Aidan Smith: Are this Rangers side playing the most football of any in recent memory?

The defining, diamond-bright moment which every Liverpool fan carries around with them from the season they finally won back the title was Bobby Firmino, back to goal in a crowded box, killing a pass with the studs of his right boot then bouncing the ball off his left instep so it arrived at a perfect 90 degrees into the path of Mo Salah who scored a beautiful goal.

Glen Kamara and Joe Aribo are two of the reasons Rangers have made their pursuit of the title such an exercise in style.

My question is this: are Rangers building towards such a moment which every member of the Copland Road cognoscenti will be able to replay in their heads as the best expression of the season they finally won back the title?It appears that way as virtually every game right now features a move of impressive invention and fine fluidity. Last Wednesday against St Johnstone Connor Goldson from inside his own half struck a pass along the ground to Kemar Roofe, only for the striker to dummy, which allowed it to travel onwards to Joe Aribo, only for the midfielder to touch it to the side for Roofe, who’d spun round seeking more involvement. That move petered out, but consider one that didn’t, against Hibernian the previous week:

Ryan Jack to Steven Davis who administered the slightest of caresses to angle the ball to that man Aribo with the challenge: “Out-tickle that!” Aribo promptly did, with his feather-light contact arriving at the thundering hooves of Alfredo Morelos who scored.

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And all of this on a grotty playing surface which made the old Wembley cabbage-patch from the 1970 FA Cup final resemble snooker-table sheen. Because of the pitch I’m putting this goal marginally ahead of the one Rangers crafted earlier in the season at the same ground, same end, another zippy exchange between James Tavernier, Scott Arfield and Ianis Hagi, then back to Arfield for the finish.

Note the variety of players involved in these moves. Note that Morelos participates just once. Note that Ryan Kent features not at all. Both Kent and Morelos have undoubtedly played their parts in this march to the championship, but these were the big shots from whom it was reckoned manager Steven Gerrard required big seasons if the club were to stop Celtic making it ten-in-a-row. Maybe the crucial difference has been made by the support players, the guys in an ever-changing, never-stalling vibrant midfield. And I haven’t even mentioned the silkiest of them, Glen Kamara, yet.

“Rangers” and “silky” don’t normally go together, same with “Rangers” and “beautiful”. This is not a criticism, just the way it’s been, or has until now. So here’s another question: are this Rangers side playing the most football of any in recent memory?

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The first Rangers side I remember were exemplified by the crash-bang-wallop of Colin Stein. John Greig, Alex MacDonald, Willie Johnston - Rangers redoubtables, some of the most effective footballers there have been in the Scottish game and I realise there’s a euphemism at work here. Beautiful, though? Sorry, guys, I sometimes wished you’d brought your uncompromising, unforgiving methods to my team and I’ve enjoyed our chats down the years, but nah.

I’m missing out some versions of Rangers to jump from Steiny to the Graeme Souness revolution but, to be honest, Bobby Williamson and Gregor Stevens should be glad. Souness’ Rangers, and after that Walter Smith’s Rangers, played urgent, dynamic football and Paul Gascoigne provided great flair, but they didn’t have room for, say, a Lubo Moravcic-type, did they? Ian Durrant was the silkiest the Ibrox club got until his injury, which was tragic.

Lorenzo Amoruso? The man himself was beautiful, no doubt about that, with a pout to rival that of the great sex siren Sophia Loren, but his football alas didn’t quite have the care he’d taken in the changing-room mirror with his lotions and unguents. An abiding memory of the Latin love-god is of a macho stride out of defence to hit what in his head must have been the long-range pass of any given season, only it was uncatchable and completely untetherable. Screeching beyond team-mates and rocketing right off the pitch, it struck a ball-boy in the stomach, leaving him winded for several minutes.

Where would the bold Amo figure in this Rangers team? Where would Bert Konterman, host of the comedy show Clowntime with Bert Konterman? The answer is they wouldn’t. In this Rangers team there are defenders who previously displayed bombscare tendencies but these appear to have been removed by Gerrard and now Tavernier and Goldson are competing with each other from the back for top goalscorer.

This is the time in a league campaign when contenders will take any kind of win - three points any old way. Rangers are not doing this; they are still playing with intelligence and verve. Celtic’s ineptitude helps here; there’s no excuse for Gerrard’s men tensing up and performing nervously, which is often what happens to teams in their position when a prize so craved starts to loom into view. Something else in their favour: no fans, so no jittery impatience raining down from the stands. Normally, there isn’t a ground which can express its displeasure quite like Ibrox.

Really, the Rangers faithful would have taken any old slops, any old rubbish, if it was going to win them the flag. They would have accepted brutal football, anti-football, football for an apocalypse. Instead they’re watching from afar as the players strive almost balletically for the goal of goals to crown the season of seasons. No one thought this would be how 2020-21 would pan out; it’s quite something.

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