King castle

Consistency must be king for Rangers in the 2022/23 Premiership if they are to end Celtic’s reign as champions

MISSING pre-season can be very detrimental to a player’s chances of enjoying a good campaign.

When they return, they can, without the benefit of weeks of intensive training and warm-up friendlies against top-class opponents, struggle to regain peak fitness and sharpness and produce their best form.

Arriving long after competitive action has begun can also be challenging for managers.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst got off to a good start at Rangers after replacing Steven Gerrard last November; his side won their first seven Premiership cinch games and entered the winter break six points clear at the top of the table.

However, when play resumed in January, they struggled for consistency. They were held to a draw by Aberdeen, Ross County, Dundee United and Motherwell and lost home and away to Celtic.

Their Glasgow rivals won the Scottish title as a result and they missed out on an automatic and highly lucrative place in the Champions League group stages.

Rangers were phenomenal in the Europa League after Christmas – they beat Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leipzig and advanced to the final against Eintracht Frankfurt.

But would Van Bronckhorst have fared better domestically, would he have been in a better position to negotiate the grueling schedule, had he spent the previous summer knowing the strengths, weaknesses and personalities of the players he had inherited from Gerrard?

Would the Govan giants have avoided losing vital points had the Dutchman been able to significantly strengthen and integrate his new signings into his squad over a period of time at Auchenhowie before a ball was seriously kicked?

We will find out in the months to come.

Midfielder Joe Aribo and defender Calvin Bassey, who were two of Rangers’ best performers in the 2021/22 season, left for Southampton and Ajax respectively during the tight season and will be missed.

But there is great excitement in the stands at Ibrox and pubs along Paisley Road West over the potential of new signings Antonio Colak, Ben Davies, Tom Lawrence, Rabbi Matondo, John Souttar, Malik Tillman and Ridvan Yilmaz – which collectively brought them down to over £10m.

And there is genuine optimism among supporters about how the manager who took them within a few shots of the second European trophy in their 150-year history will do if he has settled into his new surroundings. and got a good pre-season under his belt.

The former Champions League winner and World Cup runner-up led Feyenoord to their first Eredivisie in 18 years in his second season at De Kuip in 2017.

Still, it should be noted that Ange Postecoglou has barely started his tenure at Celtic after arriving here from Japan, where he had been in charge of Yokohama F Marinos, either last year.

He spent the first weeks of his reign frantically trying to identify and bring in individuals capable of resuscitating Celtic’s fortunes after their failure to make Scottish football history and finish 10-In-A-Row. .

As many as 20 players, including first-team stalwarts Kristoffer Ajer, Scott Brown, Ryan Christie, Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths, made their way to the exit door and a total of 14 substitutes entered.

Heathrow is quieter on Christmas Eve than Parkhead was last summer.

Even after this turbulent period of mass recruitment, Postecoglou was often forced to rely on inexperienced children in key positions on major outings in the first five months of the season due to the lack of options available to them. him.

The Greek-Australian got through it all and silenced those who had mocked his appointment – ​​he played his team attractive attacking football, won over supporters who had been so furious the previous season that they had demonstrated outside the front door of their stadium and lifted both the Premier Sports Cup and the Premiership.

How better will the defending champions be now than Postecoglou – who acquired Alexandro Bernabei, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Moritz Jenz, Jota, Daizen Maeda, Aaron Mooy and Benjamin Siegrist for a cost of over £15million in recent weeks – has spent 13 months in Scotland and has an abundance of defence, midfield and attacking talent at his disposal?

Fans who flock to the East End tomorrow to see the league flag unfurled ahead of kick off in their Premiership opener against Aberdeen are certainly anticipating great things both at home and abroad.

Not since the 2010/11 season have the two Glasgow clubs been so tied. Rangers propelled Celtic to the Premier League on the final day of this momentous campaign with a 5-1 rout of Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. Could he go straight to the wire this time around? Do not bet against.

Rangers have beaten and then drawn with Celtic on the last two occasions they have faced them – in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden in April and then in the Premiership at Parkhead in May – so they have proven that they were more than a game for the defender. champions in a single encounter.

If they can show more consistency against lesser opposition over the next nine months, they can challenge.

Will any of their high-flying rivals do the same? Hearts director of football Joe Savage said last week his ultimate ambition was to win the Premiership. But the 37-year-old trophy duopoly is unlikely to end given their much smaller budget.

Robbie Neilson, who led the Tynecastle club to third place and the Scottish Cup final last season, should be able to build on the progress he has made so far after bringing in Alan Forrest , Kye Rowles, Lewis Neilson, Alex Cochrane, Jorge Grant and Laurent Shankland. But ending up as “the best of the rest” is all they can hope for.

Aberdeen, where Jim Goodwin landed nine new players, Dundee United, which installed Jack Ross as manager last month, Hibernian, which now has Lee Johnson at the helm, Kilmarnock, which Derek McInnes brought straight back into the top flight, and Motherwell and Ross County, which exceeded all expectations last season, will be determined to move them.

Meanwhile St Johnstone, who only remained standing after beating Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the play-off final in May, and St Mirren, who also struggled, will be keen not to be sucked into a relegation dogfight .

And what about Livingston? The West Lothian side are, especially on their artificial pitch at Tony Macaroni Stadium, awful to face and hard to beat. They kick off the Premiership today when they host Rangers at home at lunchtime. Could David Martindale’s men throw a wrench in the works from the start? They have history to do so.

The closure of club football when the World Cup is played in Qatar in November and December will make the season unusual.

The long-awaited introduction of VAR will also add a different dynamic to proceedings. Hopefully, fewer games will be decided by questionable referee decisions and there will be an end to the conspiracy theories that have long abounded. But don’t hold your breath there.

However, there is much to look forward to. It promises to be a gripping viewing. Let the battle begin.