By Oliver Scott
After the disastrous tenure of Pedro Caixinha, fans of Glasgow Rangers feared they may never return to the glorious heights that the club achieved before financial turmoil struck in 2012.
However, the appointment of Liverpool legend, Steven Gerrard, earlier this year has seen a new lease of life in the club, not only in the domestic scene, but in Europe as well. At the time of writing, after eleven league games and just two losses, ‘Gers’ sit five points off the top of the table, with a game in hand over leaders Hearts.
Although they have benefitted from Celtic’s uncharacteristically poor start, Rangers still find themselves in the mix with a third of the season gone.
Gerrard has come under some unfair criticism for his start, but after fifteen summer signings and only one loss in the league since the end of September, it is clear that his side are starting to gel.
The true test for Gerrard’s Rangers side will come when Brendan Rodger’s Celtic hit top gear. The ‘Bhoys’ are hoping to complete a historic ‘treble-treble’ this season after enjoying a one-horse race for the Scottish title for the best part of a decade.
However, they have had an shaky start to this season, allowing for a close contest at the top of the table, to the surprise of many fans.
With a budget far larger than any other team in the league, Rodger’s side will certainly go on a long, unbeaten run at some point and the test for Gerrard’s team is whether they can compete.
In order to do this, the experienced Kyle Lafferty needs to step up in front of goal, having netted just one domestic goal since his debut.
Like last season, there has been a huge reliance on the talented Alfredo Morelos for goals, and if he gets injured or suffers from a poor period of form, then Rangers will have a significant reduction in their firepower.
This was shown in the League Cup Semi Final on the 28th of October, when Rangers crashed out disappointingly to Aberdeen. A Lewis Ferguson strike in the 79th minute was all that separated the sides.
Rangers were without both Morelos and Lafferty meaning they struggled to create any clear-cut chances.
At the other end of the pitch, however, veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor has been in fine form, with a MOTM performance against St Mirren on Saturday mirroring many of his games this season.
Defender James Tavernier has also popped up with five goals this season which have proved to be vital, particularly his brace in the win over Hamilton in October.
Therefore, domestically there are plenty of positives for Gerrard to build on, and with his side now up to third they are going in the right direction. Provided talisman Morelos can continue his fine form and, equally, if Celtic keep on dropping points, Gerrard’s side could easily see themselves in the mix come May.
However, it has been in Europe where Rangers have really impressed. Before their 4-3 defeat to Spartak Moscow, Rangers were unbeaten in 11 games in Europe.
Despite being fourth seed in their group, they sit just one point off leaders Villarreal. Arguably their most impressive result in continental football since the Europa League semi final victory in 2008 against Fiorentina came earlier this season, when Gerrard’s side secured a 2-2 away draw with Spanish giants Villarreal.
The Castellon-based side led twice, but Rangers fought back to gain an invaluable point. Gerrard was brave in his tactics, allowing full backs Tavernier and Barisic to push forward and was rewarded when Kyle Lafferty stabbed home what felt like a winner in the 76th minute.
Another draw against Spartak Moscow followed, before a win over Rapid Vienna at Ibrox left Rangers fans reminiscent of their glorious run to the Europa League final in 2008.
Although Thursday night’s defeat has dented their hopes slightly, Gerrard’s side should remain optimistic, scoring three goals away in Russia is an impressive feat.
This being said, it remains critical that they shore up defensively in order to secure European football.
If they do so, it would defy ‘Gers’ fans expectations, particularly considering they couldn’t even make it past the first qualifying round last season.
Despite initial criticism from the footballing community, Gerrard is slowly improving this Rangers side, who have so much potential.
It is easy to forget that this is his first job in management and he is adapting to the new demands of the role.
By no means has he made an incredible start, but it is one which Rangers fans should be satisfied with. They have lost just two games in the league, with an eleven-game unbeaten run in Europe and most importantly, are continuing to ensure that it’s not just a one-horse race for the title.
So, whilst Gerrard’s start may not be remarkable, it is admirable and many English football fans will hope he can build on this and finally end Celtic’s dominance of Scotland’s top tier.
Photograph: Ben Sutherland via Flickr