With Rangers going into this weekend’s game against Motherwell 21 points clear of Celtic, unbeaten in the league to date and on a superb winning run, you’d be excused for thinking that Sunday’s game against Motherwell was a mere formality.
It is fair to say that Motherwell have not had their troubles to seek in what has been a bleak season so far. The Steelmen are currently without in a win eleven games and sit tenth in the table, one point off bottom placed Ross County, albeit having played two games less than the Highland club.
Celtic’s draw with Hibs on Monday night in their rearranged fixture has given Steven Gerrard and his players the benefit of a 21 point lead, although that would be reduced if Celtic secure victory over Livingston on Saturday.
The lead is a substantial one, even if Celtic do claw back full points in their games-in-hand. However you sense that Steven Gerrard is very uncomfortable at any talk of this league being over, and is wary of the challenge that a potentially rejuvenated Motherwell may provide at Fir Park.
Speaking at his press conference on Friday he said: “We expect a tough challenge, we will certainly respect a new manager going in and things will be slightly different.
“We have to be ready to adapt to whatever is thrown at us but our focus and the majority of our preparation has been on us, where we are at and what we have to do to try and get the three points.
“A manager always goes in and tries to put his own stamp on things. Normally you get a bit of a bounce and a boost and you are galvanised.
“I am sure they will be trying to do all they can to derail us and try and be the first team to beat us from a league point of view this season.”
Live Podcast this Sunday
This Sunday at 9.30pm we'll have another Gersnet Podcast live on Youtube. Don't miss it and remember you can take part via the chat facility!
Celtic’s challenge is not yet over, but there is a feeling with every passing game that there is a real lack of belief in Neil Lennon’s squad that they have what it takes to claw themselves back into contention. The recent Dubai debacle provided further evidence suggesting that Celtic are off the pace in more ways than one in this campaign.
However, with the Covid-19 pandemic now at a worse level than it was in March and April, there has been renewed talk of “null and void”. Wednesday’s meeting between member clubs and the SPFL Board provided more questions than answers, and resulted in series of statements from the likes of Falkirk, Partick Thistle and Stenhousemuir seriously questioning the governance of the game in Scotland.
Add to that the sudden turnaround by the SPFL on the punishments dished out to St Mirren and Kilmarnock for breaching Covid protocols, and you suspect that Rangers will need to be more than better than Celtic on the park in the coming weeks and months if they are to secure their first title in nine years. As far as the Rangers manager is concerned, however, there is no debate on this issue.
“My opinion on this is exactly the same as it was in March and April”, he said.
"For football's sake and the sake of competition I think everything has to try to be finished in the right way.
"I am not just saying that now because we are sitting where we are in the competition this year. Because my opinion was exactly the same in March and April.
"My opinion will never change as long as I am involved in the game.”
Gerrard provided some positive updates with regards to the current injury situation, confirming that Ryan Jack returned to full-training on Thursday and that Kemar Roofe should do the same at some point next week. Scott Arfield, who sustained ankle ligament damage against Dundee Utd in December, is still some way off returning but stepped up his rehab this week.
Given that injury situation, it is hard to see Gerrard deviating much from the starting eleven which deservedly secured three points at Pittodrie last week, which will mean a 300th appearance in a Rangers jersey for Steven Davis.
The Ulsterman has been a splendid servant for Rangers, and he has yet again shown a tremendous level of consistency in his performance levels this season. It would be a fitting reward for his efforts to secure his fourth league medal with the club.
Rangers had moments last week against Aberdeen where they started to look like they were starting to fire on all cylinders again – perhaps a result of no midweek fixture for the first time this season. None looked more rejuvenated than Alfredo Morelos, who scored a double and put in a performance level rarely seen from the Columbian this season. If he is coming back into to a rich vein of form, then it has come at the perfect time.
As for Motherwell, it is hard to see a repeat of the 5-5-0 formation which they adopted at Ibrox recently under Stephen Robinson. Robinson’s teams had a reputation for being overly physical. It will be interesting to see where new boss Graham Alexander takes them in terms of playing style.
Alexander went with a 4-3-3 against St Mirren in his first game in charge last week, with a front three of Jake Hastie, Tony Watt and Devante Cole. Hastie is ineligible to play against his parent club, which makes you wonder is Alexander will opt for a 4-4-2 on Sunday. But the former Scotland international has already said that he will use a system that suits the players at his disposal, rather than enforcing his own style on a group of players which are not currently his.
It is not the first head-to-head with Steven Gerrard for Alexander, and his previous experiences have not been good ones.
"I’d rather forget those couple of occasions, to be fair” the Motherwell gaffer joked. “When I was in the Premier League with Burnley we played Liverpool at Anfield and Turf Moor against him and I think he scored a couple of goals and sent us down, actually, so I’ll want to thank him for that on Sunday”.
Steven Gerrard will be hoping he extends his winning run against Motherwell and Alexander.
Discuss this article
Enjoyed this analysis? Disagree entirely? Found a spelling mistake? Whatever your opinion, it's welcome on our popular and friendly message-board.