With the first international break now upon us, we have a stab at grading the first phase of the season.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the last few months. Steven Gerrard came to work on June 1st and immediately tore the place up. Seeing a drastic need for improvement, he wasted no time putting his stamp on things.
15 new faces arrived in total, but a flutter of them were coming in at different stages of Europa League qualifying. With so many new signings, you would expect a fair few not to hit the heights. Yet, barring one or two, they’ve all performed to a solid degree.
The likes of Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic, and Allan McGregor have become real fan-favourites. Outside of that, Ovie Ejaria, Ryan Kent, and Kyle Lafferty will prove to be solid finds. That’s not even half of them, but you can view the full list here.
It’s been an impressive rebuild, but just as important was clearing out the deadwood. Bruno Alves, Fabio Cardoso, and David Bates all left permanently in the summer. The likes of Carlos Pena, Joe Dodoo, and Jason Holt are also out on loan.
MORE RANGERS STORIES
The issue with that is they’ll be back at Rangers next summer, and it’ll be a task for the manager to get rid of some of the loan players on a permanent basis.
Regardless, it’s been a total overhaul. The first-team is now unrecognisable from the side Pedro Caixinha and latterly Graeme Murty built.
It appears, even at this early stage, that it’s a side built on defensive astuteness. An impressive run of clean sheets early on has been halted, but Rangers are a lot more difficult to break down this season.
Going forward, Lafferty looks to be a terrific addition to the forward line with two goals already. Morelos has been firing under Gerrard, and will only improve as the season goes on.
Europa League triumph
All of this rebuilding was going on whilst Europa League qualifiers were upon the Gers. Shkupi, NK Osijek, NK Maribor, and FC Ufa were in Rangers’ way.
Nobody could’ve blamed Gerrard if his side had just come up short in the latter three of these ties. Yet that wasn’t to be the case. Rangers swatted them aside, including an incredible nine-man success in Ufa.
That means the club have now qualified for group stage competition in Europe for the first time since 2010. It’s a terrific early achievement, and would’ve had Gerrard sitting nicely on an A+.
Domestic matters, however, have been a different story.
Spare me hard luck stories and refereeing decisions – Rangers have won one out of four. If the club are to be serious title-challengers this season, better consistency in the league has to be made.
Failure to defend a last-minute set-piece at Fir Park, another last minute cross at Pittodrie, and a counter-attack at Parkhead led to disappointing afternoons.
The only win Rangers have had in the Premiership this season was a 2-0 success at home to St Mirren. It would be unfair to miss out the fact Rangers eased to Betfred Cup success at Rugby park too – beating Killie 3-1.
The Old Firm was the biggest disappointment, however. Everyone expected so much of this Rangers side, and demanded a high press. The fans never got it.
Instead, Rangers sat off Brendan Rodgers’ side and allowed them to dictate the tempo. It was naive from Gerrard, but he’ll learn. There will be plenty more meetings with Celtic this season, and he’ll have to win at least one of them.
That shouldn’t mask the fact that it’s been a terrific step forward over the course of the season’s first phase. Europa League qualification was just sensational for the club, on and off the field.
Next up, consistency at home has to be sorted out. Dundee are the visitors to Ibrox next Saturday, and that’s a real chance to start rebuilding momentum once more.
For now, however, Gerrard will have to be marked as a B+ as opposed to a grade higher.