Steven Gerrard hopes to continue the good work he's done in Glasgow so far and bring home another league title
An outsider would look at what the Liverpool legend has achieved north of the border and consider it outstanding, but not every Rangers fan heaps quite the same level of praise onto their manager. While finally winning the league again, and stopping Celtic from making it ten in a row, can only be viewed as a success, results in other competitions have been lacking. It's been a long time since the club have achieved anything in the cups and that would have been part of Gerrard's purview. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to capture the cup or league cup during his tenure and that is seen by some as a failure worthy of critique. Back-to-back last 16 finishes in the Europa League must be considered a good return on paper when taking into account the players in the Rangers squad and the clubs remaining in the competition at that stage. On the whole, it's been a very successful period for a previously unproven manager but it hasn't all been rosy.
This campaign started off in quite disappointing fashion. A first league defeat came in only their second game, away at Dundee United. Granted they haven't lost since then but any defeat in the league is less than ideal. That came hot on the heels of a 4-2 aggregate loss against Swedish side Malmo in Champions League qualifying, an opponent that many would have viewed as beatable for Gerrard's men. After successfully qualifying for the Europa League, Rangers started their campaign with back-to-back defeats against Lyon and Sparta Prague. Fortunately, with their European hopes hanging in the balance, they managed to defeat Brondby 2-0 in their third game. They will need another victory against the same side in midweek to solidify their hopes of getting out of a tough group. They are through to the semi final of the league cup. In the Scottish Premiership, they are four points clear of rivals Celtic at the top. With some key players returning to the squad, this could still be a very fine season for the Glasgow side on all fronts. We'll have to wait and see whether their fans' hopes can come to fruition.
We caught up with Steven Clifford from Four Lads Had A Dream, a Rangers FC blog and news site, and Shane Nicholson, a podcaster who hosts CROpod: The Other Rangers Podcast, and contributes to the Heart & Hand podcast. We wanted to know how well Gerrard is going down with the Rangers faithful and how optimistic fans were about this season. Here's what they had to say:
Q. Was there any scepticism when Steven Gerrard was initially announced as manager back in 2018?
Steven: At the time he was appointed we all needed something, having just days before conceded five at Celtic Park. So the overall mood was one of excitement and for the majority it was pretty much love at first sight and confidence he would be the one to turn things around.
Q. In the three seasons since, how impressed have you been with the job he's done and where does he rank among the club's greatest managers?
Shane: Well, he brought us one of the most important titles in the history of the club. Maybe the most, certainly in the lifetime of most supporters. And he has had success in Europe, but obviously losing any competition at Rangers is something the fans simply don't accept, and so his record in the domestic cups has been rightly criticised. But, to Gerrard's credit, he's said it's clearly a warranted critique of his tenure. Hopefully he's here long enough to cement a place beside the great managers in the history of the club but it's far too soon to even begin drawing comparisons.
Q. What has been the shrewdest signing made during this rebuild since arriving back in the top flight?
Steven: Arguably there has been a few but it’s between Steven Davis and Allan McGregor, both of whom have been sensational since returning. Gerrard quickly realised that we needed players who understood the demands and what is required, neither of them can be separated for me.
Q. Who is the most important member of the Rangers squad right now and why?
Shane: If this was still last season I would have to say Connor Goldson, but the direction of the team on the pitch is certainly tied to the quality of our captain, James Tavernier. We know his limitations as a defender and they've been perhaps highlighted this season owing to injuries in the backline and the suspensions served by Kamara who really provides an incredible amount of cover for the back four. But Tavernier's ability to create goals for other players and get on the scoresheet himself from right back is something rarely seen. And as he goes, so goes the rest of the side.
Q. Who is the player which fans really connect with and love the most?
Steven: Alfredo Morelos. Definitely the fan favourite and his cheeky smile and mischievous play has made him the fan favourite. It’s easier for a goal scorer, and to get to 100 goals shows how integral he has been lately. When he’s on his game he is unstoppable as Europe's big boys like Porto have found out.
Q. After romping to the title last season and finishing 25 points ahead of nearest rivals Celtic, do you see them putting up more of a fight this time around? Are you expecting a closer title race?
Shane: A closer race, absolutely. You don't win too many titles in this sport in the first week of March. And last year was a record-shattering defensive effort so there was also going to be a regression to the mean; no one could expect us to concede only 13 in 38 matches again. But they have obvious limitations to their side which they failed to correct in the summer. And while we've not really even strung together two good halfs of football so far this campaign, we're still 4 points clear and have scored only one goal fewer, despite their swashbuckling play drawing all manner of praise from the usual outlets.
Q. Are you confident that Rangers can progress from the Europa League group stage for a third time in a row, after a tricky start to the competition this season?
Steven: The Brondby double header is key so in that regard we are half way there. Seven points may be enough to finish second this season so I’m still hopeful we can progress. At the very least I expect third to have some sort of continuation but to top the group is out of our reach as Lyon are very much a class apart and in reality a Champions League level side.
Q. Overall what would represent success this season domestically and in Europe, as far as fans are concerned?
Shane: Domestically, league title no. 56 and both cups. I don't think any Rangers supporter looked forward to this season as anything less than a golden opportunity to claim the club's eighth treble. We expect to win everything, every match and every trophy, and so anything short of that is easy to regard as failure. As for Europe, making it through the Europa League groups again would obviously be the first goal, and with the like of Ryan Kent and Ryan Jack back soon, not to mention Fil Helander hopefully returning to settle the issues in the backline, there's no reason to think that the team can't find its rhythm again and see another European run that takes us deep into the Spring. But the league title is an absolute must: the open door to the Champions League has to be the key focus. While failure in the cups again would be a disappointment, failure to defend the title and go straight to the Champions League with the financial windfall it brings would be a monumental miss.
Next up for Rangers is a trip to Denmark to face Brondby in Europa League action on Thursday. It's vitally important that Gerrard's side come out with a win if they want to boost their chances of qualifying from Group A. They follow that up with a Sunday afternoon home game against bottom of the table Ross County. A win in that game will surely be the only acceptable outcome for Rangers fans.
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