To say Rangers have been busy in this transfer window would be like saying Mark…
It’s very much early days but the beginning of Steven Gerrard’s tenure as Rangers boss has been solid. The Anfield legend has brought in a plethora of new players to Ibrox and they look all the better for it. There’s been no repeat of last season’s European embarrassment against Progres Niederkorn as Rangers have won all three of their Europa League qualifiers thus far. What’s more encouraging? They’ve done so without conceding a single goal.
Gerrard knows he’ll have to hit the ground running domestically in order to appease the support. Expectations are, of course, sky-high and whether he likes it or not the Rangers boss will need to show the Ibrox faithful that they are the real deal and can close the gap between themselves and Celtic, challenge for trophies, progress in Europe and at the very least secure second place in the Premiership.
Where to start? Caixinha’s appointment seemed left field and in the end, it didn’t pay off. Rangers suffered the worst European defeat in their history, losses to Celtic and were knocked out of the League Cup by Motherwell. It briefly looked like Graeme Murty turned around the fortunes of the club, but after a good spell in early 2018 the wheels came off with Rangers capitulating at Hampden and losing 5-0 to Celtic. Furthermore, the Ibrox club once again failed to pip Aberdeen to second place in the Premiership.
To say it was a tumultuous season for Rangers would be an understatement. The chaos off the pitch was twinned with a lack of quality on it. They finished as the top scoring club in the Premiership thanks largely in part to James Tavernier, Daniel Candeias, Josh Windass and Alfredo Morelos. However, the high goal tally disguised a multitude of sins, namely a dreadful defence.
Bruno Alves, despite his sizeable wage packet, was a major disappointment. David Bates and Ross McCrorie were called up for first-team duty and thrown in at the deep end. Both had some decent games, but really needed an experienced player of a certain calibre to support them through matches. Russell Martin joined in January but Rangers’ central defence was still soft and regularly exposed by the opposition. Oh, and the less we say about Fabio Cardoso the better.
Rangers conceded a whopping 50 goals last season. To give that some context, that’s exactly double the number Celtic let in. Simply put, the Light Blues had the firepower but they were always going to be up against it last term with such a poor defence.
The backline wasn’t the only issue, but it was certainly the main one. That said, Murty’s side also had issues with temperament and confidence. Numerous players just didn’t seem to be of the quality Rangers needed to finish second, nevermind challenge Celtic.
There has very much been a revolving door at Ibrox this summer. Gerrard has wasted no time bringing in new players as he completely rebuilds his squad. In the process, Rangers have let a number of players leave. Perhaps the most notable of these is Kenny Miller. After the bust-up at Hampden with Graeme Murty, it’s hardly a surprising departure but Miller has been part of the furniture at Ibrox for years. Moreover, Jason Holt was also sent out on loan to English League One side Fleetwood Town. Although that wasn’t too unexpected, given the signings of Scott Arfield, Lassana Coulibaly and Ovie Ejaria.
The list goes on, with Alves leaving for Parma, Bates choosing Hamburg over Glasgow and Michael O’Halloran finally putting an end to his miserable time in Govan. Oh, and of course how can we forget that Harry Forrester joined an Iranian side named Tractor? In essence, the departures have been plentiful, but in all honesty, it’s unlikely that any of the aforementioned players will be of a huge loss to Rangers in this upcoming campaign.
Right, strap yourself in as Gerrard & Co. have made no fewer than ten summer signings. Let’s start from the back given it has been the problem area for Rangers in recent seasons. Allan McGregor was brought back to Ibrox, which for many seemed unnecessary given Rangers have a perfectly fine keeper in Wes Foderingham. That said, McGregor has already shown in a short space of time how influential he is on the pitch and has looked extremely sharp any time he has been tested in between the sticks during the club’s Europa League qualifiers. He could prove to be a significant signing given the transformation of Rangers’ backline.
Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic are two contrasting types of centre-back but are huge upgrades on what Rangers had before. Goldson looks like a quality signing who is comfortable with the ball at his feet as well as being a physical presence. On the contrary, Katic is younger and slightly raw but he’s imperious in the air and if developed correctly could prove to be a shrewd bit of business. So far the pair look as if they compliment each other rather well. Of course, they are still yet to face tougher opposition, but so far, so good. Despite rebuilding the defence you feel that Gerrard could do with another centre-back for cover were Katic or Goldson to get injured. This is something the Rangers boss seems to have identified given he’s been linked to a number of other central defenders.
Sticking with defence and Gerrard also added former Liverpool defender Jon Flanagan to his backline. Whereas it’s unlikely Flanagan would replace Tavernier at right-back he does add some much-needed competition. Furthermore, the Rangers boss seems to have opted for his former Merseyside teammate at left-back ahead of young Declan John.
Moving to the middle of the park and Scott Arfield joined the ever-growing ranks of central midfielders at Ibrox. Many will be hoping the former Burnley man can be everything Graham Dorrans wasn’t last season. Rangers were screaming out for a box-to-box midfielder and Dorrans never really delivered. We’ve only had a small sample size but so far he looks to be a good acquisition and will most certainly bolster the midfield. When it comes to Coulibaly and Ejaria we again haven’t really seen enough to judge whether or not they’ll prove to be good signings. Ejaria has looked bright whenever he has come on and is certainly a nice option for Gerrard to have. Coulibaly, on the other hand, looked impressive in his debut and is the type of midfield enforcer that they need in order to compete against the likes of Scott Brown, Graeme Shinnie and John McGinn.
Rangers have also bolstered their wide options with Jamie Murphy and Ryan Kent. Murphy was one of the few positives from last season and looks like he’ll be an important player for them this season. He might not be the quickest, but he has an eye for goal, is excellent with the ball at his feet and is a nightmare for defenders. Kent is touted as having bags of talent, but he has it all to prove at Ibrox as we’ve seen plenty of players arrive in Scotland with sizeable reputations only to fail to make their mark. However, if he does perform to the level many say he is capable of then he could do great things in a light blue jersey this season.
Finally, we come to the frontline. Umar Sadiq has been brought in on loan from Roma. We’ve yet to see him make his debut in a competitive game so it’s difficult at this stage to say how effective he’ll be. This is perhaps the main area that Rangers still need to strengthen. That may sound strange given they were so free-scoring last season, however, if Morelos was to get injured Rangers would be seriously light on the ground. Moreover, there’s still a chance that Josh Windass, who scored 13 goals last season, could leave before the end of the transfer window. Similarly, Rangers can’t really rely on Tavernier scoring eight goals from right-back every season. Bottom line, they need another striker.
Many Rangers fans will define the club’s success by how they fare against Celtic. So with that in mind, many will be hoping that Rangers can mount a serious title challenge and potentially derail Celtic’s march to ten-in-a-row. Realistically, when you look at the gulf between the two club’s last season that would be a huge ask. If Rangers can start by actually defeating Celtic in an Old Firm match and closing the gap between the two clubs then that would surely be considered a good foundation to build on?
At the very least Rangers must finish second in the league and show that they are on an upward trajectory. They have spent a significant amount of money and should therefore really be finishing above the likes of Aberdeen and Hibs this season. If they were able to make the Europa League group stages it would be an impressive feat, but you’d hardly think there would be a rebellion if they didn’t.
Gerrard looks to have built from the back and Rangers appear much more solid and harder to score against. If they can couple that with their impressive attacking threat from last season then we could be in for a very interesting Premiership season. Celtic are overwhelming favourites, but Rangers have nothing to lose at this point. Moreover, the bar has been set so low for Gerrard that it would be surprising if Rangers, at least, didn’t pick up more points against Celtic this season.
In essence, challenging for domestic cups, closing the gap on Celtic and, at the very least, finishing second should be Rangers and Gerrard’s main aims for the upcoming campaign.