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2019/20 Premiership preview - Rangers



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LAST SEASON: 2nd, 78pts

NOTABLE INS: Filip Helander (Bologna, £3.5m), George Edmundson (Oldham Athletic, £600k), Joe Aribo (Charlton Athletic, £300k), Steven Davis (Southampton, loan made permanent), Jake Hastie (Motherwell), Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock), Greg Stewart (Birmingham City), Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool, loan)

NOTABLE OUTS: Daniel Candeias (Genclerbirligi, £250k), Ryan Hardie (Blackpool), Lee Hodson (Gillingham), Lee Wallace (Queens Park Rangers), Jak Alnwick (Blackpool, loan), Eduardo Herrera (Necaxa, loan), Stephen Kelly (Ayr United, loan), Ross McCrorie (Portsmouth, loan), Jordan Rossiter (Fleetwood Town, loan), Lassana Coulibaly (Angers, end of loan), Ryan Kent (Liverpool, end of loan), Joe Worrall (Nottingham Forest, end of loan), Myles Beerman, Kyle Bradley, Liam Burt, Kyle Lafferty, Gareth McAuley

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Halliday, Kamara, Jack, Candeias, Arfield, Kent, Morelos

Rangers finished last season only eight points better off than they were under the combined 'direction' of Pedro Caixinha and Graeme Murty. That doesn't sound like much.

However the eye test suggests a marked improvement under Steven Gerrard. For a start, there was a coherent strategy in place. There wasn't much of a Plan B, but even having a good Plan A was a big step forward.

That said, by the middle of March the press pack were beginning to doubt Stevie G's credentials. The positivity generated by beating Celtic at New Year had been obliterated by a number of draws and a cup exit to Aberdeen, Then they ran their rivals damn close at Celtic Park with ten men and that sparked an impressive finish to the campaign that included another derby win...and a dominant one at that.

So in just a few months Gerrard has gone from naughty boy to Messiah again. Some folk have even drunk the Kool-Aid and think Rangers might win the league.

Those people are crazy. The gap between them and Celtic feels bridgeable just now because of the way last season finished and because of the feeling that with Neil Lennon now in charge the Champions might be vulnerable. But in truth the difference in resources remains huge. The Gers are stuck in a Catch 22 situation where they need Champions League money to have a shot at winning the league but can't get Champions League money without winning the league.

The signing of Swedish central defender Filip Helander at least reassures the fans that there is some cash there. Up till then the transfer window had been a distinctly bargain basement affair. One problem is that there are still a plethora of unwanted players on the wage bill; until they can be shifted it's going to be hard to finance new arrivals.

As for Helander, his signing seemed a strange one because centre-back wasn't a huge need, with George Edmundson having been signed as cover for Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic. It will be interesting to see whether Helander has been signed as an upgrade or because Rangers want the option of playing a back three.

Usually though it's been a 4-2-3-1, which became increasingly lopsided last season. There was a massive upturn in the quality of attacking play when Gerrard started deploying Scott Arfield on the right; the Canadian international naturally came into the centre but right-back James Tavernier is so impressive going forward that he doesn't need a winger in front of him. Early indications are that Gerrard has taken advantage of this to tinker a bit, going with a third central midfielder and using Arfield and Sheyi Ojo, on loan from Liverpool, just off the front man. 

The hope is that this allows them to get by without Ryan Kent, who was so impressive in the second half of last season but who looks increasingly unlikely to return for another loan spell. Even if they go back to the old system Ojo can play on either flank and Greg Stewart, Jordan Jones and Jake Hastie have all been added as wide options, which is why Daniel Candeias proved surplus to requirements.

That means the onus is on the full-backs to provide attacking width. That's no problem with Tavernier on the right. Borna Barisic has the capability to fill that role on the other side but wasn't great last season. His crossing ability might give him the nod over Andy Halliday though; Halliday has found a new lease of life after being converted from midfield.

It's likely to be three from four in midfield - or from five if Greg Docherty really has forced his way back into the reckoning. Joe Aribo has looked good after his move from Charlton and is likely to be the most adventurous of the trio. The other two more restrained roles will be filled by a combination of Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara and Steven Davis. Davis was honking when he came back in January but got better as he got fitter; he seems likely to sit deepest, though Kamara can do that too. 

Such is the depth that Graham Dorrans has been frozen out and Ross McCrorie loaned out. McCrorie's temporary move means there is a distinct possibility that the only Academy product to start a league game this season will be...goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who made his debut in 2002 and who spent six years away from Ibrox (and who a certain type of fan will claim isn't a product of 'this Rangers').

And of course we haven't touched on the strikers yet. Should we go on about the five red cards Alfredo Morelos got last season, or the thirty goals the Colombian scored? Even for the most ill-disciplined player so many sendings off looks like an anomaly. The goalscoring however came hand in hand with frequently brilliant centre-forward play. His performance at Pittodrie last season - until he, er, got sent off - was at a level not seen in Scottish football for some time. Even if Morelos spends some time on the suspension list, Jermain Defoe (37 in October) still seems to have enough in the tank to step in from time to time; I wouldn't want to rely on him as a first choice all year long though.

So I'd conclude Rangers are on the up. But they're still not ready to slip the surly bonds of the diddy teams and touch the face of the Champions (unless, of course, Scott Brown pisses off Ryan Kent again). The difficulty for Gerrard may be managing expectations. Finish with more points, win a home derby or two and - most importantly - avoid dropping so many points to teams that should be beaten comfortably - and 2019/20 will be another step in the right direction.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1998 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Andy Firth, Wes Foderingham, Allan McGregor
Defenders: Borna Barisic, George Edmundson, Jon Flanagan, Connor Goldson, Andy Halliday, Filip Helander, Jordan Houston, Nikola Katic, Matt Polster, James Tavernier, Aidan Wilson
Midfielders: Scott Arfield, Joe Aribo, Jamie Barjonas, Steven Davis, Greg Docherty, Graham Dorrans, Eros Grezda, Jake Hastie, Jason Holt, Ryan Jack, Jordan Jones, Glen Kamara, Josh McPake, Glenn Middleton, Sheyi Ojo
Forwards: Serge Atakayi, Jermain Defoe, Joe Dodoo, Dapo Mebude, Alfredo Morelos, Jamie Murphy, Greg Stewart



Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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