If anyone had claimed that Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side would have an eleven point lead over Celtic atop the Premiership table after 15 matches, their statement would’ve likely been laughed off, and quite possibly, ridiculed. In hindsight though, the same people who laughed might now realise how blind they were to the signs that were on the horizon. Football nowadays is a lot more than just what goes on in the pitch, with off-field matters and issues having a massive impact on the general environment surrounding a football club as well.
Right from the start of the transfer market, while Rangers looked to be doing smart business in the form of loan deals and free transfers, Celtic’s intentions were just bigger. The names they targeted were bigger, while the money involved in these possible deals were bigger too. Take the amount of money being paid to the likes of Brighton and AC Milan for the services of Shane Duffy and Diego Laxalt into account. Rangers were never going to be able to compete with Celtic on that front, but by being shrewd and smart in the transfer market, the Ibrox club were able to take a step in the right direction last summer.
How Have The Two Clubs Fared In The League So Far?
Rangers have been nothing short of sublime in the league all season, boasting a record of just three goals conceded after 15 Premiership matches. Not only have they managed to see out the threats of all of the other teams in the division, but they even went on to beat Celtic in rather comfortable fashion earlier on in the campaign. With good displays being put forward by players from across the park, Steven Gerrard deserves a lot of credit for the manner in which he has rekindled life into this Rangers team. Celtic, on the other hand, have failed to achieve any sort of consistency, and this has caused them to fall apart on numerous occasions.
Let’s Take A Look At The Factors That Led To Rangers’ Superiority In The Premiership:
The Factors That Led To Rangers’ Superiority In The Premiership
The arrivals of players like Kemar Roofe and Leon Balogun have undoubtedly had positive effects on the team, to the extent that they’re close to becoming undroppable regulars. The likes of Bongani Zungu, Calvin Bassey, Cédric Itten and Ianis Hagi have all come good in parts as well. For all the names listed above, it’s worth taking into account that the actual amount of money they spent on transfer fees is still quite limited. The permanent acquisition of Hagi was the most expensive deal of the lot, and considering just how good he was for them last season, their isolated splurge didn’t come as too much of a surprise.
While teams like Aberdeen and Hibernian made signings too, they were never going to be able to match up with the ambition displayed by either Celtic or Rangers, but fortunately for them, the former hasn’t been able to live up to expectations. Celtic’s transfer business saw the arrivals of some marquee names, with Albian Ajeti and Shane Duffy both coming in. Diego Laxalt was signed on a loan deal from AC Milan in what was a solid move, but apart from that things have been questionable. Vasilis Barkas’ arrival in between the sticks has effectively done nothing to help their cause, while David Turnbull is yet to have any sort of impact on proceedings as well.
This proves that Celtic and Rangers are now very differently run clubs. While Celtic want to stand out as a brand by signing players that fans of the European game will be aware of, Rangers have taken a much more sensible approach. This shows without a doubt that the amount of scouting and research that has been conducted by Gerrard’s team is more than that of any of their competitors, and that has been visible in their general play as well. With a wage bill of almost around half when compared to Celtic, the Ibrox club’s achievement on this front is truly a commendable one.
The number of people that questioned the credibility of Rangers’ squad prior to the start of the season was monumental. Instead of talking about it or dealing with it in a public sphere, Gerrard’s backroom team simply ended up putting their money where their mouth is. They now have varied options in most areas of the pitch, and this has given Gerrard the strength required to deal with several concurrent injuries as well. Be it on the flank, in midfield, or even at centre-half; the Ibrox club have more than enough options to choose from for any fixture.
Cédric Itten, Jermain Defoe, Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe are all distinct striking options, and this is without taking Greg Stewart into account at all. In midfield too, in Scott Arfield, Steven Davis, Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara, Bongani Zungu, Joe Aribo, and to a certain extent, even Ianis Hagi, Gerrard has no reason to be concerned about injuries anymore. The same applies at the back as well, as Leon Balogun, Connor Goldson, Filip Helander, George Edmundson (provided he redeems himself) and the injured Nikola Katic, are all perfectly viable options to start in the starting eleven.
Although Aberdeen also have decent depth in terms of numbers, their squad doesn’t come anywhere near Rangers’ in terms of individual quality. In fact, the Ibrox club’s second string side would still probably have enough firepower to overcome the challenge of the Dons. Celtic, on the other hand, have a rather shoddily built squad, where an injury to one player could send the whole system into turmoil. The likes of Elyounoussi and Kristoffer Ajer are key to Neil Lennon’s operation, and removing them from the side would leave them completely toothless.
Gerrard’s side have been playing a similar style of football since the opening week of the campaign, with only minor visible changes being applied depending on the pedigree of the opposition. This means that the manager has undoubtedly implemented his identity on the squad, with the players having a clear understanding of what is expected of them in any given situation. The likes of James Tavernier and Borna Barisic have adapted to their offensive tactics extremely well, while Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi have been helping out at the back.
This general synchronisation is apparent to see all across the pitch, and this is best highlighted in their defensive record this season. Although Gerrard has mixed things around in terms of defensive combinations, the one thing that has remained constant is their level of their performance. Be it Goldson, Helander or Balogun starting in front of the keeper, no team has managed to find an easy way through the Gers’ back-line, with Portuguese giants Benfica coming as the only exception. The fact that all the defenders, including the full-backs, are on the same wavelength now, is an achievement on its own for Gerrard.
The same applies in the offensive front as well, as the likes of Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo seem to intuitively know what their teammates’ next step will be. Be it a cross-field pass or a simple through ball in behind, the understanding that’s being displayed by the attackers is truly commendable. As it is with the defence, irrespective of what combination of players start a match, they have been able to produce the goods on a consistent basis. While there has been the odd occasion where they haven’t been able to find the required creativity, one change from Gerrard often tends to open things up.
Although Aberdeen players also have a very specific playing style, their ability to implement it regularly has been limited due to a relative lack of quality. Meanwhile, Celtic seem to have no tactical plan or setup, in that the inconsistency in their play is easily visible to fans. The likes of Elyounoussi and Kristoffer Ajer are required to do a majority of the attacking and defending respectively, which thereby puts them in an extremely sensitive spot. Until Neil Lennon (or someone else) can get the best out of the system, and not just a couple of players within the system, Celtic aren’t going to be able to deal with the creative power of Rangers.
Drive And Desire
While general player quality and a well-devised tactical setup are undoubtedly crucial to a team’s success, the one thing that makes the best stand out from the great is their attitude while on the pitch. There hasn’t been even one match this season where Rangers have looked like they don’t want to be there. Celtic though, have displayed such an attitude on various occasions this campaign. Their results in Europe so far are the perfect example for just that.
Celtic’s defeat at the hands of AC Milan was certainly expected. The Italian club are among the biggest teams in the European game, and there was no shame for them in losing that fixture. The frustrating part though, came within the match, where apart from a couple of short spells in either halves, at no point did Celtic look like they believed they could get anything from the tie. Rangers’ match against Benfica put them in a rather similar situation, where the Portuguese giants were undoubtedly the favourites to get the win.
Despite their opposition’s apparent superiority on paper, Gerrard’s side went into the fixture with a completely positive mindset, and that was visible in their play from the opening knockings of the game. Although they went a goal down very early on, the Ibrox club maintained their composure, and ensured that they stuck together. Although they were unable to hold on to a 3-1 lead against ten men, it certainly wasn’t for the lack of trying. The mentality that Gerrard has managed to cultivate at the club is what makes them stand out, and the sheer desire for each player to work for each other has made them quite the force to be reckoned with.
For all the years of dominance that Celtic have displayed, there’s no denying that this season so far, has been a blemish on their stellar record. There’s no way to definitively say that Celtic’s title race is over, and any football fan will be able to vouch for that fact. Things change in football, and the possibility of Rangers dropping off the pace, as they did last season, still exists. The more improbable possibility of Lennon’s side turning a corner in the weeks to come exists too. However, as things stand, even the most deluded of Celtic fans will have to agree with the fact that Rangers are a better team, which then directly makes them the best team in the country.
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