If there’s one thing most Rangers fans are agreed on (apart from the fact that McGregor is superhuman and undoubtedly and irrefutably our best keeper) it’s that the quest for 56 has to be our absolute priority now, and that Champions League progression is impossible, with Europa League parachute unlikely at best.
So, there we go, no European adventure this season. This might just be a huge blessing in disguise. Let’s cast our minds back to where we were this time last season, we’d just beaten Celtic at Ibrox to go 3-points clear. We’d go on to take 7-points from the next 3 games, with a disappointing 1-1 home draw at the hands of Motherwell the only stumbling block. Meanwhile, the other lot had a bit of a wobble, losing away to Livingston and suffering a 1-1 draw of their own, against Dundee United. So, by the 26th September, 2021, Rangers were a full 6-points clear at the top of the table.
The cost – just 4 days later, we’d suffer our second Europa League defeat in a row at the hands of Sparta Prague. As we know, our European form improved dramatically and we emerged with 4 points from the Brondby double header, going on to beat Sparta Prague at Ibrox and secure qualification for the playoff round. At the same time though, we dropped points to Hearts and Aberdeen, giving Celtic the chance to close the gap at the top. This, they duly did and unfortunately, as we all know, our run to Seville coincided with Pacific Shelf’s canter towards the title, as quite simply, we couldn’t compete both on the continent and domestically.
The same could be said for that lot though, their embarrassing performances in both the Europa League and Europa Conference League meant an early exit and a complete focus on playing a style of football that was appropriate for the SPL.
It’s the age-old question – how does a UK based team compete in Europe and the league simultaneously? In fact, only two English teams have achieved the feat of the European Cup and league double. Manchester United did it in 1998-99 and 2007-08, while Liverpool did so in 1976-77 and 1983-84. The answer then – with great difficulty.
With the Manky mob getting what is ultimately a decent point away to Shakhtar, you’d have to think they’ll at least beat them at the Piggery and might even manage a result against Leipzig. Clearly an easier group, but chances are, they’ll be playing European football the other side of Christmas.
What it all means though, is that we’re completely free from those European distractions, every training session can be geared towards how to play domestically, 6 or 7 days to prepare for most games, as opposed to 2 or 3.
Let’s not also forget the players we’re hoping to make a return – Helander, Roofe, Souttar, Hagi, Lawrence. There’s half a starting 11 right there.
We saw them overhaul a deficit last year, why can’t we do the same to them this year? It starts tomorrow against Dundee United, who remember, had their pants pulled down by our rivals a few weeks ago. We need to put down a similar marker, a reminder, not only for our city rivals, but for us ourselves that simply says in Kevin Keegan style – “we’re still fighting for this title”.