When the 2019/20 Premiership season was officially ended earlier this month amid the global health crisis, a second consecutive second-place finish for Rangers was confirmed.
The decision to declare Celtic champions didn’t sit well with many Gers supporters but now that there’s a provisional date for the beginning of the 2020/21 campaign – 1 August – it’s time to look forward.
We’ve taken a look at three things Steven Gerrard must do if his side are to go one better next year.
The transfer window hasn’t officially opened yet, but Gerrard has already started making alterations to his squad.
Six players are to be released, while a deal has been agreed to bring in Ianis Hagi on a long-term contract [Rangers.co.uk].
Hagi is an exciting player and Ross Wilson worked wonders in the negotiations with Genk.
The Romania international was unable to arrest the team’s slide in domestic form after arriving on loan in January, though, so it will take more than him to win the league.
The departures of Andy Halliday and Jon Flanagan mean a new left-back must be signed to provide cover for Borna Barisic, while Wes Foderingham’s exit also means a no.2 goalkeeper is required.
Increasing the competition for places by recruiting quality back-up players is key.
Central midfield is perhaps an area in need of freshening up, while a new striker in the targetman mould would give new options. Meanwhile, the return of Filip Helander after a long-term injury will act in effect as a new signing at the back.
Toughen up the current playing staff
Across the two seasons that Gerrard has been at the helm at Ibrox, Rangers have gone on a number of outstanding runs and for brief periods, have looked like potential champions.
The Gers have beaten Celtic three times in the league in an 18 month period and their results against esteemed opposition in Europe show they have no problem playing as the underdog.
Ultimately, though, on two occasions, Rangers have thrown away months of good work by collapsing after the winter break.
This time around, the drop off in form from the end of one year to the start of the next, was even starker.
The Gers won at Parkhead, Fir Park and Easter Road in late 2019 but after the break, they succumbed at Tynecastle, Rugby Park and even at home against Hamilton.
The pressure got to the squad and the manager needs to make it clear that a shift in attitude is required going forward.
Bringing in more quality will help but there won’t be wholesale changes to the playing staff. Those who were part of the disappointing 2019/20 campaign need to be told that it’s not good enough to perform well every now and then – it’s about fronting up every week, taking responsibility and forcing through results.
Learn from his mistakes
While the players must accept a level of responsibility for the dramatic slide in form in early 2020, Gerrard must also look at himself.
Tactically, the ex-Liverpool star has a lot to work on.
The Rangers boss copped a lot of criticism last season for his seemingly inflexible approach. Ianis Hagi was played out of position so that the status quo could be maintained in terms of the formation and substitutions often had a reactive rather than proactive feel.
The Gers’ consistent struggles against Hearts epitomised the problems.
Despite the Jambos finishing bottom of the Premiership table with the second-worst defensive record in the league, Rangers dropped five points at Tynecastle and were knocked out of the Scottish Cup there, scoring just two goals in three visits.
Rangers had the better players on all three of those occasions but were second-best in terms of performance and chances created each time.
Simply put, Gerrard and his coaching staff have to work out how to combat physical opposition sides and must find a setup that allows the superior quality of the Rangers XI to shine through on a more regular basis.