Jermain Defoe admits that Rangers players struggled to explain their dramatic loss of form after returning from the Premiership winter break.
Steven Gerrard’s side went into the winter shutdown two points behind Celtic with a game in hand after a 2-1 win in the Old Firm derby at Parkhead on December 29 but the Gers struggled to maintain their early season momentum upon their return from a warm-weather training camp in Dubai.
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Losses to Hearts and Kilmarnock, as well as draws against Aberdeen and St Johnstone, saw Rangers fall 13 points behind a rejuvenated Celtic – albeit with a game in hand – before Scottish football went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Defoe, who had scored 13 goals in the Premiership before the lockdown, admits he and his team-mates held talks to try and get to the root of their poor form – which also saw them exit the Scottish Cup after a 1-0 defeat to Hearts.
“It’s natural – we’ve had so much time on our hands so you sit down and reflect, I can imagine all the players doing the same, not just the manager. You try to reflect on what has gone wrong,” he told the Football Show on Sky Sports News.
“Before the break we were flying. We came back and we had meetings, we’ve spoken as a group, we’ve got a leadership group with the senior lads and we’ve tried to find answers why we’ve come back after the break and it has not really happened for us.
“Saying that, we still didn’t let it affect us. We still tried to go into games with that same belief that we could be the same team we were before the break. We went to Dubai and everyone worked so hard. Everyone was flying, training was good, we rested, we came back and we were confident that we could kick on but for whatever reason it just didn’t happen for us.
“At the time it is frustrating because you try to put your finger on what is so different but, of course, I can imagine the manager and coaching staff will sit down as a group and try to find solutions on where we can improve as a team because I always feel like you can improve.
“We’ve got a great bunch of lads, great characters in the team. There is a good mix with senior lads and young lads and we’ve shown people that we can be a top, top team.”
‘Nothing wrong with Dubai camp’
Defoe also dismissed the idea that the squad had been worked too hard on that training camp in Dubai.
“When I say work hard, we weren’t running into the ground or doing unnecessary running,” he added. “When I say we worked hard, in terms of the training, intensity was good, especially in the heat. The intensity and the quality was good, we worked hard.
“We did our programmes in the gym, we didn’t train for long out there because of the heat, we did what we needed to do and we came back with no injuries and everyone was ready to go.
“It was nothing to do with Dubai because we could go there next season and come back and be better than we were in the first part of the season. We did what we had to do in Dubai. The intensity was high and the quality of training was good.”
‘Morelos is a top, top player’
Defoe also praised fellow striker Alfredo Morelos, whose form dipped after the winter break having previously scored 28 goals before the shutdown, but insists the Colombian is still learning.
“He’s really impressed me – he’s a natural goalscorer – I think people need to understand that he is still young,” Defoe said.
“He has made mistakes but he is still young, he is still learning. He has impressed me. I feel like this season, particularly the first part of the season, he improved a lot. His link up play, he was keeping the ball for us, scoring goals and just his all round game had improved so much.
“Even away from that, he is funny in the changing room, as you can imagine, he’s a character. He is a nice guy.
“It is difficult for him because he is Colombian, his family are not here. He is here with his wife and sometimes she goes back and sees her family so sometimes he is just here on his own and it is really difficult for Alfredo and obviously we try and help him because he is a young lad. But he is a top, top player, a natural goalscorer.”
Asked what level Morelos could play at if he was to move to England in the future, Defoe said he could score goals for anyone.
“I feel like he would need to be in the right team – a team that creates chances because I believe that if he gets chances at any level I believe he can score,” he said. “He has got that arrogance that he believes that he can score in every game.
“You even see it in training sometimes, he misses chances and then you think ‘yeah, but you had no right to score from there’ but he still believes that he can go into every game and he can score.
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