Steven Gerrard Set for Old Firm
Background photo: Brian Aitkenhead, CC BY 2.0
Now that Rangers are fully settled back in top-flight Scottish football, it's time to challenge Celtic again. The Old Firm needs to do some business. Is Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard up to the job?
The complete aberration, the SPL shooting themselves in the foot by sending Rangers to the lowest possible point in Scottish football is finally behind us. If you believe Scottish football is the Old Firm with everyone else there to mark time between meetings, the league limped through half a decade on essentially one leg.
Happily, Gers no longer playing in parks dwarfed by the Tesco Extra across the road. The plagues bestowed them are reduced to biblical folklore. It's time again for holy war. The sectarianism confined in the rivalry is fully rebooted.
The question is whether Steven Gerrard is going in the right direction to do this, not just on the day, but in the long term. It's early doors, but the answer appears to be unequivocally yes. The main evidence lies in their last league meeting before New Years. Rangers beat Celtic for the first time in 12 games. It had been six years since their last league win against the Hoops.
It was a one-nil affair at Ibrox to make a matching set with Brendan Rodgers' earlier victory by the same score at Celtic Park. Unless or until Gerrard accepts a Premier League appointment, the deadlock won't be broken. Rodgers' ambition surpassed his love for his boyhood club, leading him to the King Power Stadium mid-season, to replace Claude Puel at Leicester.
Whether or not Gerrard gets another crack at his former boss matters not. The Liverpool legend transformed the Light Blues. With three games remaining in the SPL first phase, his side hold a six-point advantage over Aberdeen. That said, the ten-point gap between Gers and Celtic is only two less than the dozen points that separated the pair at season's end in 2017/18. The shortfall was sufficient to cost Graeme Murty the seat Gerrard now occupies.
The difference between the two isn't reflected in the table, however. Murty's side had a fatalist air. It appeared to have reached its maximum potential and still come up short. In addition, there was chaos in the dressing room. Forward Josh Windass, now at Wigan, matched Alfredo Morelos for goals on 18 but repeatedly caused controversy. To save time, just trust me when I say he has an appropriate surname.
Gerard's infusion of youth and positivity in the Ibrox clubhouse is taking root. Connor Goldson was his biggest investment. The former Brighton defender can play in the middle, at right-back and defensive midfield. His versatility was a steal at £3 million. The defender revived his career at Ibrox. His 26 appearances so far this year surpass the six he made over the last two years for the Seagulls.
Veteran leadership has its place in Stevie G's squad as well. Serial winner Allan McGregor remains between the sticks. The pair lead a rearguard that's conceded just 22 goals in 30 league matches.
At the other end, Gerrard placed his face in the Colombian finisher to make up for Windass' absence. Morelos hasn't let him down. As the attack's focal point, he's closing on 30 goals across all competitions. His 17 in the league are one behind last season's tally with eight games remaining. Ibrox denizens won't soon forget the four he 'nocked' past Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup.
Morelos possesses a fiery temper too. He’s young and makes mistakes. Three dismissals as well nine yellow cards is a poor disciplinary record for the season. There’s no telling how many goals he would have scored were it not for the suspensions.
Fans won't be happy the club didn't mount a greater challenge. Rangers briefly topped the table in midseason. They've faded late. But a winning mentality must be learned and the only way to learn is through responding to defeat. Victory in the latest Old Firm clash provides an outside chance at this season's title but as the second in succession and the first for Gerrard on enemy territory, it also delivers a statement of intent. That's a good thing. The Scottish game has been going through the motions for too long now.
However the match unfolds, Steven Gerrard's already done his job this season. There is competition at the top of Scottish football again.