‘Treble & Euro run in Rangers’ sights’

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July 28, 2021
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    Rampant Rangers won their first top-flight title in a decade last season with a 25-point margin and 100% home recordRampant Rangers won their first top-flight title in a decade last season with a 25-point margin and 100% home record

    The last time we saw Rangers in a competitive match – if you can call a 4-0 victory competitive – they were monstering Aberdeen on the final day of a league season that brought them the title they desperately wanted and needed.

    In the most emphatic way, they dynamited the chat about Celtic's 10 in a row and sparked a debate of their own – how many titles can they win on the bounce and what represents the next level for them this season?

    With their stability and remarkable squad depth – in Scottish football terms – they're holding every ace. They actually have two strong teams – one that would be hot favourites to win the league and a second that could well finish runner-up if they were given a shot at it.

    Where Celtic are struggling desperately for players, Rangers have, if anything, too many. George Edmundson has now left but at centre-half they still have Connor Goldson, Filip Helander, Nikola Katic, Leon Balogun and Jack Simpson. Experience, a bit of defensive dog and touches of class. That list is also an illustration of their numbers and it's repeated throughout the squad.

    They have a battalion of midfielders, which has been supplemented by the arrival of the experienced Premier League player John Lundstram. At centre-forward they have Alfredo Morelos, Kemar Roofe, Cedric Itten, the everlasting Jermain Defoe and the intriguing Fashion Sakala, who scored 16 league goals for Oostende in Belgium last season and got one against Real Madrid at the weekend.

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    Rangers have just come through a pre-season campaign featuring a win against a Madrid team featuring Marcelo, Nacho, Isco, Lucas Vasquez, Martin Odegaard, Luka Jovic and Rodrygo.

    Steven Gerrard's side won 2-1 despite starting without Morelos, Roofe, Glen Kamara, Joe Aribo, Nathan Patterson and the injured Ryan Jack. It might not have been a high-octane affair, but it was an eye-catching result.

    They also had a highly creditable draw against an Arsenal side that started with Cedric Soares, Emile Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pepe (£72m), Thomas Partey (£45m) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£56m). Kieran Tierney, Alexandre Lacazette, Willian and Hector Bellerin came on as substitutes.

    The Ibrox club played without Helander, Morelos, Borna Barisic, Ryan Kent, Aribo and Jack in that game. Their early-season form line is streets ahead of all others. Celtic, toiling horribly to get a competent goalkeeper and a defence worthy of the name in place, lost 6-2 to West Ham on Saturday.

    One league title should not sate Rangers. And it surely won't. Gerrard might not say it publicly but a single trophy last season – albeit the big one – was an underwhelming return on their overwhelming superiority. They won the league by 25 points, they scored 105 goals in all domestic competition while conceding just 17, they won 74% of their games in Scotland and lost just 5%.

    Rangers fell to St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup after St Mirren knocked the Ibrox men out of the League CupRangers fell to St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup after St Mirren knocked the Ibrox men out of the League Cup

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    Those numbers reflect their dominance and yet they only had one trophy at the end of it. Given their momentum and personnel they should have had all three, but St Mirren did them in the League Cup and St Johnstone did them in the Scottish Cup – on penalties.

    Over five games against Callum Davidson's team, Rangers won by a combined 9-2 last season. They played against Jim Goodwin's side four times and won the head-to-head 10-3. The cup defeats were an aberration, a glorious one for Davidson, in particular, and his brilliant double winners.

    Celtic, in their now distant pomp, won four trebles on the spin. They were never caught the way Gerrard's team were. They were too good, too resilient. A full house of domestic trophies has to be the target for Gerrard this time.

    Not just that. There's Europe, too. This is a side that has had notable victories in recent seasons. They've beaten Braga, Porto, Feyenoord, Legia Warsaw, Midtjylland, Galatasaray and others. They've drawn twice – and should have won twice – against Benfica.

    They've now earned a shot at the Champions League group stage and all the glamour and pound signs that come with it. All of this is clearly within their grasp. More trophies at home and a place with the big boys in Europe – those are the next goals.

    We expected some high-profile departures from the club but none have materialised. Not yet at any rate. Rangers, through their managing director Stewart Robertson, have gone on the record about their need to sell a player or two to address their financial situation – they can't keep relying on soft loans from supportive directors – but there's no sign of a notable exit.

    They have numerous marketable assets on their hands and, in most cases, decent back-up. They're in a good place even if they do end up selling Morelos, Kamara or Aribo. A ton of Champions League loot wouldn't half alter the fiscal picture at Ibrox.

    Rangers have reached the Europa League last 16 in each of the last two seasons and now have their first tilt at the Champions League under Steven GerrardRangers have reached the Europa League last 16 in each of the past two seasons and now have their first tilt at the Champions League under Steven Gerrard

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    There's a debate ongoing about their new policy of charging the print media £25,000 for entry to the inner sanctum. It's an odd one. Rangers don't want to give away access for free, but there's an obvious quid pro quo in doing so. Their sponsors derive value from the reams of coverage that newspapers give them. This is not a one-way street.

    If this is about their desire for extra money it would only bring in chicken feed in terms of revenue even if all titles were to go for it. In that sense there's a touch of the car boot sale about it. Big clubs around the world don't act like this.

    Gerrard has an opportunity to emulate Rangers' city neighbours this season. A treble and a Champions League adventure has to be the target. They don't have to win the league by 25 points again. They don't have to go unbeaten in the Premiership. They don't have to threaten any goalscoring or conceding records. The clean sweep and the European run is what it's all about.

    Celtic are beginning a painful transition, Aberdeen, Hibs and St Johnstone are building and the hope is they'll get some European loot to kick them on even further, but Rangers retain a massive advantage domestically and serious optimism continentally.

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