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How do Rangers catch Celtic after Scottish Premiership title race misery?

Celtic have clinched their third Scottish Premiership title in a row but what can Rangers do to catch up to their Old Firm rivals next season? Sky Sports examines what Philippe Clement must change at Ibrox this summer

With another Scottish Premiership title race done, another summer of introspection and regret awaits those behind the scenes at Ibrox.

There will be no guaranteed riches from the revamped Champions League meaning recruitment plans could be adjusted, and those players once considered indispensable may now be sellable.

Celtic have work to do on their own squad but will ultimately go into the off-season with a sense of clarity about the months ahead. Conversely, and once again, Rangers will be playing catch-up before a ball is kicked in the Premiership next season.

Matt O'Riley opened the scoring for Celtic against Rangers
Image: Celtic were undefeated against Rangers this season - winning three league games and drawing the other

The club is seemingly caught in a never-ending cycle of early season starts with European play-offs and watching formerly key contracts run down, all while trying to wrestle answers from a medical department which ultimately cannot keep players out of the treatment room.

Much of the above could have been copied and pasted from season debriefs in the years gone by. It has to be said once again - there is much work to be done at Rangers this summer.

It did not quite have to be this way, however. This season felt different. The truth is, despite a pitiful start and an unacceptable Old Firm record, Rangers had it in their grasp. Defeats to Motherwell, Ross County and a draw at Dundee ultimately did for Philippe Clement's side as injuries and old insecurities began to bite.

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Rangers lost to Ross County in April as they picked up just five points all month

Upon winning the Premiership back in 2021, then-manager Steven Gerrard told Sky Sports that Rangers needed to "fix the roof while the sun was shining". That did not happen. Instead, the club regressed while Ange Postecoglou put in the work reconstructing Celtic.

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In the years since, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Michael Beale spoke about the need for big changes over the summer if Rangers were to be competitive again. As the season wound down, Clement hinted that, once again, this squad will need to be completely altered for the club to be successful.

So, what happens next? What can Rangers do to stop a Celtic side which will now be able to further extend an already marked financial advantage? Sky Sports examines the key areas that Rangers need to address ahead of the new season.

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Sort out the medical department

Clement has never shied away from talking about issues relating to player injuries or the medical problems at Rangers since arriving at the club in October.

Abdallah Sima has been one of Rangers' key absentees this season
Image: Abdallah Sima has been one of Rangers' key absentees this season

Indeed, the Belgian claimed solving Rangers' injury issues would be one of the biggest "puzzles" of his managerial career. This is nothing new - Van Bronckhorst had to embark on a disastrous Champions League campaign in 2022 with a squad decimated by injuries.

In October Clement was unequivocal in demanding that players start to make use of the club's cryochamber facilities after games to help with recovery, while he later alluded to the squad's pre-season training not being up to scratch for the campaign ahead and keeping players fit. This is basic stuff for elite football clubs.

In his pre-match media duties ahead of the visit of Dundee on May 14, Clement revealed that 11 players would be missing for the match and rather than focus on the roof like Gerrard before him, Clement insisted that the foundations needed strengthening first.

Rangers' Nicolas Raskin is stretchered off with an injury in October
Image: Nicolas Raskin has missed large spells of this season with injury

Ahead of the game, he said: "Tomorrow we have 11 missing and that is a major thing that we need to change for next season. We need to make the foundation of the house stronger.

"In other departments we need to make good decisions because we cannot have so many injuries. So we have to rebuild something there. There are several things that need to change but I prefer to keep that in the building and make it better.

"Maybe it was better not to wait until the end of the season to make decisions around that (injury story) but you give chances to people."

Clement's concerns are not without merit. A substitute appearance from Abdallah Sima on the final day against Hearts meant that just 10 of Rangers' 30-strong first-team squad managed 25 or more appearances in the Premiership this season.

Tom Lawrence and Danilo have been added to Rangers' injury list
Image: Tom Lawrence and Danilo have struggled with injuries at points this season

Ryan Jack, along with summer recruits Danilo and Kieran Dowell, has started just five Premiership games all season. Stats for the likes of Kemar Roofe (six starts), Tom Lawrence (12 starts), Dujon Sterling (11 starts) and Nicolas Raskin (13 starts) also show how affected Rangers have been by the inconsistency in availability of a number of key players.

This cannot be allowed to continue. The manager claimed in April that they knew what was causing so many injuries and that information has to be acted upon if Clement has any chance of making Rangers competitive again next season.

First-team farewells...

It would appear that Rangers will once again say farewell to a number of first-team players this summer, with John Lundstram, Borna Barisic, Roofe, Jack, Leon Balogun and John McLaughlin all out of contract at the end of the season.

Borna Barisic (left) and John Lundstram (right) are out of contract in the summer
Image: Borna Barisic (left) and John Lundstram (right) are out of contract in the summer

Clement has appeared keen to retain Lundstram but reports suggest a move to Trabzonspor is in the offing for him and Barisic. The midfielder has struggled for long-term consistency and the fear now is that his time at the club will be remembered for his own goal and red card against Celtic at Parkhead in May instead of his strike against RB Leipzig which took Rangers to a Europa League final.

The manager has expressed dissatisfaction with so many players being in a position to run down their contracts and leave for free - much like Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos the summer before - but a reset is required.

Rangers' Ryan Jack, and Kemar Roofe
Image: Rangers' Ryan Jack and Kemar Roofe could leave the club this summer

Familiarity appears to have bred frustration, with many Rangers supporters keen to see a younger squad with hungry new recruits, perhaps new faces without the scar tissue of experiencing disappointment quite so often. Have Rangers truly evolved from James Tavernier and Barisic at full-back? Celtic have rebuilt while the Rangers squad has aged in key areas.

Any departures would likely mean that only Tavernier and Connor Goldson, as guaranteed starters, remain from Gerrard's early days at Ibrox. Even the captain and vice-captain have been linked with a reunion with their former boss in Saudi Arabia, however.

Rangers are winless in their last three Premiership games
Image: James Tavernier and Connor Goldson have been linked with a reunion with Steven Gerrard in Saudi Arabia

Tavernier would probably appear likelier to stay as he goes into his testimonial year but doubts were raised over Goldson's future after he was dropped from the side in April before injury - what else - ended his season.

Rangers captain Tavernier has enjoyed another prolific season with 17 league goals and 10 assists but his defensive frailties continue to be exposed in key matches. Daizen Maeda has largely had the beating of the 32-year-old in their meetings this season to devastating effect for Rangers.

Indeed, Tavernier's win record against Celtic stands at 22 per cent - suggesting he could be one of those who bear the scar tissue from 22 defeats in 36 Old Firm games. The Englishman is, of course, a victim of circumstance given the predicament Rangers found themselves in when he moved to Glasgow in 2015.

Image: James Tavernier has struggled against Daizen Maeda this season

But the fact remains that he has suffered more than anyone in this Rangers side at the hands of Celtic. Rangers fans know it, he knows it and the Celtic players know it, too.

Despite that, Tavernier has delivered for Rangers when few others have shown themselves to be capable of stepping up. Indeed, this season he became the highest scoring defender in British football.

But how successful can Rangers hope to be when they are beholden to their right-back to constantly get them out of trouble? Is this dependence on the skipper, as well as pronounced defensive issues, beginning to outweigh the importance of the goals scored by Tavernier? Clement may find that he has a decision to make in the summer if he is to get the best out of his team as a whole.

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Rangers captain James Tavernier reflects on his Rangers future amid links to Saudi Arabia

Others such as Sam Lammers, Jose Cifuentes, Todd Cantwell, Raskin and even Jack Butland, who Clement says he is determined to keep, may have to leave as Rangers prepare for another rebuild.

No margin for error in summer recruitment

"There is going to be a turnaround in the squad, that is clear with all the end-of-contract situations and maybe others also. It is going to be a big one, it is going to be quite a rebuild," Clement said earlier in May.

"You want to keep the foundations of this season. You don't want to start from zero. So we need to find the balance and bring in assets and experience in, if experience is leaving the building. The club know how necessary it is to do that."

Jose Cifuentes (L) and Danilo (R) during a Rangers training session
Image: Jose Cifuentes (L) and Danilo (R) joined Rangers last summer

Rangers spent decent money last summer on the likes of Lammers, Cifuentes, Danilo and Cyriel Dessers, with free transfers Butland and Dujon Sterling also joining alongside Sima on loan from Brighton. That recruitment has proven to be somewhat of a mixed bag.

Lammers and Cifuentes left the club on loan in January, Danilo picked up a knee injury in December, while Sima has also struggled with injuries since picking up a knock in training at the Africa Cup of Nations in January. Nevertheless, Sima, Butland and Sterling have been the success stories, while Dessers has divided opinion, meaning supporters expect new strikers to be added to the squad this summer.

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Despite scoring more than 20 goals this season, Rangers' Cyriel Dessers still seems to be receiving criticism - but is it justified?

Rangers have little margin for error in their recruitment this time around. Fans protested former sporting director Ross Wilson before he left the club in April 2023, in part because of an uninspired and broken implementation of the club's much vaunted player trading model. That meant Beale took on responsibility for transfer business last summer, seemingly without much success given the outlay.

Cyriel Dessers statistics

Striker Games played Goals scored xG Shot conversion rate Big chance conversion %
Cyriel Dessers 34 16 18.42 16.2% 31.6%
Kyogo Furuhashi 37 13 18.49 13.1% 28.1%
Lawrence Shankland 36 23 16.28 17.3% 52.6%

This summer's recruitment strategy will be headed by Clement and director of football recruitment Nils Koppen, who was appointed in January. Together, they will be tasked with unearthing gems capable of producing silverware on the pitch before being sold on at sizeable profits, with Panamanian centre half Jose Cordoba already linked with a move from Levski Sofia.

Michael Beale brought Cyriel Dessers and Sam Lammers to Rangers last summer
Image: Michael Beale brought Cyriel Dessers and Sam Lammers to Rangers last summer

"We don't have unlimited finance so we need to make the right decisions in the positions and where to spend more and where to spend less," Clement said.

"We are going to need to be more creative in that as a club, and we need to do it fast also, because we have decisive games already in August. That is going to be a challenging period for everybody to make fast decisions, to make good decisions, and to convince people to come here. But I can say that everybody on the board, in recruitment, is very motivated for that."

Rangers new director of football recruitment Nils Koppen
Image: Rangers director of football recruitment Nils Koppen (left) will help to oversee the summer transfer window

Clement must beat Rodgers

When Matt O'Riley slammed his effort into the net to open the scoring at Parkhead earlier this month Rangers fans could be forgiven for thinking they had seen this movie before. Indeed, Rangers staff and players seem to be watching the same film year after year and expecting a different ending when it comes to this fixture.

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Highlights from the Scottish Premiership clash between Celtic and Rangers.

In Callum McGregor, Reo Hatate and O'Riley, Celtic have an established, functioning and mobile midfield three. Rangers were overwhelmed in the middle of the park again. Lundstram failed to spot O'Riley jogging away from him to make the space needed for the opener and it is not the first time it has happened.

Rangers managers against Celtic

Manager Games Wins Draws Losses Win %
Steven Gerrard 13 8 1 4 61.5%
Giovanni van Bronckhorst 5 1 1 3 20.0%
Michael Beale 6 1 1 4 16.7%
Philippe Clement 3 0 1 2 0.0%

These are the defeats which cost Old Firm managers their jobs - just ask Van Bronckhorst and Beale. By contrast, Rodgers has lost just one of his games against Rangers across two spells, back in December 2018 to a side managed by Gerrard.

Much was made of Beale being unable to better Postecoglou last season in the games that mattered. The League Cup final and Scottish Cup semi-final suggested that Beale could not outmanoeuvre his Australian counterpart and that feeling seeped into the stands.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 30: Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers and Rangers Manager Philippe Clement  during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park, on December 30, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Image: Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is undefeated against Rangers boss Philippe Clement so far

Clement's League Cup triumph gives him breathing space that Beale never had, but he has to start beating Celtic and Rodgers otherwise he risks falling into the same doomed cycle that proved costly for his predecessors. The Scottish Cup final would be the ideal place to start.

Will Clement bring Lundstram back into his starting line-up for that game, given how the match at Parkhead played out?

Lundstram seems to have played the part of Clement's midfield general, but has a win percentage of just 23 per cent in Old Firm fixtures, winning just three of his 13 appearances in the derby. Few generals would be called upon to oversee as many battles going forward with such a record and May 25 could prove to be pivotal to Clement's tenure at Rangers.

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John Lundstram is sent off leaving Rangers with 10 players in the game against Celtic

The Belgian cannot allow another botched summer to predicate the terms of his departure in the autumn like those who came before him.

Selling astutely, recruiting even more wisely and finally getting to the bottom of longstanding issues in the medical department all go hand in hand. Rangers need to get all three aspects just right this summer.

Only then will Clement be able to avoid the fate of his forerunners and build something meaningful at Rangers. Victory over Celtic at Hampden - securing a cup double in the process - would allow the Belgian to break Rodgers' stranglehold over Rangers before he gets too preoccupied in desperately chasing his first Old Firm win.

Phillipe Clement won the League Cup with Rangers in December
Image: Philippe Clement won the League Cup with Rangers in December

The foundations can be strengthened with grey skies above but a Scottish Cup win would allow Clement to also fix the roof quietly during a small burst of unexpected Glaswegian sunshine.

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