14 Feb What has gone wrong at Rangers? A closer look into the factors which have contributed to the Gers’ collapse
Rangers’ title bid suffered a further blow in midweek as they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, which left them trailing league leaders Celtic by 10 points with a game in hand.
The loss compounded a dismal start to the year for Steven Gerrard’s men, who have taken ten points from a possible 18 in the league since their momentous victory at Celtic Park on December 29.
PLZ Soccer takes a look at the factors which have contributed to the Ibrox side’s collapse.
Lack of ruthlessness
Steven Gerrard bemoaned a lack of killer instinct in the final third after the defeat in Ayrshire on Wednesday evening. He cut a disconsolate figure on the touchline as Kilmarnock roared back in the second half after Rangers took the lead through Scott Arfield.
The Gers appeared crippled by anxiety after opening the scoring at Rugby Park, allowing Alex Dyer’s men to gain a foothold in the contest despite failing to properly trouble Allan McGregor. It would have alarmed those of a Rangers persuasion that James Tavernier conceded his side failed to handle the pressure exerted by Kilmarnock after the interval. “It’s happened a few times now where the other team are starting to get the upper hand and the crowd is getting behind them and we’re just not dealing with it,” he said.
A similar story unfolded for Rangers away to Hearts last month as they suffered only their second league reverse of the campaign. The Gers were unable to capitalise on Ryan Kent’s opener immediately after the interval as Hearts dominated the midfield battle and breached a feeble Gers defensive line through Steven Naismith and Liam Boyce.
The contrast from two months ago when Rangers swaggered to victories at Fir Park and Easter Road – culminating in an impressive display at the home of the champions – is stark. The Ibrox side were especially free-flowing in victory over Hibs in December and were two ahead inside only eight minutes.
Rediscovering his side’s attacking verve remains Gerrard’s most immediate concern ahead of a defining period of fixtures which includes a Europa League two-legged showdown with Braga and a resumption of hostilities with Hearts at Tynecastle in the Sixth Round of the Scottish Cup. Only then will Celtic truly feel that their arch rivals have the ingredients to take the title race into the final weeks.
Morelos loss of form
The Gers faithful were counting down the days until their talisman returned from suspension after his sending off at Celtic Park, but the Colombian has failed to reach the heights which catapulted him to the top of the goal scoring charts in Scotland earlier in the season.
Morelos has just the solitary goal in five appearances since he returned as a second half substitute at home to Ross County. Rangers supporters need no reminding of the chance he squandered through on goal at home to Aberdeen, and he was uncharacteristically quiet at Rugby Park to the extent he passed up a gilt-edged opportunity with the game level from point blank range.
The cause of his barren spell in front of goal remains a mystery. Gerrard spoke ahead of his return last month that he was carrying a calf injury from the winter break. The Ibrox side brought in Florian Kamberi on deadline day to replace the injured Jermain Defoe.
The last few weeks have also been marred by off-field issues for the forward and it is a gripe of the Ibrox-going faithful that the goal scoring burden remains firmly on Alfredo Morelos. They can only look on in envy across the city at Celtic as the Hoops midfield fire in goals regularly.
It could very well be a natural drop-off in form for the Colombian after a campaign where his scoring feats have bordered on the heroic, but Steven Gerrard will be keen to get his talisman back to his best ahead of the the return of the Europa League.
An unsettled back four
Steven Gerrard was keen to stress the importance of a solid defensive unit as his side embarked on a lengthy unbeaten run towards the end of 2019, but the solidity which underpinned Rangers’ impressive form has dissipated.
George Edmundson was drafted in for Nikola Katic after the Croatian very nearly gifted Sam Cosgrove a goal in his side’s stalemate at home to Aberdeen, but the Englishman failed to convince in the Gers’ 4-1 win over Hamilton in the Scottish Cup.
Katic’s place in the starting XI was restored in midweek, but it was the role played by the often reliable Connor Goldson which lead to Eamonn Brophy’s winning goal three minutes from time. It was defending more commonly associated with Sunday League as the Englishman failed to read a straightforward headed flick from Nicke Kabamba and he could only punch the air in disgust as the Scotland international rifled beyond Allan McGregor.
In the meantime the Rangers shot stopper was guilty of a horrendous error which lead to Hibs’ opener at Ibrox. Much has been made of the nervous atmosphere gripping Ibrox since the turn of the year, but the defence can hardly claim to have radiated tranquillity.