5 things Rangers must do if they are to stop being the punchline in an era of Celtic dominance

5 things Rangers must do if they are to stop being the punchline in an era of Celtic dominance

Rangers fans have felt that old familiar feeling of Scottish Premiership heartache as bitter rivals Celtic get set to lift a remarkable 12th league title out of 13 following Saturday's 2-1 reverse at Celtic Park.

Legendary Canadian rocker Neil Young could have as easily been writing about second place in Scottish football when he penned his 1969 album 'Everybody Knows this is Nowhere' with tracks including 'The Losing End (When You're On)' but it's not all doom and gloom for the fans who follow follow their team 'Down By the River' (last one, I promise).

Three defeats and a draw in four league Old Firm meetings, coupled with that disastrous run of five points from fifteen from the start of March, did for Rangers hopes but the fact that Philippe Clement took Michael Beale's mis-firing squad and dragged them anywhere near a title race owed as much or more to the Belgian's tactical nous and training techniques, as it did to any Celtic stumbles. But how can Rangers arrest the trend of east end trophy lifts? Here, Record Sport take a look at just what can be done down Govan way.

The buck Kopp-s here

Rangers initiated a complete overhaul of their recruitment team by promoting Creag Robertson to director of football operations, while also snagging Nils Koppen from PSV Eindhoven as the director of football recruitment. Koppen's recruitment drive began in the January transfer window, with the additions of Fabio Silva, Mohamed Diomande and Oscar Cortes offering a promising first toe-dip in the transfer market.

While Celtic can make the occasional mis-fire in the transfer market skeet shoot given what they already have in the building in terms of a title-winning spine, Rangers have no such safety net and can ill-afford to make the same mistakes as last summer.

Out of the three winter recruits, Lens winger Cortes looked like he had settled into his groove well before picking up an injury at Kilmarnock that curtailed his bright start and just about ended his season. At the time of his signing, Koppen made clear that the 20-year old had been on his radar for a while and offered a ringing endorsement of his talents. 'Through good contact, further analysis and our belief in his talent, we are pleased to seize this moment to sign him.'

Rangers will be keen to try and mine the markets outside Scotland in order to unearth a few more diamonds in the rough to be polished up and sold for big money, but the lack of Scots in the first team in recent seasons has been touted by some fans as a factor in their side's struggles. Which leads us neatly onto...

Make the Academy Great Again

Rangers have had some stellar talents emerge from their Academy through the ages, with the likes of Barry Ferguson, Alan Hutton, Nathan Patterson, Billy Gilmour and Rory Wilson all moving to the Premier League, with the latter two doing so before making their top-team bows. With the Premier League riches just over the border, and poaching of Academy starlets happening earlier and earlier, it's an age-old problem for Rangers and one that's not going to be solved overnight.

The emergence of Ross McCausland into a key squad member has been a real positive for the club, while Leon King has had some major minutes in some big games and Adam Devine has also tasted first-team action.

Sort out the Recruitment Model

One of the first things Philippe Clement highlighted when coming in the door was to bemoan the fact that he had no less than five first team players coming to the end of their contracts.

'This season to have five players out of contract is a crazy situation because you throw away money. They have no value any more if the contract is ended.'

With Borna Barisic, John Lundstram, Ryan Jack, Leon Balogun and Kemar Roofe all out of contract in a matter of weeks, hot on the heels of losing Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent for nothing the previous summer, Clement will be working tirelessly to ensure he's not left in such a compromising position ever again.

Trust the manager

Rangers fans will be sick of hearing that they need to 'trust the process' or that 'results will come' but Philippe Clement will be feeling that he's earned the chance to put his own stamp on a squad that was suffering a terminal confidence crisis when he arrived in the middle of October.

Given little time to suss out who he could trust and who to put out to pasture, the Belgian cobbled together a team that started winning games and when they did suffer setbacks - such as Aris Limassol at home - they responded.

The remarkable 3-2 victory over a Real Betis side who were previously unbeaten at home in 10 games represented a notice that this Rangers team can mean business.

Sam Lammers was shipped out on loan in January and has since flourished on loan at FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie of his homeland, while Jose Cifuentes cruised his way out of Auchenhowie and on to Brazilian side Cruzeiro from Belo Horizonte. T are also some tough decisions to be made in terms of those players who, under normal circumstances, would be key members of the squad but are injured too much to make that impact.

Ryan Jack and Kemar Roofe would certainly fall into this category. The former Aberdeen captain has been a top performer on his day, while it's remarkable that Jamaican international Roofe averages just about a goal in every two appearances for the Light Blues given his seemingly never-ending, stop-start injury woes. Is it time to move on from these players, or are they worth another contract to try and reap the benefits of their fully-fit talents?

Having seen his side step up when it matters on the continent, the manager will be hoping to instil the same kind of focus on derby day. Giving Celtic a two-goal head-start is not an Old Firm recipe for success and he has to get that message across, or bring in his own players who will stick to the plan. In spite of this, Rangers haven't been blown away by Celtic in these games and are arguably not that far away from getting the balance right. Cutting out the errors and showing a bit more composure could lead to future success, while also recognising this was far from a full-strength Rangers facing Celtic's Best XI.

Sima signal of intent?

Abdallah Sima ran the show against Rangers over two legs of high drama Europa League knockout football for Slavia Prague. While that tie was, absolutely correctly, overshadowed by the abysmal display of racism from the Czech side's captain, looking back on the game it was clear to see that Sima was superb in both games.

To bring him in on loan from Brighton was looking like a masterstroke until he suffered a serious thigh injury on international duty - having ironically played his way into Senegal's Africa Cup of Nations squad through his 15 goal haul - and the club have to go all-out to bring him back on a permanent basis.

Rangers' Abdallah Sima celebrates
Philippe Clement

The board will know their pricing limits, but with a year left on his contract on the south coast, now could be the time to strike and bring in a player who could offer a real statement of intent in the bid to wrestle the title back from Celtic's grasp.

With Cortes on one side and Sima on the other, the raw pace and end product should prove potent for Danilo, Dessers or whoever else operates in the striking positions.