Come August, Scotland will gear up for another season of top-flight football and will be anticipating the dominance of a trophy-laden Celtic side in their bid to making history. The Hoops have the opportunity to write themselves into history books by winning 10 Scottish Premiership titles in a row, establishing themselves as Scotland’s top team of the 2010s. But, lurking in the shadows are a revamped Rangers side under Steven Gerrard, who has been at the helm since the summer of 2018. The Gers have been getting better in the last two seasons and look hungry for domestic glory as they prepare for the 2020-21 season.
Rangers have underwhelmed domestically and in Europe, before the arrival of the former Liverpool star, winning only the Scottish Challenge Cup under Mark Warburton. Since Steven Gerrard began his reign at Ibrox, the club has improved drastically in both formats and are firmly placed in the Round of 16 of the Europa League this season. Despite his lack of experience, his tactical nous and sensible signings have turned them from an inconsistent frail side to a team ready to challenge Celtic for the Scottish Premiership title.
According to a report by BBC Sport, Steven Gerrard has managed to significantly improve the Rangers defence while maintaining the same output in goals this season. Before his arrival, Rangers scored around 2 goals a game, but conceded 1.32 goals per game, placing them 7th in goals conceded out of 12 teams in the Scottish top flight.
The signing of goalkeeper Allan McGregor and defenders Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic, and Borna Barisic last season had shored up the leaky defence and has provided much needed defensive stability to this Rangers side. A result of this is the massive jump in points per game from 1.84 to 2.05 in his first season and 2.53 this season.
According to this report, if the Rangers kept this level of consistency for the remainder of the season, they would have racked up a massive 96 points – a total which should have given them the title in 4 of the past 5 seasons. However, this data was assembled in December 2019, and unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish Premiership was cancelled and Celtic were awarded the title prematurely. Celtic finished with 80 points after 30 games, while the Gers mustered a total of 67 in 29 games.
Nevertheless, their fortunes have improved in Europe as well with consecutive group stage qualifications. They fought off the likes of FC Midtjylland and Legia in the qualifying rounds before securing impressive wins against Porto and Feyenoord in a gruelling group stage to progress to the Last 32 stage. Rangers progressed to the Round of 16 after seeing off Braga 4-2 on aggregate and are now waiting for their second leg game against Bayer Leverkusen after losing the first leg 1-3 at home.
As per an analysis by Tifo football, Steven Gerrard has implemented a system utilizing aggressive defending and man orientated pressing and has given his creative players the freedom to roam freely while attacking, causing them to outplay pressing and unbalance opposition defences.
Under Stevie, the Light Blues set up in a 4-3-3 formation with a solid defensive line and pacey wingers and full-backs. McGregor has been adept in goal, keeping 14 clean sheets and conceding only 0.63 goals per 90. He has been aided by aerially powerful centre-backs in Nikola Katic, Conner Goldson, and 2019 signing Filip Helander from Bologna.
Full-backs James Tavernier and Borna Barisic have been the main creators – 17 assists between them as well as chipping in with 3 goals apiece. Colombian forward Alfredo Morelos, who has been recently linked with a move away from the club had been in top form this season, scoring 12 and creating 3 in the Scottish Premiership. He has been aided by former Spurs attacker Jermain Defoe, who has also been prolific in the attack.
The 2020-21 season will set a precedent for the next decade of Scottish football and Steven Gerrard has a massive task on his hands to dethrone Neil Lennon and his army of determined Celts. Rangers had eclipsed the Hoops earlier this season with a 3-2 win over Hearts, propelling them to the top of the table.
However, they faltered in subsequent key fixtures this season, dropping important points against the top six and failed to maintain momentum which would have kept them winning on the trot. Their record against Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, and Hearts have not been encouraging either and they will have to buck up if they are looking to mount a serious title challenge.
This transfer window is crucial to Rangers. Boosted by the permanent signing of Liverpool academy graduate Ryan Kent, they will be looking to bolster their squad and add depth to their ranks. The signing of Genk wonderkid Ianis Hagi and Leicester under-23’s left-back Calvin Bassey are welcome moves and their most recent addition of Wigan defender Leon Balogun will also go a long way in addressing their defensive capabilities next season
The Gers have also been linked with a big-money move for Peterborough forward Ivan Toney, who has astounded in the English third division. However, he has been scouted by top Premier League clubs and the Glasgow management will not be keen to engage in a bidding war due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amiens midfielder Bongani Zungu is also a potential signing for Steven Gerrard and is touted for a £4.5m move to Rangers. There has also been a lot of buzz saying Rangers are keen to make a move for prolific Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland. The Scottish international has scored 23 goals in 24 games during this season.
With Morelos looking to secure a move away from the club, Steven Gerrard will not feel confident with Defoe being the sole striker for Rangers. The Colombian forward has rescued the Gers on vital occasions this season and has led them from the front with his goal-scoring antics.
As the transfer window draws near, here are some potential signings Rangers can look out for:
- Blackpool forward Armand Gnanduillet has scored 15 goals this season in League One and has contributed a goal every other game for them.
- Ivan Toney’s fellow Peterborough teammate Mohamed Eisa is valued at less than a million and has scored 14 goals this season for the Posh.
- Premier League bound Brentford are pushing for honours this season and leading from the front is Ollie Watkins. Averaging 2.7 shots and 1.5 key passes per game, he has scored 23 goals in 40 appearances.
- Reading midfielder John Swift is another one to look out for with his impressive stats of 2.3 key passes and 48 average passes per game, 82.5% pass completion rate, and £3.60m valuation.
- With Tavernier linked to Brighton, QPR centre-back Yoann Barbet has shined in defence. Valued at £1.08m, the defender has averaged 1.1 tackles, 2.4 interceptions, and 3.7 clearances per game this season.
With the Covid-19 pandemic making it a bleak summer, the upcoming season will be one to watch as Steven Gerrard goes back to the drawing board and plans a massive coup for the Rangers in the Scottish Premiership. I, for one, am going to cheer them on silently and the whole of Scotland will be rooting for Rangers for an upheaval in one of the most anticipated seasons of Scottish football, because who doesn’t love an underdog story?