On the 29th of December, it would have been very difficult to imagine the predicament that Rangers currently find themselves embroiled in. They had just beaten arch rivals Celtic 2-1 in their own backyard and therefore avenged their League Cup final defeat which occurred a few weeks previously. In the three league games prior to that victory, they eased to victories against Motherwell, Hibs and Kilmarnock without conceding a goal. They reached the top of the Scottish Premiership table and looked well on track to push for a first title since 2011.
Things have changed a bit since then.
For the second season in a row, Steven Gerrard’s side have struggled for form after returning from the winter break. They now find themselves 12 points behind Celtic (albeit with a game in hand), exited the Scottish Cup at the hands of Hearts and have picked up only 14 points from a possible 24. Their hopes of any cup success looks to have been diminished, and if it weren’t for their brilliant win over Braga in Europe the club might be considered to be in crisis. So why have they struggled so much?
The cup final defeat in December has had long lasting effects
At first, it didn’t look as though a 1-0 defeat to Celtic at Hampden had too much of an impact on Rangers. They dominated proceedings and should have come away with Gerrard’s first trophy since arriving at the Ibrox hotseat. Instead, a Christopher Jullien winner seen the trophy once again return to Parkhead. However, as I mentioned above, Rangers went on to win their next four league games and rose to the summit of the league.
So that can’t be a reason for their demise, can it? I reckon it could be. While they were able to bounce back pretty quickly from that defeat and were able to use their anger as a stimulant for better performances in the short term, they then had a good few weeks to let their disappointment stew. Once again, a trophy had eluded them. The earliest they could win another would most likely be in May and that’s a long time to wait; a lot of work has to go in to get to another final, or to win a league title. It’s possible that the Rangers players lost a bit of motivation when it came to the long passage of time that would have to go by before they had another opportunity.
Their defeat to Hearts in the Scottish Cup quarter final has highlighted this; it’s hard to see them losing that tie if it had taken placed in the first half of the season.
Is Gerrard doing something wrong?
Personally, I think Steven Gerrard has done a decent job since he moved to Scotland. He’s developed a good group of young players and they are definitely closer to Celtic than they have been in recent times. However, success at a club like Rangers will always be measured with trophies and to date, the Liverpool legend has none. Much of this comes down to his side’s inability to maintain a strong challenge after the winter break- for consecutive seasons, they’ve slipped out of contention after returning.
This begs the question as to whether Gerrard is doing something wrong. Is he failing to prepare his players correctly? Is he giving them too much time off, or not enough? Does he take the foot off the gas over the festive period? I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Rangers training regime over Christmas, but it’s clear that something is going wrong. If he’s still here next season, he needs to figure out how to address these issues.
The players have an attitude problem
It’s all well and good using a cup final defeat as an excuse for a dip in form- it happens to plenty of teams. However, teams like Rangers have to get back to form at some point and the players just haven’t done that to the extent they can. They have streets more ability than most other teams in the league and yet have continued to drop points in silly games. They’ve looked lethargic at times and some of their defending has been shambolic.
We all know about the discipline problems the club has with Alfredo Morelos, and these were epitomised by his recent troubles when returning from a visit to his native Columbia. However, a few players look as though they are struggling with form and a lot of that comes down to the mental side of their game. If they want to finish the season strongly and make sure the same thing doesn’t happen after next years winter break, they need to learn how to keep themselves properly motivated for all games. Celtic players seem able to do it no matter what teams throw at them, and the Gers could do with taking a leaf out of their book.