In what can easily be seen as a make or break season for Steven Gerrard and his Rangers team, the Gers made a positive start by winning their first match of the campaign 1-0 against Aberdeen last weekend.
Whether the friendly tournament triumph was a trendsetter for things to come this season is yet to be seen but the Scottish giants have given every possible indication that they mean nothing but business in 2020-21.
On a day when Steven Gerrard and his Rangers side arrived in Germany for their Europa League Round of 16 reverse leg fixture against Bayer Leverkusen, the Ibrox outfit went on to secure two more signings, taking the overall number to seven.
With the transfer window set to be open for two more months, there is plenty of scope for further improvements, and Gerrard is almost certain to ensure that the board takes every possible step to offer him the best possible team to compete with Neil Lennon’s Celtic.
Although Rangers felt hard done by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) last season for declaring Celtic champions, following the suspension of proceedings, owing to the pandemic, not many will argue against it.
Celtic simply ran away with the Scottish Premiership title after the January break, while Rangers faded away into obscurity. 13 points were the difference between the two teams when the season was suspended, and in spite of the Gers having played one game less, it would still have been a huge gap to bridge.
But every cloud has a silver lining. The season helped Steven Gerrard mature more as a manager and identify the weak areas within his team. Rangers will fight hard to prevent themselves from being humiliated again by allowing their bitter rivals to make it ten-in-row.
And here’s why Rangers can finally finally break Celtic’s domestic dominance this season.
New Rangers signings are almost certain to make an immediate impact
At the time of writing, Rangers have made as many as seven signings to strengthen their team. Most are likely to make an immediate impact, given their pedigree.
Here’s a quick look at Rangers’ signings thus far.
The 20-year-old full-back, who can also operate as a central defender, was the first player to come through the doors at Ibrox this summer, arriving from Leicester City’s Under-23 fold on a four-year deal.
Although he is yet to make his competitive Rangers debut, Calvin Bassey’s initial impressions on the pre-season tour have been satisfactory. Most importantly, at 20, the youngster still has years left to reach his full potential.
Yet another young player arriving to bolster Steven Gerrard’s midfield is Romanian international, Ianis Hagi.
He was initially signed by Rangers on a loan deal in January but the son of former Real Madrid and Barcelona star, Gheorghe Hagi didn’t get a proper chance to impress as the 2019-20 season was cut short.
However, now that a permanent move has been secured from Belgian side Genk, the Rangers fans can expect big things from the 21-year-old.
Another player to make his way back to Ibrox, following a successful loan spell last season is former Tottenham star, Jermain Defoe.
He scored as many as 17 goals for Steven Gerrard’s side last season and the manager will expect something similar this time around as well.
Following his release from Wigan Athletic at the end of the Championship season, the Gers acted quickly to sign the Nigerian international on a one-year contract with the option to extend the deal for one more year.
The veteran enjoyed an impressive start to the domestic campaign in Scotland, helping his side keep a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Aberdeen.
The 32-year-old refused to sign a contract extension with Sunderland and returned to his country to join Steven Gerrard’s project.
Although the goalkeeper is expected to play only second fiddle to the current number one, Allan McGregor, experts back Jon McLaughlin to become the first-choice at some point over the course of the season.
Former Scotland international, Don Cowie said in a recent interview:
“Jon will back himself to take that number one jersey. It will be a real challenge for him because I’ve played with Allan [McGregor] for Scotland too and what he has achieved is incredible. He has gone back to Rangers and is the model of quality and consistency.
“But Jon will push him. He’ll push him every single day in training, and I’m sure that’s exactly what [Rangers manager] Steven Gerrard will want.”
Former Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe arrived on Tuesday, following much hype, after an undisclosed fee was agreed between Rangers and Anderlecht.
Roofe, who put pen-to-paper to a four-year deal, has years of experience behind his back, having played for both West Brom and Leeds United in the Championship and for Anderlecht in the Belgian league.
While expressing his delight at having got the deal over the line, Steven Gerrard said:
“He has experienced the pressure and expectation at Leeds United and has played on the continent which will stand him in good stead for his time at Ibrox.”
Cedric Itten is the seventh player to be snapped up by Rangers, arriving on the same day as Kemar Roofe, and adding to the depth in attack.
He scored as many as 20 goals for Swiss outfit, St Gallen last season and Gerrard will want more of the same at Rangers.
Key Players for Rangers
In spite of the arrival of two new strikers on the day when Rangers left for Germany, the key to the club’s success this season will be striker Alfredo Morelos.
The player has strongly been linked with a move away from Ibrox but the Gers are expected to do everything in their power to keep hold of their star man.
Morelos scored 29 goals for Rangers last season and can flourish even further in the presence of better players this season.
French outfit Lille have been linked with a move for the Colombian, with the Ligue One side offering a fee in the region of €15m + bonuses, but the Gers are holding on to their €20m valuation.
Having scored plenty of goals in the extremely competitive English Championship, Kemar Roofe is expected to do the same in the Scottish Premiership.
He has been on the move since last summer, heading to Belgium for just one season and then moving to Scotland. However, goals have not eluded him and Gerrard will hope to capitalise on that skill of the 27-year-old.
The veteran striker can be an influential figure for Rangers both on and off the pitch. He has held sessions with youngsters at Tottenham, giving them valuable advice about their future and can do the same with the youngsters at Rangers as well.
He can be that crucial link between the players and the management which would be helpful in ensuring success for the Gers.
Ianis Hagi not only earned rave reviews from Steven Gerrard during his loan spell last season but was also praised by Rangers greats such as Ian Ferguson, who was particularly vocal about the player’s hunger and desire. He said,
“The attacking options are getting better by the week because I thought the boy, Hagi, again showed touches of real quality, real class. His desire, his hunger has impressed me because when the ball goes out he’s chasing it.”
A skipper’s role in a team’s success can hardly be ignored. James Tavernier featured in as many as 45 games for Rangers last season, setting up 15 goals from his position at the back, and if Rangers are to succeed this season, his influence is going to be important this time as well.
Expected Finish: Runners-up
Although Steven Gerrard has been showing desperation, trying to fully equip his team to make them serious title challengers, they could still come up short at the end of the season.
Over the course of the last two seasons Gerrard’s team have shown immaturity while dealing with pressure – a clear indication of the former Liverpool star’s inexperience as a manager.
And in spite of all their efforts, the Gers could still come up short at the end of the 2020-21 season.
Celtic have plenty of experience in handling pressure situations and have the personnel to guide them through crunch times.
So, the Hoops will probably make it ten-in-a-row, while Rangers have to be satisfied with a runners-up spot.