2020/21 Season Preview - Rangers: Quality In Depth Still Needed
The 2019/20 season looked like it was finally going to deliver a genuine title race following Rangers 2-1 victory against rivals Celtic at Parkhead. Rangers went into the winter breathing down the necks of their rivals and with a whole load of momentum going forward. Despite Rangers triumph over Celtic, their title bid would soon suddenly falter due to poor results and performances against weaker sides, most notably an away defeat to Hearts and a stunning home loss to Hamilton. The reaction between the two Glasgow sides seemed to be polar opposites following the international break with it seeming like Rangers lacked the mentality to go all the way.
The upcoming season truly is now or never for Rangers, with a potential history-making season on the horizon for their rivals. Bragging rights are so important in Glasgow and whoever wins this season will have a lot to boast about. Rangers will be desperate to stop the first-ever 10 in a row in Scotland and also win their first major trophy since 2011 and achieve an illustrious 55th title.
When comparing the starting XI's of the two Glasgow sides, there isn't a huge gap between the two and this has been showcased in the recent Old Firm Derbies. The days of 5-1 hammerings are long gone with Rangers providing much more of a contest despite not always winning. The Betfred Cup saw Rangers dominate but were thwarted by a world-class performance from Fraser Forster and the traditional end of year derby saw Steven Gerrard's side come out on top. Arguments and disagreements will always be made when comparing the two sides but on an individual basis, the two aren't worlds apart. Take into account Rangers' performances in the Europa League against stronger opposition and you can see the quality Steven Gerrard's side possesses.
What does set the two apart is squad depth and the quality within said squad that can make a difference. Rangers aren't as blessed with their options, relying heavily on the likes of Morelos and Kent to fire Rangers to victory. Both players suffered droughts following the winter break and as this happened, the pressure piled upon the duo to succeed which the club didn't seem to cope well enough with. In comparison to their neighbours, it is the opposite as their rivals had options who could come on and make a difference in key moments and when their main men weren't firing.
The permanent signing of Ianis Hagi will undoubtedly help and Joe Aribo looks set to have a great season, impressing massively in pre-season. However, say Rangers line up with a forward line of Kent, Aribo, Hagi and Morelos, a credible threat to come on only really comes in the form of Scott Arfield or the currently injured Jermain Defoe. Beyond that, there's a host of unfavoured players such as Jamie Murphy, Jordan Jones, Brandon Barker and Glenn Middleton who don't seem to have impressed Steven Gerrard much so far. Perhaps with the 5 subs being allowed, the likes of Murphy will be given more of a chance to prove his worth and stake a claim in the team but its hard to see most of these players being more than just basic rotational players.
The possibility of star striker Alfredo Morelos leaving also puts doubt into the minds of many and has made it abundantly clear that Rangers need more attacking options. Jermain Defoe is currently nursing an injury and was injured for the majority of last season, ruining a great season for the Englishman. The club can't rely on Defoe who will turn 38 in October and has suffered many injuries in recent years. There is plenty of time to go in the transfer window and Rangers fans should fully expect the club to bring in more bodies to bolster their squad both in the league and in Europe. Rangers will still play Bayer Leverkusen in the 2019/20 Europa League as well as having to play qualifiers for the 2020/21 campaign. This only shows the need to bolster the squad furthermore with games coming thick and fast for the club.
Bar a few mistakes, Rangers seem to be okay defensively, boasting the joint best defence in the league with youthful prospects sure to gain more minutes this campaign. Jon McLaughlin is a fantastic keeper who will create competition with Allan McGregor and the likes of Ross McCrorie, Calvin Bassey and Nathan Patterson looking bright and useful alongside more experienced players who can guide them through games. The loss of Nikola Katic will make these opportunities more frequent this season, although the loss of the Croatian means Gerrard will have to spend time again searching for a settled centre-back partner alongside Conor Goldson.
The team's mentality is also going to be a big thing for Rangers this upcoming season. It's not something you can predict or even quantify but it is clear there have been issues surrounding Rangers mentality and ability to cope at the top. Rangers very clearly prefer being the chasers rather than the leaders, with the club losing their status at the top of the league almost instantaneously. Club captain James Tavernier has even commented on it in the past, citing the lack of response to pressure put on them as being worrying. Only time will tell to see if anything has changed within the mindset of these players and whether we will have a full-blown title race this upcoming season. It's the last chance to stop their rivals and a chance for this squad to become legends in their own right. Again, whether they cope with the pressure is yet to be seen.