THERE'S no way Steven Gerrard could have been fully prepared for what being Rangers manager would be thrown at him. The Glaswegian football environment is unlikely any other and has chewed up and spat out many more coaches with better qualifications than the former England and Liverpool captain had at the time of his arrival at Ibrox.
Over time, however, Gerrard has grown into his role. At first, the former midfielder appeared to accept his players couldn’t perform to the level he did over the course of his elite level career. It was common for Gerrard to publicly lambast his players when an arm around the shoulder might have been more effective.
Now, though, Gerrard is a man in complete control. In charge of his dressing room and in charge of the Scottish title race where Rangers currently hold a sizeable advantage. With the halfway point of the season only just passed, 16 points divide the Ibrox outfit and their fiercest rivals, Celtic, at the top of the Scottish Premiership table.
2⃣4⃣ games this season
— 32Red (@32Red) December 3, 2020
Celtic have three games in-hand and so that gulf could narrow, but a victory in Saturday’s Old Firm derby is a must if the Hoops are to stand any chance of catching Rangers and securing an historic 10th league title in a row. For both sides, this derby day could prove to be the most momentous of recent times.
While Neil Lennon’s position as Celtic boss appeared untenable not so long ago, with fans regularly gathering outside Celtic Park to demand for his and the club board’s departure, the outlook is now somewhat brighter on the green and white side of the divide. Progress has been made since the run which saw Celtic win just two of 12 games over October, November and early December.
Five straight wins have turned Celtic around. A sixth straight win over Dundee United on Wednesday night would send the Hoops into Saturday’s make or break derby with momentum behind them and confidence flowing through their veins. They are not the lost cause they appeared to be as recently as just a few weeks ago.
Even still, Celtic will need to find a level of performance that has so far evaded them this season to get the better of their rivals. Rangers’ form this season has been nothing short of remarkable. They are unbeaten in the Scottish Premiership having dropped points just twice and are unbeaten in the Europa League, where they qualified for the last 32 with one group game to spare. They have a right back, James Tavernier, who has 14 goals and nine assists for the season and a defence that has kept 16 clean sheets in 20 league fixtures.
⚽ GOAL OF THE DAY: Nikola Katic v Celtic pic.twitter.com/ukpigM9loI
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) December 29, 2020
Last season, Alfredo Morelos’ goals sustained Rangers. This was to the detriment of the side when the Colombian’s form dramatically dropped off in the second half of the campaign. Whether by design or not, Gerrard has adapted his team this season, weaning them off their Morelos reliance. Most recently, Ianis Hagi and Kemar Roofe have between them been used instead of the 24-year-old. Rangers are a better balanced, more complete side without him.
Season-on-season, Rangers have improved under Gerrard. They have the mark of a well coached team. Some have given Michael Beale, the backroom tactical mastermind who followed the former midfielder north from Liverpool, credit for this, but Gerrard’s stewardship of the Ibrox club looks pretty complete at this moment in time.
Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done for Gerrard to achieve his primary objective as Rangers manager – to win a title. But victory in the traditional New Year’s Day Old Firm Derby (played on January 2nd this year) would provide another illustration of how Gerrard has changed the footballing landscape north of the border.