Title race energises Rangers manager Steven Gerrard

Aleague season of truth awaits for Steven Gerrard. As is the way in the Glasgow footballing sphere, there can be no middle ground. The Rangers manager will end it either as the man who brought to a halt Celtic’s decade-long dominance, landed “number 55”, and fully restored the club’s fortunes… or had his Ibrox tenure ended by failing to do so.

Steven Gerrard is going into the new domestic campaign with confidence. The Ibrox boss says he now knows more about the opposition managers, their tactics and personnel

Even a cup win that would end the club’s longest period – eight seasons – without a trophy is unlikely to allow for there to be some other outcome. Yet the pressure of meeting such a such a brutal, binary challenge for a 39-year-old whose lustre at Liverpool was buffed by his longevity, energises rather than causes any edginess.

“I knew what I was facing when I signed up for it 12 months ago,” said Gerrard. “It will be the same if not more going forward but that’s what I live for. That’s why I get out of bed in the morning. The day I am not up for that challenge and the pressure, the day I am not up for that responsibility, I won’t be standing here talking to you.”

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Seven signings and a £3.5 million outlay on one – Filip Helander – has convinced the Rangers support it is a certainty this is the season when they will step out of the skyscraper-sized shadow created by their treble treble-winning adversaries. It doesn’t exactly make Gerrard’s job any easier, but equally he can’t exactly tell them to cool it.

“That’s something that I can’t control,” he said. “If the fans want to believe and have confidence in the players and what they have seen there is nothing I can do about that. All I can do is keep working hard and keep pushing these players individually and as a team. Keep coaching the team to be better and keep driving standards. That’s my job. I can’t really control people’s opinions. And I can’t control bookmakers’ odds. I can only keep doing the job as best I can and I feel as if I am doing that.”

This extends to assessments of where Gerrard is as a manager with a full season on the front line now under his belt.

“I don’t think that is really important right now. What’s important is where my team is at. Other people will judge how well I’m doing and I welcome that, it’s fine no problem. Me and my staff are giving everything, every hour we have to improve it and take it forward. So I’m satisfied with where I’m at but other people will judge where I am and where I’m going.

“I’ve analysed and reflected on last season. I believe I know where we have gone wrong. I don’t believe we had a strong enough squad. That’s the truth because results don’t lie. If you can’t find those levels of consistency across the season then that tells you that you need to go and improve your squad.

“I think I know more about the league and I know more about the opposition managers, their tactics and personnel. Yes, I have come into a really big job and you think you know a lot about what is coming your way. A lot of things didn’t surprise me but obviously certain things did and it’s important that I reflect, learn and improve. I can’t be putting it all on the players. Together we need to find a better level of consistency. If we want to challenge and go further as a group then we all have to improve.”

Gerrard believes Rangers are Liverpool-like “pretty much” in terms of “demand and expectation, particularly from the terraces”. For any would-be champions, the formula is always the same: extended winning runs and victories in games that ought to be won. The Ibrox manager knows that his side fell short in putting together only one six-match winning league sequence and succumbing to a host of draws, often from games they dominated.

“That is the difficult thing, to find a group of players that finds the answers on a consistent basis. We never had enough last year. Some of our performances and runs of games were good but it needs to be better because Celtic went again last year. Analysing last year there were times when we just thought we could turn up, that because we were Rangers we would have enough to win and that came against, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen at times, and when we drew 0-0 at home with 
St Johnstone. You can’t just turn up. You’ve got to push and I will.”

That is only half the equation. Rangers’ prospects could depend on whether other clubs can push Celtic. “I don’t think we can control or worry about anyone else, only ourselves,” he said. “In terms of the Old Firm last year it was split 6-6 [points]. If that’s the same this year it’s important we go and find a better level of consistency against the rest. At our best we are capable but we have to be at our best more often.”