When a new manager comes in, his signings usually take the headlines. However, we rarely see a squad overhaul. Gerrard has brought in a multitude of new faces to Rangers thus far. But it’s the players that have been left behind that deserve some focus.
Gerrard’s opposite number at Parkhead was praised to the high heavens for turning Ronny Delia’s team, with a few additions into double-treble winners. To be fair, though, that’s what Rodgers managed to do. He got the team to buy into what he was trying to do. Additionally, he got them playing and producing performances way above the levels they had been producing under Delia.
So far, nine games in, it appears that he and his coaching team have taken some of the potential salvageable Rangers players and pulled up their levels along with the rest of the squad. Credit to him for doing that, it would have been easy for him to disregard them. Instead, he’s shown how his coaching set-up and man management skills are paying dividends, even this early.
The man management side of things is massive and often understated. No one thought he would make James Tavernier the club captain. The obvious candidate was Allan McGregor but giving Tavernier that responsibility could well be the making of him. From a defensive, a perspective so far, he’s not been perfect, but there has been a marked improvement in that side of his game. He’s now playing in a back four with proper centre-halves and he seems to be striking up a good partnership with Connor Goldson. In my opinion, his most solid defensive display came in the second leg against Maribor. Hopefully, he can build on that over the season.
Furthermore, the attacking side of his game has been superb. He managed nine goals and nine assists last season in 46 matches. During this campaign, he already has notched up three goals and five assists in eight games. So he’s well on course to smash last season’s numbers.
Moving on to the midfield one man, in particular, has surprised me: Ryan Jack. Yes. He played well last season up until his injury, but the turnaround in Jack has been quite something. He looks hungrier and every side of his game has improved. He’s much better on the ball, he senses danger better and he’s becoming a starter. It’s not something I expected with the likes of McCrorie and Rossiter in the midfield area. However, he’s in there or merit and gives us a different dimension, especially with his partnership with Lassana Coulibaly, which has a bit of everything – from a bit of bite, and doggedness to finesse. It’s great to see him come back from injury so strongly and improve his game and make a mark on this side.
A special mention has to be given to Andy Halliday. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s one player who has worked hard and played well when called upon. In fact, Sunday’s display at Kilmarnock was up there with one of his best in a Rangers shirt. Many, including myself, thought he would be gone, but he’s done himself justice when he’s been called upon so far.
Lastly, the jewel in the crown. Alfredo Morelos. 18 goals last term. He had gone off the boil from January. But Gerrard’s man management has come to the fore with the little Colombian. In the early matches, particularly against Shkupi, he looked like a boy who was suffering a hangover from last season, but since his sending off against Aberdeen – which was proven to be wrong – he has been nothing short of outstanding. He’s been back to his best: bullying defenders, scoring goals and playing with a smile on his face. Interestingly, if we take the hattrick against Kilmarnock in isolation, he looks far more composed in front of goal. Last season, there was a possibility that he could have missed all three of those chances, and he took them with aplomb.
Numbers-wise, he got 18 goals in 43 last season with eight assists. This season, he has six goals in nine, with two assists. He is another one who is on course to smash the numbers of last season. With the performances he’s currently producing, I wouldn’t bet against it.
We can look at the individual players, but the improvement in them has been down to having someone they can look up to, someone who’s played at the top level and someone who they want to impress and give their best for. Gerrard has to take immense credit for getting the above-mentioned Rangers players to perform at levels above their last six months, or in Jack’s case the first six months. For me, that has been almost as pleasing as the players he has dipped into the market for and gives me great hope for the season ahead.