The Impenetrables? - How the current Rangers defence is outperforming Celtic's invincibles
Celtic’s 2016-17 squad rightly lay claim to the moniker ‘The Invincibles’ after a season without defeat in the Scottish Premiership under Brendan Rodgers.
But could there be a case to come for this current incarnation of Steven Gerrard’s Rangers squad, similarly unbeaten so far during this league campaign, to be known as ‘The Impenetrables’?
Two-thirds of the way through the season, pre-SPFL split, Rangers have only lost one domestic match - in the Betfred Cup - and have yet to be downed on league duty.
In doing so, the defence has been breached just FIVE times – twice to Hibernian at Easter Road, twice to Motherwell during two victories over the Steelmen and another to Dundee United at Tannadice.
It is a formidable statistic, and one which supports the football phraseology that a good team begins with a solid defence.
The backline is one of the least rotated areas by Steven Gerrard, who stands by Connor Goldson and James Tavernier as his constants, and only infrequently changes left-back Borna Barisic - leaving Goldson’s partner to alternate between Filip Helander and Leon Balogun as per the needs of each match.
Either, it seems, will do.
With Balogun at the back Rangers conceded late at Motherwell and early at Tannadice. Helander was involved when Hibs scored twice in the 2-2 draw and again at home to Motherwell last month.
There’s an even split in Europa League concessions, at four each, but 15 goals conceded across 33 matches in all competitions is a rate of one every 198 minutes, and means Rangers need not out-score opponents, simply because opponents are failing to score past one of the most miserly defences in Europe.
A team which doesn’t concede can’t lose, and it follows a team which rarely concedes will rarely lose.
Proceed with caution
There is nearly half the season still to be played, and plenty will warn to proceed with caution - including Bongani Zungu and Walter Smith this week - and Balogun himself also guarded against complacency. Defeat could come at any time if that is not heeded.
Balogun and co. continuing their stoic defence though, will go a long way to proving Rangers’ league title credentials and prolonging their undefeated run.
Having garnered 62 points from a possible 66 so far - they are on course to reap 106 points at that same rate and equal the tally achieved by Celtic’s Invincibles, who also picked up the Scottish and League Cups that season.
Defeat at St Mirren means Rangers won’t match that, but they are on course to set new defensive standards if they continue to concede so little.
Points make prizes
In season 2016/17 Celtic conceded 25 league goals, two against in every three games - or one per 137 minutes.
So far Rangers’ rate is almost three times better, conceding on average twice every 8.8 matches, or a goal every 396 league minutes.
A continuation over the course of the season would leave the goals against column for Steven Gerrard’s team in single digits come May with an expected EIGHT goals against across the entire season.
Perhaps not ‘The Impenetrables’ by strict dictionary terms, but if Rangers’ defence continues as it has, they’ll be as close to it in Scottish football terms.