Has Steven Gerrard been a success at Rangers? His first season in Scotland assessed
Former Liverpool captain has steered Rangers to second in Scottish Premiership
By Charles Paterson, Sky Sports News
Last Updated: 31/03/19 11:16am
This Sunday, Steven Gerrard takes Rangers to Celtic Park, hoping for a win that would keep hopes flickering of a title challenge from Ibrox.
Defeat in the Sky Live Old Firm game will effectively end Gerrard's chances of winning silverware this season - but how has he fared so far in management?
Sky Sports News reporter Charles Paterson assesses his first season at Rangers...
Domestic form - marginal gains
Statistics can often be misleading, but they make for fascinating reading when analysing Rangers' progress under Gerrard. A year ago, with Graeme Murty in the dugout after replacing Pedro Caixinha, Rangers sat on 58 points after 30 league games, 10 points behind Celtic - and went on to finish third. Twelve months on, Rangers have amassed 60 points, again 10 adrift of the leaders, in a comfortable second place - a minor improvement, though many fans will argue the team is significantly better now.
What constitutes being "better"? Perhaps the most notable success has been to land a minor blow on Celtic - December's 1-0 win was Rangers' first Old Firm league win since 2012. Gerrard's side played Celtic off the park that day and moved level on points with the champions going into the winter break, albeit having played a game more. However Celtic have stretched away since, while Rangers have repeatedly faltered.
The optimism of supporters in early winter, when Rangers hit top spot after an impressive win at Hearts, has been replaced by frustration as results have slipped away. Rangers have dropped 18 points since the start of December; Celtic have shed 10 points in the same period - and only two since the winter break. Inconsistency has bedevilled Gerrard's side.
In the cup competitions, Rangers have fallen short on the big occasions. Gerrard lacked striking options for the League Cup semi-final against Aberdeen with Alfredo Morelos suspended and Kyle Lafferty cup-tied, but his side were toothless and sucker-punched late on. Aberdeen then doubled the agony at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup two weeks ago, in a season-defining game for both teams.
Aberdeen have beaten Rangers three times in six meetings - with all three wins coming in Glasgow. Although ahead of them in the league, Gerrard's early season claim that Rangers were "a class above" Aberdeen has not borne fruit. Bar that result at home against Celtic, Rangers have failed to produce the goods when it's mattered.
Europe - positive progress
Negotiating four rounds of Europa League qualification was never going to be a given, but Rangers went through the hazardous process unbeaten to reach the group stages of European competition for the first time since 2010. An excellent draw away at Villarreal and a classy home win over Rapid Vienna set Rangers up for qualification, but taking just one point from bottom side Spartak Moscow proved crucial in the failure to reach the knockout stages.
Given the previous season's embarrassment, when Rangers were toppled by Progres Niederkorn, Gerrard will regard this year's as a success, while perhaps at the same time a missed opportunity. Restoring the club's reputation on the European stage forms a key part of the club's rebuilding strategy - more progress will be required next season.
Signings - a mixed bag
Gerrard was appointed in May last year amidst a backdrop of chaos, five days after Rangers had been humiliated 5-0 at Celtic Park. The task of upgrading the squad alongside director of football Mark Allen began immediately, and a busy summer followed as 14 players arrived at Ibrox. Fees were paid for some while others were loans, but the most effective arrivals have been two who joined for free.
Allan McGregor has been at his peak since his return to the club, while Scott Arfield has added Premier League nous and bite in midfield. Liverpool loanee Ryan Kent has shown flashes of brilliance when he's been fit, while Connor Goldson has for the most part offered a sense of authority in defence. Glen Kamara cost little and promises much for the future, while Jamie Murphy is a proven talent whose season has been wrecked by injury.
For some, the jury is still out - while others have lacked quality. Nikola Katic cost £2m and has been talked of as a Croatia star of the future, but he's often been left out with Gerrard talking of protecting his 22-year-old defender. Eros Grezda and Borna Barisic both signed from Europa League opponents Osijek; Croatia left-back Barisic looks like he could be a good investment, but Albanian Grezda has seemed utterly lost when not injured - both need to settle into Scottish football.
Kyle Lafferty knows Rangers inside out, but the Northern Ireland striker has looked a shadow of the player who starred at Hearts last season. Loanee Joe Worrall has played regularly but shown lapses of concentration; Lassana Coulibaly started strongly but has struggled to make any impact recently. Remember Ovie Ejaria? Much hyped upon arrival, the Liverpool midfielder looked so out of sorts by Christmas that his loan was cut short early. Rangers fans won't remember Umar Sadiq for long; the Roma forward fluffed his lines when given a chance in the League Cup semi-final and never made the grade.
Gerrard made his most high profile moves in January - again with mixed results. Jermain Defoe has brought goals, Premier League class and a wise head to help guide Alfredo Morelos, but while Steven Davis enjoyed huge success in his first spell at Rangers, but he's been unable to make an impact so far, and at 34 time is not on his side.
What Rangers lack is a creative midfielder that can unlock the most organised defences; Gerrard admitted recently he regretted not adding such a player in January. However hard to source, this position will be a priority in the summer - when quality rather than quantity is required if Rangers are to bridge the gap to Celtic. Whether he'll backed by his board to bring that quality in remains to be seen.
Management - and Morelos
Many commentators were stunned that Gerrard joined Rangers in the first place. Some suggested he was putting his reputation on the line in his first management job, such was the rebuild to be done at Ibrox. Others felt Rangers were taking an unnecessary risk on a rookie boss unproven in the dugout. What's been obvious since is that Gerrard's personality and status in the game has covered up some of the inevitable teething problems he's encountered.
Gerrard was never shy of speaking his mind as a player. On the pitch he was a born leader; those qualities have been invaluable since his transition to the dugout. Listening publicly to the Rangers players talk about their manager, there's no doubt they look up to Gerrard. Hearing his encouragement on the touchline should provide a spur; what he must avoid is becoming an intimidating rather than inspirational character.
He's largely swerved controversy since his opening day attack on referees at Pittodrie, when he claimed that "the world was against us". Since then the thorny issues of sectarianism and Rangers' inconsistent form have been handled delicately, but recently Gerrard showed signs of pressure by claiming Rangers players "needed more protection" from referees - perhaps an attempt to shield his players from further criticism due to a four-match winless run.
Gerrard's greatest quandary has involved his handling of his star striker. Alfredo Morelos has been phenomenal for Rangers and at times unplayable, scoring 29 goals in all competitions. Add four red cards and 17 yellow cards and the Colombian has rarely been out of the spotlight. As someone well used to this focus, Gerrard appears an ideal figure for Morelos to look up to, talking positively about his attributes while acknowledging the striker's flaws. So far he's largely got the best out of Morelos but has struggled to harness his temperament - alongside constant speculation over his future, it's been a real test of man-management.
Progress - but time waits for no man in Glasgow
Brendan Rodgers' departure from Celtic could have opened the door for Rangers, but the seamless transition to Neil Lennon leaves the champions on the brink of an eighth successive title. At crucial times, Rangers have been unable to make a position of strength count. This will be of immense frustration to Gerrard; Celtic remain hugely dominant financially, but when they've been vulnerable on the pitch Rangers have floundered.
A Rangers win on Sunday might still be too late to rescue the championship, but it would send a message that the gap has truly closed. Defeat, and planning will begin in earnest for next season - when Gerrard must not fail to challenge. Even though he's been here less than a year, the Rangers manager already knows that in Glasgow, second place is nowhere.
Watch Celtic v Rangers live on Sky Sports Football HD from 11am on Sunday - kick-off midday - or follow live updates on skysports.com and the Sky Sports App.