On February 26, the Rangers support was filled with optimism going into the Viaplay League Cup final against Celtic. Many believed that defeating Celtic and winning the club’s 28th League Cup would make a significant statement going into the business end of the season. However, this never transpired as Celtic defeated Rangers 2-1 to clinch their 21st League Cup thanks to two goals from Kyogo Furuhashi.
The excitement and hope quickly disappeared amongst the Rangers support as soon as Michael Beale’s team selection was announced. There were huge concerns with the midfield three of John Lundstram, Malik Tillman, and Glen Kamara starting. Tillman and Lundstram had been injured in the build-up to the final, and Glen Kamara has been an inconsistent performer this season.
The midfield battle would be key for whoever would win the game, and Celtic easily won that battle. Callum McGregor, Aaron Mooy, and Reo Hatate were sublime and dominated the Rangers midfield, who couldn’t cope with them. In the second half, Beale changed the midfield three and brought Ryan Jack, Todd Cantwell, and Nicolas Raskin on, and the difference in quality compared to the first half was night and day.
With the Light Blues 2-0 down, at the 65th minute, Alfredo Morelos managed to pull a goal back which was his 10th of the season. Shortly after scoring, Beale made another surprise call by taking Morelos off, who was Rangers’ best player and their only hope of getting back into the game, for Antonio Colak. This provoked a fiery reaction from the Colombian, who kicked some water bottles while coming off.
The Ibrox side were the better team second half, but Celtic did their job and saw the game out and deservedly won the Viaplay League Cup. Beale hasn’t put a foot wrong since taking charge as manager back in November, but he got the League Cup final horribly wrong, and that defeat is on him. Not starting Raskin, Jack, and Cantwell was baffling, along with taking Morelos off, which didn’t make any sense.
Rangers not winning the League Cup final was a massive missed opportunity, and it’s a trophy they’ve not won since 2011. The Ibrox club has only won 2 trophies in the last 13 years, which is simply unacceptable. After winning the league two years ago, that should have been a real opportunity to build on that success and dominate the Scottish game.
The Rangers board clearly got complacent and thought investing the bare minimum in the squad would get them by, whereas Celtic backed Ange Postecoglou in the transfer market and are on track to winning back-to-back league titles with a potential treble still on the cards.
Beale has labelled the season as a disappointment but believes the team is making steady progress. He said: “The story of the season is one of disappointment. I think that’s why the fans are sometimes in love and, at other times, not in love with the team. That’s fine, that’s the same at every single club. In the time that I’ve come in, I think we’ve made steady progress, not outstanding progress.”
After losing the League Cup final, Beale was asked if he believes that the Rangers squad is broken:
“Revamp is a better word than rebuild. We’ve had a lot of injury problems this season. Even going into this week, we’ve had a lot of uncertainty. We need to get over that and make sure people are fit and healthy, and available, as that makes a strong squad. We have got to recruit and work out one or two futures. I think we’ll come back stronger.”
“I don’t think we should get too carried away that we lost today and think it’s the end of the world. The job was always going to be big regardless of this result. It’s important we bite down on the gum shield and take our medicine.”
“It doesn’t taste too nice right now, but when I look at the team with the promise that Malik Tillman, Raskin, and Cantwell have shown, there is enough for me to be super optimistic about the future. Is it going to be plain sailing? Of course, it isn’t. If we had won the cup final today, would everything have been rosy? No, we would still have that work to do, and it’s my job to do that from tomorrow.”
The Rangers boss also said: “I don’t mind being judged on that, but at this moment in time, it’s probably not the right time for me to be worrying about the greater future. It’s more, ‘Okay, what didn’t go right in this fixture, and what have we got to do to fix it against Celtic?’ because against everyone else, it seems to have been fine so far.”
I agree with Beale about how a complete rebuild isn’t required, a revamp is, as players who have been good servants for the club need to move on this summer, and it’s clear this squad needs some fresh blood. Rangers are the most successful club in Scotland, winning 117 trophies. Celtic have won 114 trophies and are only three away from equalling the Light Blues record, which would be a damming failure on the board’s part if that were to happen.
The Rangers support were not shy in voicing their displeasure at the club’s hierarchy by displaying a banner in the 3-1 victory against Kilmarnock that said, ‘after fifty-five titles, you took your eye off the ball, time for change.’ I’ve been highly critical of Director of Football Ross Wilson, and he should be nowhere near the revamp of the squad this summer.
As things stand, Rangers are set to face off against Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup quarterfinals, and they currently sit nine points behind Celtic. It is becoming more and more likely that Celtic will win their second consecutive league title, a bitter pill for Rangers fans to swallow after winning their first league title in a decade in 2020/21.
Michael Beale is the right man for the job, and I believe he will deliver Rangers’ 56th league title at some point, but he must be backed in the transfer market if he is to stop the dominance of Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic.
By: Scott Bradley / @ScottBradleyX
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Bryn Lennon – Getty Images