The Rangers Invincibles – How Did They Do It?
With all the commotion arising out of Glasgow over the last few days, you may have forgotten that Rangers were recently awarded their 55th League Title. The celebratory scenes have caused significant controversy on both sides of the divide in Scotland for various reasons. However, this reporter has yet to see an article on how the league was won. Let’s change that shall we?
The Previous Season
Let’s start with some context- Celtic had been awarded their 9th title in a row due to last season being controversially ended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, Rangers could still have mathematically caught up to Celtic. Rangers were even in the driving seat to win it all at one point, but suffered a second successive post-Christmas lull.
Rangers knew they could beat Celtic on the pitch- but to win the league, they just needed a way to win crucial games against the rest of the league that they had previously suffered setbacks against, such as against Aberdeen and Hibernian.
What happened this Season?
Well, Rangers responded in a big way. While Celtic celebrated being handed their 9th title last season, Rangers rebuilt and came back swinging. They went the entire league season undefeated, having won 32 and drawn 6. They maintained a 100%-win record at home, equalled the Scottish Topflight record for most clean sheets in a season (26), the highest final points total they’ve ever recorded (102), and the highest ever points margin over Celtic (25).
Celtic’s internal troubles may have contributed somewhat to this, however, there is no denying that a change in the Rangers system led them to having this dominant league campaign.
So, how did they turn this around?
Summer Recruitment and Squad Depth
Wise recruitment over the summer meant that Rangers had sufficient depth throughout the season to cover all positions should an injury occur.
Jon McLaughlin was signed from Sunderland to provide cover for Allan McGregor in goal, and successfully covered him at the start of the season by breaking the Scottish League record for most consecutive clean sheets at the start of the season. McLaughlin proceeded to keep 12 clean sheets in 13 appearances.
More options up front gave Rangers a chance to alternate the forward 3 in order to preserve form and to adapt to different setups. Signing former Leeds forward Kemar Roofe proved to be valuable from a creative and goalscoring viewpoint. Swiss international Cedric Itten became a sort of super-sub that was also able to change the game late on.
Changing the System Throughout
One of the biggest issues last season was that Rangers did not have a way to break down defences that parked the bus. Teams such as Motherwell and Hamilton knew if they could come and play a defensive formation with 5-at-the-back and stop Rangers from scoring.
So, how was this addressed? The addition of Roofe allowed more creative play to find ways through. Joe Aribo stepped up from midfield and was able to drag the ball through defences. But arguably the most important factor was a change in Alfredo Morelos’ role.
Morelos’ goal scoring form and temper often led him to be a target- if the defenders could get him wound up, he wouldn’t be at his goal scoring best.
So, Morelos was deployed instead as a deep-lying disruptor to draw defenders out. This allowed the likes of Ryan Kent, Roofe, and Ianis Hagi to make runs into the middle and have an open shot on goal.
Steven Gerrard’s 4-3-3 system and style of play has also been replicated throughout the entire club system, with the academy adopting it in reserve games to better prepare young players for breaking into the first team. This moulded young players such as Leon King, new young signing Calvin Bassey, and Nathan Patterson to be ready for the first team when called upon.
Patterson in particular has adapted to this well; despite his role in a restriction-breaking house party, he stepped up and covered James Tavernier’s role exceptionally during the captain’s injury in March and April.
A Team of Standouts
On top of that, several players have been in top form all season, so much so that it’s been difficult to choose a standout player. Allan McGregor is in the form of his life in goal in the twilight of his career, making some very important stops to save Rangers on several occasions.
James Tavernier has had a much more consistent year defensively and a spectacular year going forward- a right-back scoring 19 goals in a season is not a usual feat!
Connor Goldson has become unstoppable in defence- he has played every league game this season and has had a commanding presence in both boxes. His defensive capabilities this season have helped Rangers to concede only 13 league goals all season.
Steven Davis has been another standout- controlling the midfield across the league at 36 is quite something- his passes and possession retention have been key to winning the title.
It would take a while to run through the entire team, but everyone has played a big part in this title win- one that will surely be remembered for many years to come.
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