men. We’re picking up too many red and yellow cards for my liking. But we’ll learn, grow and keep going.”
Yet again the dismissal came in the first half, though fortunately for Ross McCrorie his team had already built up a two goal lead. Having just returned to the team, he could live to regret making such a rash mistake.
Overturning Alfredo Morelos’ ban was crucial
He could have been watching from the stands but instead, just inside the quarter of an hour mark, his high press and composed finish showed just why Rangers need him fit and firing if they are to push Celtic for the title this season.
Whereas last week showed the worst of his game, Morelos looked more at home at Ibrox and the pent up frustration on show last weekend was no longer visible. Now, he has to cut it out of his game completely.
Gerrard’s project remains a work in progress
It can be hard to judge a team based on performances with ten men, particularly two weeks in a row, but there are signs of progress already. There can be no denying that Rangers are not yet the finished package but it is beginning to come together for Gerrard.
Conor Goldson can be pleased with his goal and the side included several other new arrivals this summer including the likes of Borna Barisic, Jon Flanagan, Allan McGregor and young loanees Ryan Kent and Ovie Ejaria. It will take them some time to adapt.
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