Last year was nothing short of remarkable from a Rangers perspective. A talented group of hard-working players went unbeaten in the league, won every league game at home, and reached the last sixteen of the Europa League for the second season in a row. This was all on the way to Rangers claiming their 55th, and world record, league title, when their Old Firm rivals across the city were convinced of securing ‘ten in a row.’
Steven Gerrard relied on dependably organised displays that were fuelled by the consistency of his team’s core, notably captain James Tavernier posting an incredible 19 goals and 16 assists from right-back; Connor Goldson playing almost every single minute of every single game and barely putting a foot wrong; and the mercurial genius of the ever-young Steven Davis, who was mesmeric in the centre of midfield.
After keeping hold of their star assets (so far) this summer, most importantly talismanic forward Alfredo Morelos, and bringing in the likes of Fashion Sakala and John Lundstram, fans of the SPL champions would be forgiven for thinking they would simply pick up from where they left off and take the domestic game by storm once again. But their start to the season has been far from impressive.
A shaky start to the season.
Rangers kicked off their season with an effortless 3-0 win at home to Livingston, where most of the team didn’t get out of first gear. But unfortunately for the bears, their lack of intensity was a sign of things to come, as they lost at home and away to an ordinary Malmo side in a Champions League qualifier in the space of seven days, while failing to turn up at Tannadice and losing 1-0 to Dundee United in between.
Last night, Rangers faced Alashkert of Armenia in front of an expectant Ibrox in the first leg of the Europa League play-off round. And despite dangerous early forays into the Armenian half, opportunities were few and far between, with Ryan Kent spurning the only real chance of the first half by firing over from close range. The poor game management of John Lundstram led to a second yellow card before the interval, and Gerrard was left with the uphill task of overcoming the stubborn Armenian champions in the second half.
Fortunately for Rangers, Alfredo Morelos stepped up and saved their bacon with a cool finish when through on goal, but 1-0 at home to Alashkert wasn’t really what the Ibrox faithful were hoping for, and it pretty much sums up what has been a shaky start to the season.
Should Rangers fans be worried?
The sad reality is that in football, some fans have a very short memory. It was only May 2018 when Steven Gerrard took over the reins, inheriting a team totally bereft of confidence and well and truly in the shadow of their Old Firm rivals. The fact that Gerrard and his coaching team managed to turn things around and deliver Rangers’ first title since the 2010-11 season was nothing short of remarkable.
And while Rangers have been far from convincing in the early games of the season, there’s no need to set the alarm bells ringing just yet. With fans returning, key players off the back of exhausting international summers, expectations sky-high, and new signings settling in, it was always going to be difficult for Rangers to replicate the electric start they made to last season.
It’s far too early in the season to be criticising recruitment, player levels, and a range of other aspects of Rangers’ title defence that some of the keyboard warriors are already licking their lips over. The reality is that Glasgow Rangers are champions, and they’re champions for a reason. Fans would do well to remember the impact that Steven Gerrard has had on the ethos of the club and the way the players conduct themselves on and off the pitch. There are bound to be bumps in the road, but Rangers are still strong favourites according to the bookies to claim a 56th Premier League title this season.
And for those Rangers fans worrying about developments across the city, you would do well to remember the words of a certain Bill Struth, when hepronounced, “We welcome the chase.”