Rangers ready to formally mark momentous title win - but there can be no flagging with issues predicted

For Steven Gerrard, a moment that was three years in the making will finally arrive on Sunday when the Premiership title flag is raised at Ibrox.

Rangers attacking midfielder Scott Wright (left) is hoping to force his way into the starting line-up for Sunday's flag day fixture against Motherwell at Ibrox. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

The delayed formalities marking last season’s runaway triumph for Gerrard’s squad will be a ceremonial reminder of the progress Rangers have made since he took charge of a previously dysfunctional club in the summer of 2018.

Like any manager, of course, Gerrard has to operate in the here and now. He may savour the scene briefly as Rangers celebrate their first flag-unfurling for a decade but his thoughts will quickly return to the job in hand against Motherwell.

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“The fans deserve that moment,” he said. “Unfortunately, it couldn’t be at the beginning of the season. We’ve had to be patient. It’s all about the fans enjoying it, they deserve it.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard warmly greets Lyon head coach Peter Bosz before Thursday night's Europa League match between their teams at Ibrox. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

“We’ll obviously be aware of it and respect it but, for me, the key thing from the weekend is to try and take three points. Simple as that.”

A complicated start

But ensuring Rangers do not regress this season is no simple matter for Gerrard. The opening weeks of the 2021-22 campaign have been riddled with complications, his team selections disrupted by a combination of injuries and the impact of Covid-19 which also saw him forced to spend time away from the touchline.

Elimination from the Champions League at the first qualifying hurdle against Malmo was a major setback, while his team’s cloak of invincibility in the Premiership was stripped away by the 1-0 defeat at Dundee United which underlined their struggle to rediscover the fluency and well-drilled efficiency of last season.

Rangers midfielder John Lundstram was praised for his performance against Lyon by manager Steven Gerrard. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Yet despite all of that, Rangers begin this weekend at the top of the table and still odds-on favourites to win a title race which carries the additional incentive of an all but guaranteed place in the Champions League group stage next year.

The concern for Celtic and any other putative pretenders to the throne is that Gerrard’s men are in that position without yet coming close to fully hitting their stride. The challenge for Rangers is to prove that their squad now has the depth to find that cohesion and consistency despite the regular turnover in key personnel which this week saw Filip Helander and Ryan Kent as the latest facing spells on the sidelines.

“We sort of have to roll from game to game,” added Gerrard. “With Covid always in the background, it’s very difficult to predict. You almost have to wait until the last minute before you can name a team.

“We’re still testing (for Covid) a couple of times a week and with the injuries we’ve got at the minute, it’s very difficult to find that settled team and rhythm I’m looking for.

“So I think the squad, even more so than the previous three years, is going to be important come the end of the season. Because it seems like the team is going to be changing a lot more. That’s not just down to rotation, it’s going to be down to Covid and injury issues as well.”

Words of praise

Thursday night’s 2-0 reversal at home to Lyon in their opening Europa League group stage fixture was Rangers’ fourth defeat in the 11 games they have played since the start of this campaign. Last season, they lost just three times in their 56 matches across all competitions.

But signs of continued improvement or sustained success cannot be measured by statistics alone. The assessment of a fellow professional offered Gerrard greater validation when Lyon coach Peter Bosz, who was in charge of the Bayer Leverkusen side which beat Rangers in the last 32 of the Europa League two seasons ago, complimented the development of the Ibrox squad

“In terms of what the Lyon coach said, he’s someone I’ve got the utmost respect for,” said Gerrard.

“Leverkusen was some time ago but I felt there was a real big gulf in class (when we played them). It felt that way from the side and over both games we were dominated and controlled for the majority of both 90 minutes.

“I felt against Lyon that we took huge strides. At times we looked like a good team. We were more than a match for Lyon. Okay, they got both goals, one in each half, coming off the back of two of our mistakes if you like. But I didn’t see that gulf and I did feel like we were competitive.

“I do see Lyon as being on a similar level to a Leverkusen. They are two Champions League teams who have gone to the latter stages of that competition in the last three or four years. So I don’t feel this morning as I did after Leverkusen. For me, that’s progress.”

More to come

Gerrard feels Rangers ‘made the most of what was available’ in the summer transfer window and will now look for midfielder John Lundstram to kick on after a slow-burning start to his time in Glasgow.

“I thought it was John’s strongest game (against Lyon),” he said. “He got stronger when he moved into the middle of the pitch. He grew into the game and probably put in, in my opinion, his strongest performance over a 90 minutes for us.”

Gerrard insists Rangers ‘have more than enough tools in our armoury’ to find the improvements he is seeking from their play in the attacking third of the pitch.

In the absence of winger Kent, a more regular opportunity to shine in that department may come the way of Scott Wright who was restricted to another lively substitute appearance against Lyon.

“At a club like this, you always want to take your chance when it’s given,” said Wright. “It’s a case of that ruthlessness in front of goal, that killer edge and putting away the chances we are creating.

“If I’m starting or coming off the bench, I’ve been trying to give the manager something to think about and try and grab that shirt.”

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