Tag Archives: Scottish Football

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.

Kemar Roofe has added extra creativity to the Gers’ midfield. Image: HITC

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.

Gerrard’s ability to adapt his team’s approach to different opponents has been key in the teams’ success. Image: Indian Express

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.

The 39-year-old stopper showed that he may be old, but he isn’t obsolete. Image: Glasgow Times

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.

Old Firm Review: Rangers Triumph Again, is Celtic’s TItle Race Over?

Connor Goldson, Ianis Hagi and Joe Aribo of Rangers celebrate after Callum McGregor’s own goal.

Rangers extended their unbeaten league run to 24 games after beating rivals Celtic 1-0 in the second Old Firm match of the season.

A Callum McGregor own goal following a red card to defender Nir Bitton meant that the reigning champions are now 19 points behind the blue half of Glasgow with 3 games in hand.

The match took place on the 50th anniversary of the tragic 2nd Ibrox Disaster, in which 66 people tragically died in a crush in reaction to a last minute Rangers equaliser in the 1971 New Years’ Old Firm. Rangers Captain James Tavernier and Celtic Vice-Captain Callum McGregor laid wreaths in the centre circle ahead of a moment’s silence to commemorate the occasion.

The Big Match, Round 2

Celtic started the match on the front foot, with constant pressure from the midfield diamond on the Rangers defence. Steven Gerrard can feel lucky to have Allan McGregor in goal, who was crucial in stopping multiple shots from the Celtic front line, in particular a long range shot from Leigh Griffiths which resulted in an inspiring save from Man of the Match McGregor.

Rangers lacked sharpness during the first half, with Glen Kamara and Joe Aribo losing possession often around the halfway line. Rangers frontline Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent, and Kemar Roofe were often left isolated by the high Celtic press.

Ianis Hagi was brought on for Roofe at half time and helped Rangers get into the game more in the second half. Celtic still provided an attacking threat, however the game changed completely in the 60th minute.

Nir Bitton brought down Morelos just outside of the box, and was given a straight red for being the last man and denying a goalscoring opportunity. Celtic were down to 10 men- this is the opportunity Rangers needed.

And seize the opportunity they did. 9 minutes following the red card incident, a James Tavernier corner met the head of Joe Aribo. The ball then came off Callum McGregor’s shoulder and ended up past Vasilis Barkas. Poor set piece defending from Neil Lennon’s men was to blame for that goal.

As expected, the game did become more fiery as it came to a close. A possible red card incident on Ryan Kent by on-loan Brighton defender Shane Duffy lead to some explosive confrontations, resulting in yellow cards for Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos for Rangers and Celtic’s Shane Duffy and Callum McGregor.

Yellow cards were also dished out throughout the game to Rangers’ Steven Davis and Borna Barisic and Celtic’s Ismaila Soro. In the end, Celtic may have played better than their last Old Firm outing earlier this season, but as Rangers have just proved, the final result matters more.

Where From Here?

While having 3 games in hand, Celtic now have a near impossible mountain to climb if they want to win their 10th league title in a row. Assuming they win their 3 games in hand, they would still be 10 points behind Rangers.

Even if they win the final 2 Old Firm games of the season, they would need Rangers to drop 5 points (or 4, if Celtic can overcome Ranger’s goal difference, currently 52) in order to win it. The title is now Rangers’ to lose.

And that’s where Rangers need to focus. Rangers’ form has dropped after the New Years Old Firm for the last 2 seasons, namely due to a drop in form following the January Winter Break. However, there is no Winter Break this season, meaning Rangers have an opportunity to continue their winning momentum.

Some pundits, notably Celtic legend Chris Sutton, have already conceded that the title race is over and it is Rangers’ for the taking. Despite this, I still think it’s too early to say Rangers have won the title. The Gers have a tricky fixture list for the rest of January, with away games to 3rd and 4th placed Aberdeen and Hibernian, along with relegation contenders Motherwell and a home game to Ross County.

If Rangers can get to the end of January without dropping any points ,or at least equalling Celtic’s record, then I would feel more comfortable in saying Rangers are the champions in waiting.

Celtic meanwhile have Hibernian and Hamilton at home along with a double header with Livingston.

Picking Scotland’s Euro 2020 Squad

After 22 years, it finally happened, Scotland have qualified for a major tournament.

It has been a frustrating time to be a fan of the Scottish national team. Over the years, the side has picked up a habit of doing very well in qualifying for a major tournament before bottling it at the last minute.

It became a curse much like England in penalty shootouts – it just kept happening. But also, like England in penalty shootouts, the curse had to end at some point.

After the heroics in Belgrade last week, many Scots will now turn their attention to the Euros next year, with England, Croatia, and the Czech Republic looming ahead in the groups.

Many Scottish players will now be vying for a place in Steve Clarke’s 23-man squad. We’ve all seen early predictions for Gareth Southgate’s England squad, so let’s attempt to create a Scotland squad.

Assuming all players are fit, this is who I would pick for the Scotland side for next June:

Goalkeepers

  1. David Marshall
Scots heading south gives David Marshall hope of brighter future | Scotland  | The Times

Scotland’s hero in the penalty shootout. Unless his form at Derby drops, his heroics in Belgrade will have guaranteed him the number 1 spot in the team.

12. Jon McLaughlin

Jon McLaughlin's importance to Rangers and Scotland in focus as 'keeper  proves his worth - Glasgow Live

His performances so far this season for Rangers should already guarantee his place in the squad.

READ MORE: ED WOODWARD PUBLICLY BACKS SOLSKJAER

He was integral in helping Rangers to 7 consecutive clean sheets at the start of the season. While Allan McGregor was out injured for a few weeks, Joe McLaughlin kept up his form to keep the Rangers legend out of the side for some time.

23. Robbie McCrorie

In recent games, Craig Gordon has been picked as the third goalkeeper in the squad. However, I think that while helping Scotland achieve this historic feat is important, Steve Clarke needs to keep the future in mind.

Robby McCrorie details his Rangers No.1 plans as he opens up on whirlwind  Livingston move - Daily Record

Robbie McCrorie has pulled out some impressive performances for Livingston both this season and last in the Scottish Premiership. He’s often considered the future number 1 for parent club Rangers.

A place in the Euro 2020 squad will help McCrorie develop further and may kickstart his career for the national side.

Defence

2. Stephen O’Donnell

Motherwell duo get international cap call - Daily Record

The Motherwell right-back seems to have secured the starting right-back role for the national side. Steve Clarke knows how to play him to his strengths given their history at Kilmarnock.

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The 3-5-2 formation will give O’Donnell a licence to bomb down the right wing. All he has to do at the Euro’s is ensure he isn’t caught out on a counter attack, as he’ll have to contend with players such as Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, and Borna Barasic on the opposition’s left-hand-side.


3. Andrew Robertson (C)

Andy Robertson thriving off “buzz” to prove doubters wrong after adding  crucial string to bow - Liverpool FC - This Is Anfield

An obvious pick. Scotland’s captain, and often regarded by many as the best left-back in the world currently.

5. Declan Gallagher

Declan Gallagher tipped to be first-choice Scotland centre-back by former  Motherwell cap - Daily Record

O’Donnell’s Motherwell teammate and captain has impressed in the middle of defence. So much so, that he reportedly has a few Premier League admirers ahead of the January transfer window.

READ MORE: WHAT IF THE OLD FIRM JOINED THE ENGLISH LEAGUES?

His aerial presence helped keep Aleksander Mitrovic at bay in Belgrade. Many will hope he can pull similar performances to keep out Harry Kane.


6. Kieran Tierney

Kieran Tierney to return to Scotland fold for first time under Clarke as  McCrorie poised for call-up | HeraldScotland

The Arsenal defender is now comfortable playing in a left-sided centre back position after being deployed there under Mikel Arteta. He no longer needs to compete with Robertson for a starting left back spot.

15. Scott McKenna

Scott McKenna hopes Nottingham Forest can turn form around against Bristol  City | NewsChain

The Nottingham Forest man is cut from a similar cloth to Declan Gallagher – a physical centre back with a top-quality aerial presence. He will likely start on the bench but will provide more than adequate cover at the back.

16. Liam Cooper

Fresh Liam Cooper blow as Leeds United skipper limps out of Wolves warm-up  - Leeds Live

The Leeds captain will also bring some Premier League experience to the team. His strong passing ability and aerial presence will give Steve Clarke another valuable option at the back.

20. Ross McCrorie

Ross McCrorie admits Rangers transfer rejuvenation as he tips 'talented'  Aberdeen to challenge - Daily Record

This one may surprise some. The twin brother of goalkeeper Robbie, Ross McCrorie has put in some exceptional displays for Aberdeen and the Scotland U21’s this season.

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While naturally a centre-back, he can also be used at right-back and in the centre of midfield. His versatility could come in handy if injuries pick up or a change in formation is needed.

He has yet to pick up an official cap for the senior side, but I believe his first cap will come very soon.

Midfield

4. Scott McTominay

Scott McTominay: the future Manchester United captain rapidly making  himself indispensable

Manchester United’s holding midfielder, Scott McTominay has usually been deployed in the middle of defence under Steve Clarke this year.

There does seem to be method to the madness though – McTominay has proved useful to help play the ball out from the back and adds height and strength to aerial duels.

He can also push up to midfield when Scotland need to adapt and overwhelm the opposition’s midfield. However, I still have doubts over his defensive abilities, considering the shocker he had against Israel on Wednesday.

I would prefer it if he were deployed in midfield and alternated with Jack and McGregor in the starting 11.

7. John McGinn

Aston Villa star John McGinn 'had a little chuckle' over Manchester United  transfer links

McGinn’s Box-to-Box style of play works both ways for Scotland. While valuable at winning the ball in the middle of the park, the Aston Villa man will be the more attacking threat in Scotland’s midfield trio.

That could be running at the defence, shooting on sight, or finding openings to create goalscoring opportunities from.

8. Ryan Jack

Scotland to call-up Ryan Jack for Euro 2020 qualifiers | Scotland | The  Times

Ryan Jack is the unsung hero in the current Scotland setup – he often goes unnoticed, but his workmanship can be valuable to any side he is a part of.

For both Rangers and Scotland, he has proved to be vital in winning possession in the middle of the park and then quickly distributing the ball to the wings for a counterattack.

He will likely be the anchor for the Scotland midfield to win balls for McGinn and McGregor to take upfield.

10. Callum McGregor

Leicester City eyeing summer move for Callum McGregor | Sportslens.com

Celtic midfielder McGregor’s strengths in the side lie in his pass accuracy, defensive tracking, and dribbles up the middle of the park. His playmaker style will compliment McGinn’s Box-to-Box style and Jack’s deeper ball-winning role.

14. Kenny McLean

Can former Aberdeen star Kenny McLean boost Norwich City's title charge? -  Not The Old Firm

The penalty hero that got Scotland to Belgrade. The Norwich man can be inconsistent but can provide good creative cover to McGinn and McGregor.

17. Stuart Armstrong

Stuart Armstrong - Player profile 20/21 | Transfermarkt

The Southampton midfielder can provide an attacking threat through the middle or on the left-hand side. His experience in the Premier League will also prove to be helpful against teams with superior midfields such as England and Croatia.

19. Lewis Ferguson

Aberdeen FC | Lewis Ferguson on RedTV

Another outside shout for the team, young Lewis is having a breakout season at Aberdeen this season.

The Dons midfielder, son of former Rangers midfielder Derek Ferguson and nephew of former Gers and Scotland captain Barry, is currently the top goalscorer in the Scottish Premiership.

If he can continue his club form, he could easily be challenging for a spot in the squad for next June.

22. Billy Gilmour

Billy Gilmour: Chelsea midfielder set to miss rest of season with knee  injury | Football News | Sky Sports

This would be the perfect opportunity to give the bright Chelsea youngster some experience in the senior squad. He has already impressed for the Blues in the Premier League, having broken into the senior squad at just 18.

He is no doubt a future star for Scotland and this would be the perfect way to help him gain national team experience for the future.

Forwards

9. Lyndon Dykes

Live Commentary - Czech Rep vs Scotland | 07.09.2020

The “kilted kangaroo” – Dykes’ no-nonsense physical style has proved to be a breath of fresh air for the national side. The QPR hitman will start up top for Scotland, and could prove to be a goal threat if he has enough balls played to him.

11. Ryan Christie

Ryan Christie grateful to Brendan Rodgers for guiding his Celtic career -  Eurosport

The Celtic maestro has become Scotland’s creative talisman up front in recent games – no doubt he’ll be starting.

13. Callum Paterson

The big Callum Paterson interview as defender opens up on horror injury,  his African roots and being Cardiff City's forgotten man - Wales Online

The Sheffield Wednesday man is Scotland’s Swiss army knife. He can be deployed as a striker as he has done at club level but can also be used in midfield or at right back, his original position at Hearts.

18. Lawrence Shankland

Lawrence Shankland in demand but may be better off staying at Dundee United  | Scotland | The Times

I have high hopes for the Dundee United striker. His goalscoring record since 2017 has been nothing short of remarkable at club level. He’s scored 50 goals in 61 games for Ayr United and 26 in 35 for the Tangerines.

If he can continue this form for his club for the rest of the season, I could see him being called up as Lyndon Dykes’ understudy for the Euros.

21. Ryan Fraser

Ryan Fraser determined to force his way into Newcastle's starting side |  The Argus

While a winger by trade, I can see Fraser being deployed at Right Wing Back in Scotland’s current 5-3-2 formation. His high assist tallies in the Premier League will provide another useful attacking option on the right wing.

However, if I were in charge, I would play a 4-3-3 and deploy Fraser in the right-hand side of Lyndon Dykes, with Ryan Christie on the opposite side.

Just missed out

A few key players miss out on this side, in particular Leigh Griffiths, Oli McBurnie, and James Forrest. These players have been left out for a number of reasons, including inconsistent form, lack of club playing time, and some off-the-field issues.

Formation and Line-up

Steve Clarke usually plays a 5-3-2/3-5-2 formation with 2 wing backs. I would prefer that they play a 4-3-3 style however to allow for some more flexibility.

Scotland are not going to be the stronger side in any of their group games; they will need to adapt to other teams as opposed to forcing their opponents to adapt to them. A 4-3-3 would allow for this flexibility as it allows the wingers to drop back defensively or move into the box to allow the full backs to push up the wings. It’s a fluid style that works for teams such as Liverpool, Manchester City, and Rangers.

In light of this, my preferred starting 11 will be different to Steve Clarke. Here’s what I’d like to see against who I’d expect Steve Clarke to start:

My Scotland Starting XI
How I’d expect Scotland to line-up

Old Firm Review – Rangers Triumph over Uninspired Celtic

Rangers have taken a 4-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership after a 2-0 win over arch-rivals and current reigning champions Celtic in the first Old Firm match of the season.

The game was a strange affair, with the two Glasgow teams playing in front of an eerily empty Celtic Park. Without any raucous fans to spur them on, this was without a doubt the quietest Old Firm match in history.

Pre-match

Despite Celtic’s current run of 9 league titles in a row, Rangers were considered by many to be the pre-match favourites.

Both teams had yet to be beaten in the league, with Rangers dropping points in draws away at Livingston and Hibernian. Meanwhile, Celtic had won every game up to this point.

LEAVING IT LATE: Celtic left it very late against St Johnstone last time out

However, Rangers have arguably been performing better, having only conceded 3 goals in the league. Celtic have scraped through results, leaving it extremely late to score against St Johnstone in their previous outing.

Celtic 0-2 Rangers

2 goals, 1 in each half, from former Brighton centre back Connor Goldson sealed the win for the Ibrox side.

The first goal came from a well-timed header from captain James Tavernier’s 9th minute free kick, going into the net past a hesitant Vasilis Barkas.

The second goal came from a scrappy piece of play following Scott Arfield’s low drive into the box. Goldson knocked the ball in the net through on-loan Brighton defender Shane Duffy’s legs on the second attempt.

THAT’S GOLD, SON: Goldson’s brace won the match for Steven Gerrard’s side

Throughout the game, Rangers played with good composure and an organised structure, with Ryan Kent looking threatening on the Celtic goal throughout the game, while Finnish midfielder Glen Kamara ensured the Celtic midfield could not make a clear attempt on goal.

While readers who are unfamiliar with the Scottish Premiership may doubt Steven Gerrard’s managerial capabilities until he inevitably has a chance to manage in the EFL or the Premier League, there is no doubt that he has transformed this Rangers side over the last three years to become a serious title contender once again in Scotland and a tricky side in Europe.

Meanwhile, Celtic’s performance was much less inspiring than expected. Neil Lennon’s men recorded 0 shots on target throughout the entire game. Their best chance came from a Mohammed Elyounoussi chip clearing the crossbar.

A second half attempt by substitutes Albian Ajeti and Leigh Griffiths that was also smothered by Gers keeper Allan McGregor, who had a very quiet game in front of goal.

Midfielders Olivier Ntcham, Callum McGregor, and Scott Brown were mostly ineffective, with the only notable moment from either midfielder coming in the first half, where Brown taunted Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos, only to receive a light slap on the ear from the Colombian forward.

A long injury table

Celtic will feel aggrieved that their team was depleted before the match, with Ryan Christie, Nir Bitton, and Hatem Abd Elhamed all having to isolate due to Covid-19 restrictions during the international break.

Additionally, injuries to regular starters Christopher Jullien and James Forrest and star striker Odsonne Edouard lacking match fitness due to his isolation over the international break left Celtic with several key players missing.

A BIG MISS: Odsonne Edouard was one of many Celtic players unable to play

However, considering Celtic have invested in their squad this summer, they had plenty of players to field, with new loan signing Diego Laxalt starting his first game at left wing back.

£3.6 million striker Patryk Klimala started alongside on-loan £16 million Southampton striker Mohammed Elyounoussi.

Celtic have boosted their coffers through winning the league and qualifying for the Champions League for 9 seasons in a row, so there is not much excuse to cover a few injuries considering the squad depth they currently possess.

Additionally, Rangers themselves were without key players, with former Leeds striker Kemar Roofe and young Croatian stalwart Niko Katic still out injured, while midfield maestro Joe Aribo only fit enough to make a cameo appearance at the end of the match.

Changing of the guard?

This was Rangers’ match to make a statement of intent for stopping Celtic’s 10-in-a-row challenge, and unless Celtic can improve going forwards, this season should be Rangers’ for the taking.

Celtic need to improve their quality and creativity if they want to stand a chance, while Rangers need to ensure they carry this momentum going forwards. In the previous two seasons, Rangers have maintained a close title race throughout the first half of the season, experiencing a dip in form following a New Years’ Old Firm win and a Winter Break in each season.

With no Winter Break this season to interrupt proceedings, Rangers have a better chance of maintaining their momentum. If they can continue to grind out results against the other teams in the league and maintain control during the remaining Old Firm fixtures, then title number 55 will be theirs for the taking.

They now have an opportunity to pile pressure on Celtic by establishing a 7-point lead if they can beat Livingston, Hamilton, and Kilmarnock before the next international break.

Meanwhile, Neil Lennon’s men must play away at Aberdeen and Motherwell in the league, in addition to playing Aberdeen at Hampden in the Scottish Cup Semi Final, delayed from the previous season.