Sunday’s game against Kilmarnock ended in defeat for Rangers. However, with the club playing 60 competitive games, there are grounds for optimism as Steven Gerrard’s maiden season as a manager comes to a close.
It’s been interesting watching Steven Gerrard manage. Firstly, his honesty is exactly what you want to hear as a supporter, even if he has a tendency to throw his players under the bus at times. However, he has given this club and their fans some belief back after years of epic failure after epic failure. Being a Liverpool legend, he was always going to ‘get it’ in a way Mark Warburton failed. Furthermore, he was never going to wilt under the pressure like his predecessor. That proved to be the case, which came as no surprise given his leadership qualities displayed as a player.
Tactically, for a young manager, I have been quite impressed. He’s shown he can learn from his hesitancy when making changes in the early part of the season. He’s been mostly wedded to a variant of 4-3-3 but the fact he’s used a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2 and even the Christmas tree of the last six games of the league campaign and at Maribor in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League is evidence that he is a coach who is looking to evolve and find ways to problem solve.
Overall, Gerrard should be can be relatively happy with what he’s achieved given the mess he inherited last summer – and he’s still trying to clean up that mess today.
For him to have an overall win ratio of 55.33% (P 60 W32 D 19 L10) is a solid platform to build on for next season. In terms of him as a manager, most of the fans are far more positive about the future than they were before he was appointed.
Domestic improvement but ultimately not good enough
It was the first time since Rangers returned to the top flight that they managed to finish in the top two. The previous twice they finished behind Celtic and Aberdeen. However, they have managed to finish second by some distance (11 points) ahead of Aberdeen and Kilmarnock.
Unfortunately, it feels like a missed opportunity to win the 55th title given the number of draws, nine, and the six defeats Rangers suffered over the course of the season. It may have been a little unrealistic to expect Gerrard to win the league in his first fore into management, however.
In terms of improvement, the home league form is much better than last season, and Gerrard’s side lost four fewer games overall than Murty and Caixinha’s feeble efforts. To compare, Rangers last season lost 10 matches in the league; this season they lost six. They lost 50 goals last campaign and just 27 this. And the number of goals has increased too, from 76 to 82. It’s no surprise the points tally is increased by eight from 70 to 78.
The two wins over Celtic have been a major plus point. Not only the wins but the manner of the performances. The fear has gone and now this group of players and staff have shown they are not only able to beat them but beat them well.
The cup defeats to Aberdeen were the major blot on the season domestically. Winning a trophy would have been nice but to go out to Aberdeen in such a poor manner was massively disappointing.
The European run
After last season’s debacle, the European expectations were lowered somewhat. However, to reach the Group stages of the Europa League was a great achievement, and if VAR had been in use, we may have been talking about Rangers being in the last 32. But for a new group of players and a rookie manager to navigate four rounds of qualifying and go on an 11-game unbeaten run was magnificent.
In fact, they only lost two matches in the whole campaign and didn’t taste defeat at Ibrox. It was great to see Rangers playing European football again and competing. Some of the performances, Rapid at home and the nine-man job in Ufa are two matches that particularly stand out.
Player of the year
Alfredo Morelos – 30 goals in all competitions, 18 in the Scottish Premiership, which made him top scorer. A player who elevated his game to another level; he became ‘the man’ and carried the team on his back most weeks. It wasn’t only his goals that caught the eye, but he managed 11 assists too. The only downside to his season was the suspensions and the five red cards he picked up. But in terms of the season as a whole, he was Rangers’ most important player; perhaps you could argue without his goals and assists the season would have had a much bleaker outlook.
Young player of the year
Ryan Kent – I wasn’t sure what to make of Kent when he initially arrived. However, it’s fair to say he’s a favourite of the Ibrox faithful. He has given the team a different dimension to their attacking play. He loved to take on players and is the type who would be able to excite the fans and get them on their feet, so much so, the majority would want him to return next season. the attacker managed six goals and nine assists and 68.6% of his 383 dribbles were successful.
Most underrated player
James Tavernier – the most underrated player at the club. His season on a personal level was utterly magnificent. He’s slowly but surely grown into the role of captain and his numbers for the campaign are astounding for a full-back. 17 goals, 20 assists in 57 games. He’s the only defender in Europe to have double figures in goals and assists.
The signing of the season
Scott Arfield – I love a Bosman signing like Scott Arfield. He’s not the flashiest player, but he’s the kind of player you only really notice how good he is when he’s not in the team. He’s my signing of the season. The ex-Burnley man has been fairly consistent all season and played in various roles within various systems. It’s his football intelligence that’s impressed me the most and if any midfielder gets double figures in goals, you know he’s been a good signing. Arfield has 12 goals and seven assists to his name.
The season cannot be classed as a success. It never can when there is no silverware to show for it. But there has been clear progress and the club are in far better shape than they were 12 months ago. If they can eradicate the nine draws that have blighted the league campaign next season and add sufficient quality in all areas of the team over the summer, they will be in with a shout of trophies – which has to be the aim. There has been evident progress made this campaign – perhaps not at the rate the fans demand but enough to give them hope that trophies are a realistic possibility for next season and beyond.