'People need to stand up for Rangers' - dissecting the issues champions face right now

In any analysis of Rangers’ stuttering start to the season, it is natural for the focus to be on the regression of the high defensive standards previously set by Steven Gerrard’s squad.

Rangers defender Jack Simpson (right) throws up his hands in despair after Kaiyne Woolery scored Motherwell's equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Ibrox on Sunday. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

In dropping two points at home to Motherwell on Sunday, Kaiyne Woolery’s equaliser for the visitors was the fifth goal Rangers have conceded in their opening six Premiership fixtures.

Last season, when the Ibrox squad broke multiple clean sheet records, it took them until late December and their 18th outing before they were breached for a fifth time in the league.

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When Gerrard uses words such as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘flaky’ to describe his team’s current defensive issues, no-one can be left in any doubt as to what issue will be high on his agenda on the training ground this week.

Kemar Roofe is the only Rangers player to have scored more than one goal in the Premiership for the champions so far this season. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Forward thinking

Yet that’s not the only problem Gerrard feels he has to address as he attempts to restore optimum form to his team. In the aftermath of a match in which Fashion Sakala’s first goal for the club was all Rangers had to show for their 24 attempts, sharpening up in the attacking third of the pitch is causing Gerrard just as much consternation.

“Football’s about details at the top level,” reflected Gerrard. “Defensively, we got one or two details wrong (against Motherwell) but we might have got away with that if our final third play was better. People need to stand up and score goals for this football club.”

So far, only Kemar Roofe has scored more than once for Rangers in the Premiership this season.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has plenty to ponder as he tries to get his team back into top gear after an inconsistent start to the season. (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group).

The absence of Ryan Kent until next month with a hamstring injury has further blunted Gerrard’s options in that department, while leading striker Alfredo Morelos has yet to fire on all cylinders.

Gerrard’s search for the right blend up front saw him field a new front three combination of Sakala, Roofe and Scott Wright against Motherwell. While all of them produced some positive moments, especially during a first half which saw Rangers play arguably their most fluent football of the season so far, the cutting edge remains elusive.

“Scott and Fashion brought speed,” added Gerrard. “There was a lot of interchanging, some of Kemar’s link up play was good. It’s about me finding the right balance for the right challenge.

“Obviously, we need Ryan Kent back as soon as possible and back in top form. And we need to get Alfredo Morelos in top form.

“Because if you look at the first eight or nine games, we haven’t got a leading goalscorer that’s jumping out or a leading assister who is jumping out. That’s what we are going to need moving forward.

“So I’m going to challenge all the boys in the final third, like I do, and hopefully we can become a bit more of a killer team. Because we are getting there on too many occasions and not rewarding ourselves, which is a bit of a concern sitting here right now.”

Case for the defence

With Filip Helander out until December with a knee injury and Nikola Katic having returned to Croatia on loan at Hajduk Split for the season, Rangers now have just three recognised central defenders in Connor Goldson, Leon Balogun and Jack Simpson.

In just his sixth starting appearance since his move from Bournemouth in January, Simpson appeared uncertain at times against Motherwell and was fortunate his early error did not lead to a breakthrough for Tony Watt when the game was still goalless.

But Gerrard believes there was also much in Simpson’s performance which the 24-year-old could be pleased about and again stressed that not all of the blame for Rangers’ failure to collect all three points should be directed at his defence.

“I think Jack did a lot of good things,” said Gerrard. “We had one moment when (Motherwell goalkeeper) Liam Kelly’s gone long and direct in the first half, which led to Tony Watt being in on goal, so we’ll have to look at that.

“We had two bad (defensive) moments – one in the first half and one in the second half, obviously, which leads to their goal.

“For me, though, that was a 3-0 or 4-0 game if we showed more quality in the final third. I don’t think it was really anything to do with how we defended.”

A fresh challenge

Gerrard accepts that opponents have identified the attacking threat posed by Rangers’ full-backs James Tavernier and Borna Barisic, prompting him and his coaching staff to adapt their own approach.

“A lot of teams are going to set up to block the middle of the pitch and force us wide,” he said. “Motherwell were blocking crosses from Tav and Borna.

“We’ve had to improve and evolve, passing and running, being more spiteful passing inside the pitch. Trying to be more aggressive in our team selection.

“We had three really attacking players in Scott, Fashion and Kemar. We had Joe Aribo in there as well.

“We got there, we got down the side of the box, we got into the six yard box. That’s where the frustration is, that we haven’t rewarded ourselves for all our good play.”

Despite their struggle to find top gear, Rangers still sit one point clear at the top of the Premiership and four points ahead of putative title challengers Celtic in the early stages of the title race. That doesn’t satisfy Gerrard.

“We are in a good position but we should be in a better position,” he said. “It’s my job to drive the standards here and we’ll never settle for accepting a draw at home to anyone.”

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