Gerrard would be in crisis at Rangers if not for Europa League

Gerrard would be in crisis at Rangers if not for Europa League

STEVEN GERRARD’S START to life at Rangers has been heavily overrated, according to former Celtic star Kris Commons, who believes fans have been tricked into thinking they have made progress under their new manager.

Rangers lost for the first time under the former Liverpool midfielder in any competition when they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to arch-rivals Celtic on Sunday.

However, the Ibrox side’s five points from four games in the Scottish Premiership marks their worst start to a domestic season since 1989-90.

Gerrard has received praise for guiding his team to the Europa League group stage this season, but Commons believes that achievement has compensated for their underwhelming start, stating they should really be in a crisis.

“All the pre-match talk centred on the theory that Rangers had closed the gap on Celtic since the sides last met. That Steven Gerrard’s men were in a really strong position going into the first Old Firm game of the season,” the former Celtic star wrote in the Scottish Daily Mail. 

“But the bottom line is that this is the worst start Rangers have made to a league season since 1989-90. That’s extraordinary.

“The feel-good factor has certainly improved recently but only because they are now playing in European football until Christmas. Strip that away and it would already be crisis time.

“I saw Rangers at Aberdeen and Motherwell and they are still a squad who’ve been put together in a very short space of time.

“They have a better quality of player there. But, on the evidence of yesterday, they are still way off it.

“Ever since I’ve been up in Glasgow, it’s all about the league. Not only do you need to be competitive. You need to be winning it.

“It’s the title which the fans want. It’s that which then gives you the means to attract better players and make real inroads in Europe.

“I know it’s early but they are now sitting seventh in the Premiership. That puts them behind Hibs, St Johnstone and Livingston as well as Hearts, Celtic and Kilmarnock.

“It’s already getting to crunch time for Gerrard’s players where they’re going into games knowing they’ve got to win. If they slip up again, it’s a long way back.

“The wool has been pulled over people’s eyes in terms of how improved they are. If Pedro Caixinha had overseen the worst start to a league season in 29 years, they’d be calling for his head.”

But Commons sees room for improvement and believes the upcoming international break will allow Gerrard to get his team into shape and climb up the table.

“After the 3-3 draw with Motherwell and yesterday’s defeat, Gerrard would have learned a little bit more about his squad,” he added.

“After a gruelling spell, the international break gives him time to work on some things and implement more.

“His players will need to learn fast, though. Despite their commendable achievements in Europe, they are already at the point where there is no room for error domestically.”

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Steven Gerrard bullish about Rangers' prospects: 'There is only so long you can say we are building'

Steven Gerrard bullish about Rangers' prospects: 'There is only so long you can say we are building'

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Steven Gerrard made a winning start in European competition with Rangers – PA

Steven Gerrard was in bullish form in the aftermath of Rangers’ 3-1 Europa League first leg victory over NK Maribor, as well he might have been, given the rare circumstance of the Ibrox side being the only Scottish team to have registered a European win this week. That said – and including Aberdeen, whose Europa League defeat by Burnley occurred after extra time – no Scottish side has lost over 90 minutes in 17 European qualifiers this summer.

In Rangers’ case, they have given themselves a fighting chance of a place in the Europa League play-offs for the first time since they lost – to Maribor, as it happens – in August 2011. The raucous reaction of the support to Rangers’ second-half performance on Thursday was reminiscent of the years before the financial meltdown which occurred in Govan in 2012.

“The Rangers fans should be excited,” said Gerrard, whose players face St Mirren tomorrow in his first home league game as manager. “We are not hiding away from the fact it is our responsibility to get them excited.

“There is only so long you can say we are new or building or whatever. We have got good players and we are a good team with a good system. The confidence is growing and performances and results like last night help.

“The players can feel the supporters right behind them. They understand what we are trying to do. We are still trying to make changes and tweaks to the squad to become even better. We won’t stand still.

“If you were a player there last night, experiencing that stadium rocking – if you’re not enjoying playing in front of that, I don’t know what you’re going to enjoy. I can feel the buzz and it is my job to build some momentum and snowball that effect.

“To do that we need to find consistency and keep churning out positive performances. It’s not always going to be up, up and up. There are going to be times when we have a bit of turbulence or we suffer, but the important thing for me is that we are all together as one, the supporters, the club, the board, the team. If everyone is together as one we can get through the good times together and the bad times.”

The Maribor tie was watched by Gerrard’s latest acquisition, Borna Barisic, the Croatian defender signed from Osijek, who lost to Rangers in the Europa League second qualifying round. “It was top,” said the 25-year-old, who joined for a fee of around £2.2 million.

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James Tavernier was subject to interest from the Premier League Credit: PA

“The crowd was amazing, very loud. It’s crazy, but positive crazy.  You feel that all the stadium was very happy. I will be happy if I play in that.”

Rangers’ margin for error at the halfway stage of the Maribor tie was contributed by Lassana Coulibaly with what appeared to be a header for the third goal, but which was subsequently revealed by TV replays to have gone in off his shoulder. It was an inelegant but merited reward for Coulibaly’s overall display, which gratified his manager.

“He’s ahead of where I thought he would be at this time,” Gerrard said. “As a player, when I did pre-season, I always felt I needed four or five friendly matches under my belt, maybe two or three in the season, to feel in top shape and ready.

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SPFL preview

“He has played three games in terms of maximum minutes. Realistically he is still in pre-season in terms of match fitness, sharpness and game time, so we believe there is still more to come but he has found his consistency and the fans are buying into him. When you play for a crowd as passionate as the Rangers crowd, if you empty the tank for them, and give everything you have possibly got in your body, they are going come with you.

“Lassana knows that. He is committed to it and he has got the fans onside. Now it is about him just polishing his game and finding that consistency and he will be a helluva player for us.”

The visit of St Mirren will reunite Gerrard with former Merseyside playing rival, Alan Stubbs, now in charge of the Buddies.  

“We’ve had some really tough battles against each other over the years. “The Merseyside derbies are very similar to the derbies up here. We’ve been rivals for a long time and we live in a similar area so I know Alan quite well and I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a player and he’s obviously cutting his teeth as a manager, just like me, although he has more experience. I’m looking forward to another battle, I know he will be desperate to get one over on me.”

  • Borna Barisic appeared on behalf of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, national charity partner of Rangers for 2018/19.