PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: Second
LAST SEASON: Third, 70pts
NOTABLE INS: Scott Arfield (Burnley), Connor Goldson (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jon Flanagan (Liverpool), Nikola Katic (Slaven Belupo), Allan McGregor (Hull City), Jamie Murphy (Brighton & Hove Albion, loan made permanent), Lassana Coulibaly (Angers, loan), Ovie Ejaria (Liverpool, loan), Ryan Kent (Liverpool, loan), Umar Sadiq (Roma, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: David Bates (Hamburg), Bruno Alves (Parma), Fabio Cardoso (Santa Clara), Harry Forrester (Tractor Sazi), Liam Kelly (Livingston), Kenny Miller (Livingston, player-manager), Michael O'Halloran (Melbourne City), Jordan Thompson (Blackpool), Joe Dodoo (Blackpool, loan), Ryan Hardie (Livingston, loan), Eduardo Herrera (Santos Laguna, loan), Jason Holt (Fleetwood Town, loan), Carlos Pena (Necaxa, loan), Jason Cummings (Nottingham Forest, end of loan), Dalcio (Benfica, end of loan), Sean Goss (Queen's Park Rangers, end of loan), Russell Martin (Norwich City, end of loan)
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Foderingham, Tavernier,
Off the field, nothing much has changed. Rangers are still a mess. £17million in debt as of this time last year, they admitted in their last accounts that they would need £7million of external funding over the next two years to keep going. Their 'penniless' (his own lawyer's words) chairman keeps finding increasingly spurious excuses to delay his takeover of the club and is facing a Contempt of Court charge as a result. And in the last few days a case has been settled out of court that will require the club to pay about half a million in legal fees to long-term bugbear Mike Ashley.
But on the field, are we finally seeing progress?
Steven Gerrard's start in the Ibrox hotseat has been quietly encouraging. Rangers haven't blown away their Europa League opposition so far, but they've won their two ties and looked solid and well-organized. That in itself is a dramatic improvement from recent years. It's still early days, but so far it is hard to find fault with the rookie manager.
Crucially, he quickly identified the weakest area in the squad - central defence - and set about improving it. Most of the budget has been blown on Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic, but that's no bad thing, though the decision to let David Bates walk looks dreadfully shortsighted. With Jon Flanagan also added, apparently to play left-back, the hope is that the consistent concession of cheap goals that has been characteristic of the last two years will stop.
Gerrard's pragmatism is a good sign; rather than having delusions of playing reckless attacking football straight off the bat he has instead concentrated on the fundamentals and trying to make Rangers difficult to beat. The question is whether, if the entertainment value is initially poor and/or there is a slow start - trips to Aberdeen, Motherwell and Celtic in their first four games is not exactly an easy opening to the league campaign, he will be given time. Ibrox is not exactly renowned for its patience.
There have been additions elsewhere too, of course. Four midfielders have come in, including Ryan Kent and Ovie Ejaria on loan from Liverpool. Lassana Coulibaly, another loanee, is expected to add a physical presence alongside Ryan Jack at the base. Scott Arfield, often a regular in the Premier League with Burnley, should be a good signing if he can be fitted into Gerrard's system, but he isn't quite enough of a winger for a 4-2-3-1 system - unlike Jamie Murphy - and may find it hard to find a place in the centre of midfield with so many options available.
Up front they still look a bit light as well, especially if Josh Windass, a perfectly viable second striker, leaves. Umar Sadiq is a bit of an unknown quantity, whereas we know what we will get from Alfredo Morelos - a lot of hard work, a headache for the opposing centre-backs, and too many missed chances. Morelos has plenty of room to improve (he is only 22 after all) but Gerrard will want to bring in at least one more forward, with Kyle Lafferty recently linked.
There will be plenty of departures yet, either permanently or on loan. Greg Docherty has been deemed not ready for first team action, which is a shame. Wes Foderingham has been frozen out in favour of Allan McGregor, which seems more of a sideways move than an upgrade in goal. Lee Wallace could also be moved on if a suitor can be found, after his fallout with the club at the end of last year.
The bottom line is that Rangers are still a hell of a long way behind Celtic, and therefore a hell of a long way away from where they want to be. The trick is recognizing it, and thinking in terms of gradual improvements instead of desperate attempts at big leaps which end up in a Luxembourger bush. If they trust Gerrard, and he proves worthy of their faith, they should surely climb one step on the podium this year. That might not sound much to their fans, but it would be positive progress for the first time in a long while.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1997 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Jak Alnwick, Wes Foderingham, Allan McGregor
Defenders: Myles Beerman, Kyle Bradley, Jon Flanagan, Connor Goldson, Lee Hodson, Declan John, Nikola Katic, Ross McCrorie, James Tavernier, Lee Wallace
Midfielders: Scott Arfield, Jamie Barjonas, Liam Burt, Daniel Candeias, Lassana Coulibaly, Greg Docherty, Graham Dorrans, Ovie Ejaria, Andy Halliday, Ryan Jack, Ryan Kent, Glenn Middleton, Jordan Rossiter, Josh Windaass
Forwards: Alfredo Morelos, Jamie Murphy, Umar Sadiq
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.