Can Steven Gerrard take Rangers to the next level?
Expectation has been heaped on Steven Gerrard from the moment he arrived at Rangers three years ago. The former midfielder has succeeded in restoring the Ibrox club as Scottish football’s predominant force, but his record of just one major trophy in there seasons means some are of the belief he should have achieved more by now.
A slow start to the 2021/22 campaign had Gerrard’s critics sharpening their knives. First, Rangers spurned the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League group stages. Then they only just scraped through into the Europa League, the competition they reached the last 16 in last season, before their 41-game unbeaten run ended with defeat to Dundee United.
Rangers also laboured in matches against St Johnstone, Motherwell, Dundee, Hibernian and Hearts with losses to Lyon and Sparta Prague stretching the odds of the Govan outfit matching the continental achievements of last season. Individual errors and a lack of attacking firepower contributed to their problems.
More recently, though, Rangers have found something closer to their best form under Gerrard. The performance they turned in against Brondby last week was as good as anything they have produced since last season with Rangers dominant from start to finish in a 2-0 win over the Danish visitors to Govan.
Faced with a tricky trip to face an in-form St Mirren side just three days later, Rangers managed to keep their performance levels high despite falling behind to a stunning long-range strike after just four minutes. Gerrard’s players maintained their focus and played their own game to return to the top of the Scottish Premiership table.
Last season saw Rangers keep a record 25 clean sheets in 38 league fixtures. Their success was based on sound defensive principles and while Gerrard’s team failed to keep out St Mirren on Sunday, their structure in Paisley as well as against Brondby in the Europa League was stronger than it was been in a number of weeks.
Connor Goldson appears to have cut out the mistakes while Borna Barisic and James Tavernier are once again giving Rangers width and a supply line with their deliveries into the opposition box. Summer signing John Lundstram also looks to have settled in his new surroundings with the former Sheffield United midfielder now offering drive through the centre of the pitch.
Ryan Kent is still sidelined through injury, but Alfredo Morelos is giving Rangers more than he was in the first two months of the season. Many still want the Colombian to focus on putting the ball in the back of the net, but his all-round play is bringing the best out of others around him with Kemar Roofe also finding consistency.
All this has happened amid speculation about Gerrard and his own future as Rangers manager. The vacancy at Newcastle United has seen the former England and Liverpool captain mentioned as a potential candidate to take over at St James’ Park, and there is good reason to believe he might be interested in the job.
Gerrard has dismissed suggestions that he might be lured to the North East with the 41-year-old backing himself to deliver even greater success as Rangers manager. This season’s Scottish Premiership winners will go straight into the group stages of next season’s Champions League where Gerrard would have the chance to prove himself among the very best.
A second straight league title and entry into the Champions League would bolster Gerrard’s standing as one of Europe’s best young coaches. Failure to do so, though, would be deal a blow to his burgeoning reputation. After facing many questions in the early stage of this season, Rangers are at least now finding some answers.
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