It’s late February 2023 and Celtic have lifted the League Cup after a 2-1 win over Rangers at Hampden. The scene of the crime for Michael Beale is the midfield.

“That same team today played ever so well in the Old Firm at New Year and the best 90 minutes since I came back in the 90 minutes at Hearts. These two players [Nico Raskin and Todd Cantwell] have only played two and a half games against opponents where you’ve got the ball,” he said when quizzed by the Rangers Review on a midfield duo of Glen Kamara and John Lundstram, who were well outplayed on the day.

New arrivals Raskin and Cantwell remained on the bench until the game was 2-0 in Celtic’s favour, making a positive impact after climbing off it. Beale came close to a significant Old Firm win in the remaining weeks in his defence, specifically the 1-0 Scottish Cup loss at the same venue two months later and Celtic Park in a 3-2 reverse. The inclusion of a forward-thinking midfield, always featuring Cantwell and Raskin, thereafter had plenty to do with that fact.

READ MORE: The vicious Old Firm cycle that's trapped Rangers for 3 seasons - and how to escape

How could it be, therefore, that nearly a year on a similar event was playing out - with Raskin only coming off the bench in Saturday’s Old Firm defeat during a second half where Rangers were down to 10 men and Cantwell remaining on it? Lundstram saw red in the first half after scoring an own goal minutes earlier, playing in a fixture that’s often seen him lose the battle up against Callum McGregor, Reo Hatate, Matt O’Riley and others.

The Rangers Review argued in the immediate aftermath of a league-ending Old Firm defeat for Philippe Clement’s side that the club’s biggest issue for all of three seasons, and the reason for a continuous inability to win against their arch-rivals, is continuity. The Ibrox side have lacked consistent figures, both in the dugout and above it, overseeing squad building and it shows. The change in style this season alone, from Beale’s narrow and free attacking compilation to Clement’s direct 4-2-3-1 with width in the midfield, is a carbon copy of the jump from Steven Gerrard’s football to Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s style the year prior. Such lack of contingency over multiple seasons, in contrast to Celtic's consistency on the park, has stung in the moments that matter. The midfield has totally epitomised that fact.

When Glen Kamara signed a new contract at Ibrox in September 2021 the move was rightly praised. Here was a modern profile of a midfielder bound for the Premier League. And then, suddenly, the double-pivot position Kamara had thrived within was gone as the jump from Gerrard to Giovanni played out. Performances dipped, Europe aside, as the man signed for ÂŁ50k struggled to reach the heights in a new role. Unable to meet expected standards in a new environment.

Ridvan Yilmaz’s story is similar. Rangers parted with a healthy fee to acquire the Turkish left-back but it took them well over a year and a half to see any returns. When they pivoted back to Beale the role of the left-back Van Bronckhorst favoured was gone. Back to the high, wide and crossing days. Back to a role Ridvan was not signed to play.

Recruitment is not an exact science but Raskin’s last year demonstrates the dangers of chopping and changing managers and playing styles. Progress that has been made quickly disappears. Lessons that have been learned under one manager must play out to a conclusion, much to supporters' frustrations, under the next. This time last year the young Belgian immediately improved Rangers’ performances in the middle of the park during Old Firm games. And yet, a year on, he’s been well out of the picture under his countryman.

Aside from a costly injury at the wrong time, it would appear Clement’s gripe with Raskin is stylistic. Under Beale, Raskin was a perfect fit to operate in small spaces, play in combination with teammates and act as a ballcarrier. The change in football since October has been drastic on and off the ball. Clement wants his midfielders to pass over distance and cover bigger areas. If there is one weakness to the young midfielder’s game, it is the consistency of his passing range. This time last year Cantwell and Raskin embodied the new direction Beale wanted to take the Rangers midfield in. Both missing out on Saturday’s season-definer was a reminder of how, for the brilliant job Clement has done overall, Rangers have failed to move much further forward in relation to their squad.

Celtic’s superiority in the last two Old Firm meetings has been apparent in midfield.

In 10 meetings since the start of last season, the trio of Hatate, O’Riley and McGregor have started together on five occasions. Aaron Mooy played two due to form, Tomoki Iwati the recent meeting at Ibrox due to McGregor’s injury, Turnbull the 1-0 reverse in September given Hatate’s form and Paulo Bernardo due to his own in the New Year.

In all ten of those games two out of that midfield three - Hatate, McGregor and O’Riley - have started. Celtic have opted five midfield combinations, with only one position deviating, to Rangers’ eight, with all three changing at points. One side has epitomised consistency, relationship and know-how, while the other has shown the opposite face.

The one Rangers midfielder throughout that miserable 10-game period who’s looked capable of competing best is Raskin. The closest Rangers came in the fixture last season saw the 23-year-old prop up the midfield - taking the ball in tight areas, dominating duels and going toe-to-toe with Callum McGregor.

Relationships need time to form. With different managers proclaiming different ideas in the Ibrox dugout since 2021, there’s rarely been the time for any to become concrete. Contrastingly, Hatate, McGregor and O’Riley are so in sync with one another’s games - especially in this fixture. Is it any wonder that Rangers lack any semblance of that chemistry in the engine room considering the above chart? Under Beale towards the end of last season with Cantwell and Raskin in the middle, it felt as though the gap in quality was narrowing. Rangers haven't been able to close it since.

Cantwell merited criticism for his showing at Parkhead in December but, he would argue, that game was the only time he’s played in his favoured role during the fixture this season. He’s a player who thrives on relationships with others, as we saw during the Scottish Cup Semi-Final win recently when combiningg neatly alongside Mohamed Diomande. Would a Raskin, Diomande and Cantwell trio - or Dujon Sterling, Diomande and Raskin - not offer more in the legs and quality department at Hampden in two weeks?

Raskin's absence in Saturday's Old Firm, a year on from his emergence, helps tell a story of where this game has been lost for Rangers. Whatever he doesn’t bring is outweighed by what he does. That lesson was learned at Hampden over a year ago - and Clement must heed to it when Glasgow comes to a half for the football again a week on Saturday.