Old Firm derby could define Steven Gerrard's managerial career - for better or worse

Robbie Copeland
Jan 1, 2021, 5:45 PM GMT
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard takes the knee in solidarity with BLM
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard takes the knee in solidarity with BLM | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

No matter what happens at a frosty Ibrox on Saturday, someone is coming away with the wind beneath their sails.

For a resurgent Celtic side, it's a chance at redemption. Having won the Scottish Cup, completing their historic quadruple Treble in the process, they look a side rejuvenated, and six straight wins in all competitions have them fancying a win at the home of their rivals that would be considered an upset.

It would be considered an upset because Rangers are, realistically, a win away from taking home the Premiership title.

The defending champions may have played three games fewer than their title rivals but a defeat would leave them 19 points off the pace. Napkin maths: that's a ten point gap even assuming they win their games in hand.

Up against a team who have now played 55% of their season and dropped points twice, that looks an unassailable chasm.

The chance to put that sort of distance between the clubs is not one that comes around too often for Rangers these days.

And it's one Steven Gerrard knows his team must capitalise on.

As formidable as the Light Blues have been since returning from the pandemic enforced hiatus, the post-Christmas capitulation of last season is a demon they are yet to fully exorcise. They were favourites for the league last Christmas: ten games later, Celtic were 13 clear, and the season was called.

It was a painful collapse and while even the most ambitious of gamblers would hesitate to bet on a similar Celtic comeback this time around, should Rangers fall to defeat this weekend, those ghosts will begin to re-emerge.

Gerrard's personal history plays into this too. He's yet to win a league as player or manager and has a storied history of letting things slip. But he'll be putting that to the back of his mind as he tries to take control of what he can.

He has a few problems to solve ahead of the big one, none morseo than in his depleted midfield. Scott Arfield and Ryan Jack have arguably been two of the standout players in the Premiership this season but each are injured, and the engine room looks light,

Glen Kamara, Steven Davis and Joe Aribo are a strong enough trio in their own right, but they will come up against a Celtic midfield far stronger than the one that faced them in October. The arrivals on the scene of fringe players David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro, who took charge against Dundee United on Wednesday, make Lennon's team far more dynamic and far less predictable, just in time for a make or break trip to Ibrox.

The gap between the teams may suggest a clear favourite ahead of Saturday's clash but there is no room for complacency. Celtic are in the best shape they have been in this season, and with proven winners all over the park, they will be out to settle a score. The self-belief that has taken them to nine successive titles isn't yet back in full swing, but it's not a million miles away.

Gerrard knows their bubble needs bursting and Rangers have the pin in their hand. It's down to them to use it.

Unless Gerrard's team are systematically dismantled, they will leave Ibrox on Saturday with a cushion at the top of the table, and favourites to win the title at the fifth time of asking. Their relentless efforts so far, winning each of their last 13 league matches by an aggregate score of 39-3, has put them into that privileged position.

Yet you still can't shake the feeling that, for all their prior brilliance, they can't afford to let up for a second. Certainly not this weekend.

It may be the match that, for better or worse, comes to define Steven Gerrard's managerial career

Ianis Hagi gets some words of wisdom
Ianis Hagi gets some words of wisdom | Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Lose, and he'll hear the shouts of same old, same old starting to resonate in the distance.

Win, and he has finally overcome the demons of the past.