Steven Gerrard sees Celtic’s reshaping as reaction to defeat by Rangers

Barring an improbable reversal of fortunes, it now seems that Rangers will fall short of wresting the title from a Celtic side that have held it for approaching nine years.
Alfredo Morelos is the player who tests Steven Gerrard the most, says the Rangers manager. Picture: SNSAlfredo Morelos is the player who tests Steven Gerrard the most, says the Rangers manager. Picture: SNS
Alfredo Morelos is the player who tests Steven Gerrard the most, says the Rangers manager. Picture: SNS

It might stick in the gullet of the Ibrox faithful for Steven Gerrard to take the credit in a roundabout fashion. Not, in respect of Rangers form dip, it should be understood, but rather in terms of his rivals finding theirs so spectularly.

The picking apart of the Ibrox manager’s strategy, following a three-week period in which they have been spilling points as a drunk waiter would beers, has homed in on his perceived unwillingness to deviate more than marginally from favoured 4-3-3/3-2-3-1 systems. Not least because that is in direct contast to Neil Lennon’s side, who have been rejuvented, and able to conjure up goalfests galore, in 2020 on the back of dispensing with their 4-3-2-1 default shape to accommodate two strikers in a wholly different 3-5-2 configuration.

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Yet, as Gerrard ruminated on the potential for any rethinks on appraoch, he essentially put himself in the frame for the one that has transformed Celtic – evidenced in their tally of 22 goals bagged in six Premiership fixtures this year that have brought the Ibrox men only seven goals. All the more pronounced when the home-and-away split of these fixtures is four-two in favour of Rangers.

“I think that is normal [the tactical change Celtic have made] and I think that has come off the back of us beating them,” Gerrard said with reference to his team’s 2-1 derby victory at the home of their rivals in the final game before the winter break. Aseemingly watershed win that took them to witihin two points of Lennon’s men despite having played a game fewer.

“Sometimes that is what you have got to do. We have tried to tweak and alter certain things but it hasn’t happened for us just yet. That is their business and what they do. We are open to trying to tweak and change and trying to find a solution to make us better. Whether that is personnel or formation, we are trying.”

As he has turned over all aspects of a five-game league sequence in which Rangers have suffered two defeats - the latest at Kilmarnock on Wednesday – and drawn once, Gerrard has even fretted he might be trying too hard to find solutuons to myriad problems that have beset his team – on the back of hardly putting a foot wrong across the first six months of the campaign.

“We are looking at every avenue you can think of,” he said. “We are analysing it prior to the break and from last year. There is part of me that thinks, ‘Are we over-analysing it? Is it just a sticky patch with one or two players not quite at it? Is it individual mistakes that are costing us?’ Sometimes you can over-think these situations. Six weeks ago, we won at the most difficult venue in the league.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise if we go and give Braga a right good game over two legs [over the last-32 Europa League tie that takes Rangers to Portugal for the first leg on Thurdsay] and show everyone again that we are a good team. But we have to accept where we are, take accountability for it and try to resurrect it.”

The distractions that surround Alfredo Morelos seem to have neither helped the striker nor his club. The racism that he has faced across Scotland – and which has led to police investigating an incident at Rugby Park in midweek – shames this country and has created situations a supremely talented goalscorer should not have been forced to confront.

Asked about this, though, Gerrard interestingly chose to highlight that the player has other issues that are not assisting his professional career.

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“What I will say is he is the type of person who can cope better than most in that situation,” the Rangers manager said of the racist abuse. “ But Alfredo is someone who is a challenge for me. He is a big challenge for me. He is the player in the group that tests me the most. Alfredo is the maverick in the group. He is the one you guys ask the most questions about. He is the fans’ favourite, if you like.

“But a lot goes on in his world, on and off the pitch. As a manager, he is the one who I find I have to put a lot of my focus and attention to. So let’s hope that he can get back doing what he does best, consistently, which is scoring goals for this club because that’s what he gets highly paid to do so his focus and everything needs to be on that.

“We will give him all the support that he needs off the pitch as well, to try to make sure that he’s free to go and do his stuff on the pitch.”