Rangers: Steven Gerrard gets set to take charge of his 100th game for Ibrox side
By Allan Valente
Last Updated: 26/01/20 5:35pm
Steven Gerrard will reach a personal milestone on Sunday as he takes charge of Rangers for the 100th time against Hearts – but how has the former England captain fared so far in senior management?
Gerrard was appointed as Rangers manager in May 2018 on a four-year deal after spending just over a year as an academy coach at Liverpool.
He immediately surrounded himself with familiar faces in the form of Gary McAllister, Michael Beale, Tom Culshaw and Jordan Milsom and they have undoubtedly played a key role in his first steps in management.
When he officially started work in Glasgow later that summer Gerrard took over a Rangers team which had just finished third in the Premiership after on-field turmoil which had seen Pedro Caixinha, Graeme Murty and eventually Jimmy Nicholl in charge at various points throughout the season.
Gerrard gets started
Gerrard's first campaign in charge failed to yield any silverware as Celtic continued to dominate Scottish football but two Old Firm victories, including Rangers' first in 13 matches, and qualification for the group stages of the Europa League were signs of real progress given the dysfunction he had inherited.
The likes of Connor Goldson, Borna Barisic, Scott Arfield and Allan McGregor represented much-improved business in the transfer market as once again the Rangers squad underwent a summer overhaul going into Gerrard's first season.
His foray into senior management got underway with a 2-0 win over Macedonian side Shkupi in their opening Europa League qualifier at Ibrox, while wins over Osijek, Maribor and Ufa followed as Rangers secured an unexpected group stage berth.
However, Gerrard picked up just one win from his opening four Premiership games as Rangers were held to draws away at Aberdeen on the opening day and Motherwell before a 1-0 defeat to Celtic. League form picked up but defeats to Aberdeen in the semi-final of the League Cup at Hampden and again in a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay to Derek McInnes's side were ultimately the failures in an otherwise encouraging debut season in management for Gerrard.
Brendan Rodgers' Celtic side had swept all before them in Scotland prior to Gerrard's arrival and restoring some belief and pride to a Rangers side which had taken one Old Firm bodyblow after another in recent years was vital.
Rangers' 1-0 win over Celtic at Ibrox in December 2018 moved Gerrard's side level on points at the top of the table but represented so much more. It was Rangers' first Old Firm win in 13 meetings and broke the stranglehold Rodgers seemed to have over the Gers. A second derby win in May was not enough to affect Celtic's march to the title but confirmed that Rangers were no longer in the business of turning up and hoping for the best in the most important of occasions in Glasgow.
Second time around
But have Gerrard and Rangers progressed since then? The stats say yes.
Rangers go into the meeting with Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, two points behind Celtic with a game in hand. After 20 games last season they had amassed 39 points. This time around they have 53.
They are scoring more goals this season - 91 in 39 games at a rate of 2.3 per game compared to 1.92 per game last term - while also conceding fewer. They have conceded 21 goals in 39 games this season (0.54 per game) compared with 44 in 60 in the last campaign (0.73 per game). Rangers have kept 50 clean sheets under Gerrard, largely helped by the presence of Allan McGregor.
Rangers' win rate in the Premiership last season was 60.5 per cent, but that has shot up to 85 per cent so far this term. The Old Firm are pushing each other. Ahead of the winter break Neil Lennon's Celtic side were 10 points better off than they were at the same stage last season under Rodgers.
There have been disappointments this season. The controversial manner of the League Cup final defeat will have hurt after Gerrard's team dominated for the majority of the match. Letting a two-goal lead slip at Pittodrie in December was something last season's side may have done but errors like that have not been prevalent this term, while Gerrard admitted that he had made mistakes after a lacklustre performance in the 2-0 defeat to Celtic at Ibrox in September.
However, progression to the last-32 of the Europa League after coming through a group containing Young Boys, Feyenoord and last season's Champions League quarter-finalists Porto cannot be underestimated. Securing victory at Parkhead for the first time since 2010 was another box ticked as Gerrard continues to re-build after years of chaos on and off the pitch in Govan.
"We've come very close to getting that first bit of success," Gerrard said. "We've had European qualification and progression which is a massive achievement from where the club was. But I know you get judged at this club on trophies. That won't change going into my next 100 games."
Gerrard has not been afraid to experiment tactically in his 20 months in charge. That approach did not yield much success when Rangers went 3-5-2 against Motherwell early last season, dropping two late points in a 3-3 draw at Fir Park. That is not a set-up which has really been seen since.
Gerrard favoured a 4-3-3 formation early on but that has morphed into a now tried and trusted 4-3-2-1 with Alfredo Morelos dropping deep to collect the ball to allow two No 10's to often run on behind. Scott Arfield and Jermain Defoe used this system to great effect in Rangers' 2-0 win over Celtic in May.
Gerrard wants his side to press, to move the ball quickly and assert dominance in midfield. In the early part of his reign, he and his backroom staff were almost forced into tactical changes as Rangers found themselves down to 10 men on numerous occasions. Indeed, his side saw red 12 times in Gerrard's first season. More often than not, however, the team excelled despite being a man down.
Moving into a 4-3-2 formation with the wider men up top positioning themselves more centrally was largely effective whenever necessary, especially in his first Premiership game in charge when Morelos was sent off against Aberdeen. When Morelos was dismissed against Celtic in March, Ryan Kent shone further forward as part of an inside front two.
Media and man management
Gerrard and his staff have undoubtedly been vital in the progression of players who were already at the club when they arrived. James Tavernier and Morelos have thrived under the 39-year-old while Ryan Jack's game has been enhanced immeasurably.
Ryan Kent returned to Rangers on a permanent deal after a successful loan last season and he is in no doubt about the impact of Gerrard on the club.
"You only have to talk to people about what it was like in past years," he told Sky Sports. "I feel like the manager's probably brought a new lease of life to the club and definitely to me as a player.
"I feel like the gaffer along with the other coaches have got a new lease of life out of me. They bring a lot of valuable experience. If you can take just a little bit out of what they're saying then you're going to learn a lot."
Gerrard's post-match celebrations at Parkhead with his players and fans demonstrated how taken he seems to be with the squad and the challenge in front of him. He often speaks of his "love" for his squad but has been forthright with his players when necessary, including recently, claiming he was "bored" watching their win over Stranraer and revealing that some had played their way out of his thinking in a winter-break friendly in Dubai.
He said he could not defend Morelos anymore after his red card against Celtic in March, fining him and warning the striker that the indiscipline had to stop. Barring two incidents in recent weeks Gerrard's damning words appear to have done the trick, with the Colombian scoring 28 goals in a hugely impressive campaign thus far.
The next 100 games?
Six of Gerrard's 61 wins as Rangers manager have come against Hearts, more than against any other opponent in his time at Ibrox. He will go into Sunday keen to enhance that statistic as the race for the Premiership continues apace.
Rangers took a measured risk when appointing Gerrard in 2018. Great players do not always make great managers and the former Liverpool captain had, by his own admission, little experience in the dugout heading into one of the most pressurised footballing environments in Britain.
He was appointed to win trophies at Rangers, something he is yet to do. The club clearly believe he is on the right path, however, tying him down to a new contract until 2024 in December.
"It's been a journey that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is a massive job, a massive club and I've enjoyed the ride so far. There's been a lot of ups, there's been some downs. Exactly what I expected but I'm sitting here just as hungry and ambitious as I was when I arrived," he said on Friday.
"Hopefully I'm still around for the next 100 games. I'd like to think I've grown and learned from the mistakes I've made. I'd like to think I've done some things OK along the way as well. I believe there is more still to come from these players. We've got a real ambitious group, we've been through a lot in a short space of time. One hundred per cent we've improved, we've added some fantastic talent to the group that have helped us and that will continue.
"I'm still young and inexperienced. People who said I lacked experience at the start were right. But there's only one way to get it and that's to get in there and face the challenges. That's what myself and my staff have tried to do. We're a new group but we're all ambitious and hungry. We've done ever so well to get to where we are but there's still a lot of work to be done and we're all aware of that."
Gerrard knows improvement is not the end-game, silverware is all that matters in Glasgow. Progress has been made but more challenges lie in wait, starting at Tynecastle on Sunday.
Gerrard's key games
FC Ufa 1-1 Rangers (Rangers win 2-1 on aggregate) - August 30, 2018
Nine-man Rangers progressed to the group stage of the Europa League after a 1-1 draw at Russian side FC Ufa, winning the play-off 2-1 on aggregate. Given Rangers' European campaign the previous season had been ended in the qualifiers by Luxembourg side Progres Niederkorn qualification was an impressive achievement and helped Gerrard settle into the role.
Alfredo Morelos and Jon Flanagan were both sent off for the away side but Gerrard's team proved their mettle and it was the first of many occasions over the course of the season that they managed to get a result under trying circumstances.
Rangers 1-0 Celtic - December 29, 2018
Celtic's domination of Scottish football under Brendan Rodgers had seen Rangers suffer heavy and, often, humiliating defeats at the hands of their Old Firm rivals in recent years.
Gerrard's first loss as Rangers manager had come at Parkhead in the season's first meeting of the sides in September but he was to mastermind Rangers' first win over their bitter rivals in 13 games the next time around which saw them go into the winter break level on points at the top of the table. It was the first time in years that Rangers had dominated the fixture and the sense of relief in Govan was palpable.
Rangers 2-0 Porto - November 7, 2019
A hugely credible draw over in Portugal in the first half of the Europa League double header was followed by a vital win at Ibrox two weeks later. Goals from Alfredo Morelos and Steven Davis secured three points against a team that had reached the quarter finals of the Champions League the year before.
The result came in the same game week that Celtic beat Lazio in Rome as Scottish football enjoyed positive headlines in Europe. The win did not secure Europa League progression for Gerrard on the night but was to prove crucial going forward.
Celtic 1-0 Rangers - December 8, 2019
Gerrard has been tasked with ending Celtic's stranglehold over Scottish silverware and, after disappointing exits in both cup competitions to Aberdeen the previous year, he had his first chance to lift a trophy as Rangers boss in the League Cup final. His team dominated but a controversial Christopher Jullien goal, coupled with a missed Alfredo Morelos penalty, saw Celtic emerge victorious.
In the midst of a difficult December, however, which saw Rangers negotiate tricky away fixtures and seal passage from the group stages of the Europa League, Gerrard's team were to use this performance, rather than the result, as a springboard ahead of their Old Firm showdown at Parkhead three weeks later.
Celtic 1-2 Rangers - December 29, 2019
Rangers went into the final fixture of 2019 having not won at Parkhead for nearly a decade. Another action-packed Old Firm encounter saw Gerrard pick up his first win in the east end which moved his team to within two points of the Premiership leaders with a game in hand.
His celebrations at the full-time whistle showed what the victory meant to Gerrard, especially after the disappointment of the League Cup final. The win stopped his side from slipping eight points behind Celtic going into the New Year. Perhaps more importantly it broke down another barrier Gerrard had been looking to overcome.
Rangers may not win the league this season but the air of fear which had been polluting Ibrox in the build-up to Old Firm days in recent years has been cleared with victory at Celtic Park.
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