When the former Monaco boss stepped through the doors at Ibrox on October 15th he had an unenviable task on his hands. The Gers were seven points off top spot after just eight games, facing an uphill battle to make the Europa League knockout stages and with an all-important League Cup semi-final ominously lurking round the corner.
The squad he inherited from Michael Beale was completely devoid of confidence and were utterly aimless out on the pitch. The season looked to be over before it had even begun but the 49-year-old’s arrival has given hope that Rangers’ season can still be salvaged.
Unbeaten since taking the hotseat, a run of six wins from his opening eight fixtures, including a crucial victory over Sparta Prague and a win in the aforementioned League Cup semi-final over Hearts, has given the Belgian an almost perfect start to life in the Ibrox dugout. There’s no doubt the feelgood factor has returned to the club but can Clement ride the wave of momentum all the way to a historic 56th title?
There is always pressure and demand when arriving at a new club, particularly Rangers where there is simply no other alternative but to win. However, this was a different kettle of fish. The club was a mess when he took over, coming in off the back of a calamitous few months under former manager Beale in which his side had not only lost crucial ground in the title race, but had also managed to lose out on Champions League football, and after he was fired, they suffered an embarrassing defeat to Cypriot outfit Aris Limassol in the Europa League.
The mission statement was clear; he would be tasked with giving the squad a tactical framework to operate in, steadying the ship in Europe, chasing down Celtic in the league and most importantly adding more silverware as quickly as possible. It’s not a small list of duties and by no means a simple assignment but so far the new boss has navigated the minefield superbly.
Since taking over Clement has landed the most significant blows in Rangers’ season to date by collecting four points from two hard-fought contests against Sparta Prague in the Europa League, while closing the gap on rivals Celtic as well as securing a League Cup Final showdown with Aberdeen in December. The Dons might have handed Clement a minor setback in the league at the weekend with Tavernier’s penalty ultimately saving Rangers’ blushes to snatch a point at the death but the manager’s unbeaten run remains intact and the game in hand means he is still in a good position to continue chipping away at Celtic’s commanding lead, and punters who enjoy banking with paypal can bet on Rangers to win the league.
It might come across like a lot of hype for just eight matches in the job but such is the nature of the drastic shift in Rangers’ fortunes. The fans were full of hope after a massive overhaul in personnel over the summer but saw little to no return on investment from Beale’s 16 matches in charge this season.
As the weeks went on, fears that a repeat of the disastrous 2022/23 campaign was unfolding grew from a quiet concern to a distressing reality. But Clement has reinvigorated these players and harnessed the potential Beale had failed to unlock. The biggest change first and foremost is the presence of a gameplan.
The Belgian has established a clear playing style that has not only helped fix the conspicuous defensive fragility that had been plaguing the side the last 12 months but more importantly has finally got the team finding the back of the net. 19 goals from his first eight matches in charge is a fantastic return and all the more satisfying with the knowledge Sam Lammers, Danilo and Cyriel Dessers are now contributing in front of goal after slow starts to life in Glasgow.
By contrast, Rangers’ attack was toothless under Beale.It’s true the team almost always had the majority share of possession and would easily hit double figures in attempts on goal but consistently failed to generate genuine goal scoring chances. There is no such trouble under new leadership though, with more shots per game, expected goals value increased and a higher conversion rate all suggesting Rangers are back to posing a dangerous threat in front of goal.
And so we come to the most pertinent question, where this is all leading to and what will ultimately define whether this season ends in success, can Clement win Rangers the title? The fact is we’ll know a lot more about their chances after December 30th but there is little doubt Rangers are in a much better position with the Belgian now at the helm. Celtic will still be the favourites but will be feeling the pressure a lot more knowing that Rangers are back to winning ways. It’s hard to recall another Rangers manager who has had such a drastic impact in such a short spell of time. The players appear to be fully buying into what the new manager is trying to do and the mood has been lifted all around Ibrox as a result. There is still a long way to go, plenty of football to be played and a busy January window lying in wait but Clement’s Rangers are undeniably in the fight.