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Found 132 results

  1. After the best part of five months and what feels like an eternity, Rangers are finally back in SPFL action tomorrow lunch-time. And, off the back of a fairly impressive friendly programme, fans are excited to see what Steven Gerrard in his third season as Rangers manager can deliver during this campaign. Can we offer a sustained title challenge? Can we take an extra step in the domestic cups? Will we be able to maintain our progress in European competition? None of these questions are easy to answer. For the last two seasons any challenge offered to Celtic has faltered after the winter break whilst we've been unable to secure a domestic cup for almost ten years - despite leading in one against Hibs and outclassing Celtic in another last year. Fortunately, our performances in Europe has perhaps been a more accurate barometer of progress with good work against several decent continental outfits across the last two seasons. Indeed, we're still not officially out of last years Europa League just yet! With all this in mind, it's interesting to note that this summer squad changes have, so far at least, been kept to an absolute minimum for Gerrard's third season. The global pandemic may have ensured a stagnated transfer market but is this also a sign that our manager feels his squad is capable of delivering trophies? With only Ianis Hagi arriving as a genuine first XI player then, as it stands, we certainly have to hope that's the manager's thinking. Yes, Jon McLaughlin, Calvin Bassey and Leon Balogun have also strengthened the squad but with Niko Katic injured for the longer term and the likes of Andy Halliday and Jon Flanagan not having their contracts renewed, that means a more streamlined look to our squad with a nod to youth in certain areas, particularly at right back in the exciting Nathan Patterson. Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the Alfredo Morelos situation. At the time of writing it appears a renewed bid has been made from France for his services and it's nearing the (inevitable?) stage where the Colombian will move on sooner rather than later. In fact, it's not a guarantee he'll play in tomorrow's opener given his uncertain situation and one only need look at our opponents to see how an injury can affect the possible sale of your biggest asset. Aberdeen will be missing both their first choice strikers and, with Defoe again injured for us, it's been a big surprise and disappointment that we've not brought in another striker ahead of the game. Irrespective of Morelos' status, we need another centre forward and it's an undoubted gamble not to have back-up at this stage. It has been suggested that Gerrard doesn't want squad players (such as Kamberi) but genuine quality so if a suitable fee is agreed for Morelos, the manager may think the gamble of waiting will pay off with two new strikers capable of competing for the role brought in on the bulk of any transfer proceeds. As it stands though, I don't think the manager will hesitate to play the Colombian tomorrow, even if we've seen other attackers such as Barker, Stewart, Murphy and Hagi all work well together across the front-line in pre-season. Indeed, if we look again at the starting XI for those friendly games, the manager seemed fairly consistent in his favoured side and coincidentally that is the same sort of XI we seen in our last league game in March. At that time James Tavernier and Ryan Jack were struggling with injury but those two players aside, the team that started against Ross County is effectively the one that took us through pre-season undefeated and likely to be the one that will open our season tomorrow. Our defence is fairly easy to predict. A couple of summer niggles and a positive start to Jon McLaughlin's Rangers career aside, Allan McGregor remains our first choice 'keeper and a key player when it comes to a winning mentality. In front of him, our back four should also be a consistent one as the season progresses with only the left centre back uncertain for now. George Edmundson should retain his place until Filip Helander is fully fit once more but the big Swede showed enough pre-Christmas last season to be Connor Goldson's preferred partner. At full back James Tavernier and Borna Barisic remain two important players, particularly in a creative sense, but both will need to demonstrate the mental strength required to ensure they can lift trophies as Rangers players. Moving into midfield and the deeper part of our system especially, we have four players battling for three positions. Steven Davis, Ryan Jack, Glen Kamara and Joe Aribo are all fine players but the manager has often found it tricky to find the right blend in some domestic matches. That amalgam of defensive wherewithal along with the ability to move the ball quickly and vertically remains one of our biggest challenges in the stuffy arenas and artificial pitches of the Scottish Premiership. This perhaps explains why Ross Wilson and the manager are happy to pay the best part of £3million for Bongani Zungu who may well arrive imminently. Davis will miss tomorrow's game with a niggle but should be available for the midweek trip to Germany. We also have several options further forward. Signing Ianis Hagi on a permanent deal should be a good move in terms of creativity and a goal threat whilst the form of Kent and Brandon Barker across pre-season also bodes well for the real thing. Achieving consistency from these players, as well as enough game-time for the rest of our forward options will be the key to unlocking this squad's full potential. Hitherto fringe players such as Barker, Stewart, Jones and Murphy really need to be playing regularly to show their best form but this is difficult with others ahead of them in the reckoning. Scott Arfield is another who can play in the advanced or defensive roles and we'll be hoping for a better season from him as well. We've already discussed how short we are for strikers but we are where we are for now so let's hope Morelos can get back on the goal trail quickly until such a time he does leave. However, the responsibility of scoring goals should not be placed on just one player. All things considered, we clearly still have a good squad of players with an agreeable mix of experience and potential with undoubted quality across the manager's preferred 4-3-3 system. However, a cursory look at last season's results show we weren't clinical enough in certain situations and it's no secret we struggle to break down teams utilising low/medium blocks and concede cheap goals when we lose our own positional discipline when pushing for goals. The management team will have to prove they can overcome that if we're to win trophies and Pittodrie will prove a good initial test of that tomorrow. In conclusion, this is a big year for Steven Gerrard. In terms of his position as Rangers manager, he's in a unique situation with the Covid virus offering difficulties no other has had previously in the post-WWII era. Yet, he's now been in the job for two years so he's no longer the inexperienced youth coach that arrived from Liverpool. Therefore, as he did as a player, he now needs to show he's learned from every minute of being in charge; from the lows to the highs, and bring success back to Rangers, just as he's seen happen at his former club. Conversely, for our part as fans, we have to remain patient. I have no doubt in my mind that Steven Gerrard is the right man for this job and whilst it may have taken a bit longer than I have hoped for him to win trophies, I firmly believe he will this coming season. In that respect, leagues aren't won on the first day of any new campaign but we have to get off on the front foot and there cannot be any excuses as we move further into the competition. Once more unto the breach, dear friends... Possible team (4-3-3):
  2. Wednesday night at Ibrox was a complete nightmare. To the goal we lost, to the chances we missed, to the final result, to Celtic dropping points, to the traffic afterwards; what could go wrong, did go wrong and I have to admit it took me until this morning to update our main with the match highlights. Then, for some reason, despite being unable to sleep after that result the other night, I decided to watch the bulk of the game, as sometimes it's worth doing so on TV as you can miss some stuff actually being there. At Ibrox, I thought we did OK up until Hamilton scored, then lost confidence as the crowd lost their patience. Yet, without playing well per se, we actually didn't do as bad as I thought later in the match and how we didn't score at least once in the 90mins was quite incredible. Of course the reaction to the result has been that of outrage, quickly followed by resentment. And, given recent events and performances, that's understandable. Petty it might be but it's also easy to appreciate supporter indignation when under-fire players feel sorry for themselves in press interviews, whilst driving away from stadiums in six figure super cars. Quite simply complaining about struggling with the pressure won't wash with fans expectant of success - or at the very least a goal or two across two matches against the Premiership's bottom two teams. Let's be honest; when players sign for Rangers, they should be made for life; most will earn thousands per week and the opportunity of millions over their career. The same can't be said for the lads Hamilton play. Often moving from club-to-club for the chance to impress for a small capped wage is more likely and when they do retire from the sport, they won't have pension investments and property portfolios to rely on. That's a pressure more in line with supporters, who often struggle to make ends meet following their club. Nevertheless, we can't have it both ways. When Rangers were winning title after title or, in this era, erm, doing well in European games, we didn't ask what kind of car our captain was driving or how well paid they were. Nor did we complain about how much it cost us. Football is football and, as much as the money floating about - even at SPFL level - can be eye-watering and impossible to relate to for most of us, players deserve to be paid, even when they play badly. C'est la vie. For Rangers fans, as much as we demand success, we also expect effort and application to be just as prevalent. Similarly, as much as we can forgive the occasional mistake, not learning from them must be one of our biggest frustrations. That's why James Tavernier and Connor Goldson have been the focus of so much scorn this week. Our captain and vice-captain respectively, both have sold the jerseys in our last two games and it really is impossible to explain their mindset. Was it over-confidence or a lack of ability? It can't be the latter as both have shown they are good players when focused so it has to be the former which is misplaced when the team is struggling so badly. It's with merit then that supporters expect both to be dropped for our next game. After all, other players have suffered from such: be it Niko Katic, Ryan Kent, Glen Kamara or various others for their poor form. If the manager wants to retain the respect of those players and other fringe lads, who still can't get into what is now a losing team, then surely he can't favour player A over player B when they cost us points? Unfortunately, football isn't quite as simple as that. First and foremost, whilst Ross County (a team who have never beaten us...yet) may not represent the kind of challenge that shouldn't allow us to 'rotate' our side and 'rest' a few struggling players - even key ones - we've all seen how much we've laboured against other clubs in the bottom half of the Premiership of late. More importantly though, it's the games following that one that are of more interest, being them against Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the Europa League and those either side of the third Old Firm league match of the campaign. Any title aspirations may be all but gone and our chances of beating the Germans 50/50 at best but these are vital matches nonetheless and perhaps not the time for an erratic Jon Flanagan or the inexperience of Nathan Patterson at right back. And can we really rely on an untested partnership of Katic and Edmundson centrally? Sure, someone like Patterson or a Matt Polster (if properly fit) should arguably be playing in Dingwall and why not test out a new centre-back pairing while we're at it? And don't forget to chuck in Halliday at left-back since Borna Barisic has reverted to his fickle form of last season. Are you more or less confident of European progression and another win over Celtic? The fact is, as much as key players like Tav and Goldson have let us down badly (and I mean really badly) of late, I'm not quite ready to give up on them yet and I also don't feel offering up one or two scapegoats works either. It's like saying we can't play Morelos again for missing chances or that Kent will never pay back his inflated transfer fee. At 23, those two lads are still fairly young and still learning. They need our support, as difficult as that may seem when they spurn a chance or pass it out the park. With all the above in mind then, how do we approach Sunday and the subsequent run of three very tough fixtures? Do we drop Goldson, Tav, Davis and the rest of the players letting us down? Or do we show our supposed insanity by sticking with those failing us? Well, it's my preview, and as much as I completely understand and share the calls for changes to the team, I'm disinclined to do so right now. At the start of the year no-one could have seen this 2020 collapse coming (sic) but collapse it has. I won't pretend to know how so many key players have been so bad. And, for what it's worth, I don't think it was Dubai's training camp, a dressing room fall-out, a broken system or any other daft rumour. I believe it's just been the perfect storm of key player form, suspension and injury. Occam's razor, m'lud. If we consider Tav, Barisic, Jack, Davis, Kent and Morelos to be our key players (and they are) then none have shown any sort of good form this year. That's also more than half our team. I'd fancy if Foster, Julien, McGregor, Brown, Christie, Forrest and Edouard stopped doing the business for Celtic, they'd also struggle. Only twice have our six key players played in the same starting XI this year and it's no coincidence we won both matches (v Hibs and Braga). However, that's not an excuse and that's where criticism of the manager comes in for not being able to adapt: either in terms of ensuring we have the squad able to cope and/or changing the system to suit. Consequently, it's no surprise to see the manager's position being questioned as well. Criticism has been increasing - from his tactics to his (over)-reliance and protection of some players. How can younger lads like Katic be thrown under buses for costing goals whilst their supposed peers are excused for same? That puzzles fans and it's something the manager could do with explaining. As should his apparent inability to address his squad's keenness to prefer an underdog status at a club that has historically been the favourite. Ultimately, there are more questions than answers for this Rangers team. For every win over Celtic, there's a loss to Hearts. For every European tactical master plan there's a struggle to deal with even the most basic of Scottish football presses. It seems for every step forward, there's the inevitable step back. But, surely, even after the events of Wednesday night we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater? And we certainly cannot afford another change of management and other 15+ player rebuild in the summer. Yes, it seems a cheap and increasingly irrelevant claim right now but we have made progress. As a departure from the norm, I'm now going to post two possible teams for Sunday. OK, it's taking it to extremes a wee bit, but one will offer all the changes many fans seem desperate to see. The other will offer something that may seen even more silly and go against every emotion we felt leaving Glasgow the other night: in other words one or two enforced changes but effectively a defence for an XI that (all merited criticism aside) were actually a wee bit unlucky the other night and an XI we know are a good team capable of winning big games. When you see the two XIs together, you'll soon realise it's not really a choice and, as much as I'm still raging with several players, I still believe good players don't turn wholly bad overnight and our team's form will only return by playing our best players and supporting them through bad times. That may go against the current mood but I don't see many credible alternatives. Be gentle, please! Possible XI (a) Possible XI (b)
  3. At the back of seven last Wednesday evening, you'd be hard pressed to find an unhappy Rangers fan. Yes, a dreadful draw in Perth the previous weekend had basically ended any hopes we had for a 55th title but progress in Europe and the chance of winning the Scottish Cup meant confidence was renewed again. Our impressive victory in Braga meant the players had showed once again they had the quality required and the management team had fixed any systemic issues with the tactics. Fast forward 72 hours and all that was was undone with another defeat at Tynecastle. Not only had the players capitulated once more but the manner of the defeat was even more of a concern. We were tactically inept, physically weak, mentally fragile and simply outfought right across the pitch. Yes, on paper we may supposedly have more quality than Hearts but after several very difficult trips to Edinburgh, you'd think the players (and manager) would know by now the very least you can expect is a fight for every single blade of grass. Instead, not one of our players assumed responsibility for their own performance and the assurance we seen in Portugal was replaced by fear. Post-match things didn't improve with the manager less than clear about his future juxtaposed with fan frustration over his inflexibility with player choice and formation. Add to this the disciplinary issues over Alfredo Morelos, the positive events of last Wednesday seemed a life-time ago. At the time of writing, things have settled down somewhat. Tuesday morning's press conference has seen Gerrard commit his future to the club, Morelos has apparently shown 'remorse for letting down his team-mates and fans' and the supporters have reflected constructively on Saturday's defeat across forums. OK, we're not quite ready to charge the Alamo yet but I think most fans realise that despite recent poor form, progress has still been made this season and a change of manager along with a complete rebuild of the squad may not be the best option available to us. However, neither should that excuse further poor performance. At the very least, the fans need to see a genuine reaction from the players to recent events at Ibrox this midweek. It may be unlikely we'll witness us back to our best form immediately but 90mins of obvious graft, commitment and spirit will be the minimum we expect. Unfortunately, further injuries to Jack, Arfield, Helander and Polster may mean we don't see whole-scale changes to the team and the manager may give certain players one final chance to show the fact they do actually care about their Rangers futures but neither can Gerrard allow such a terrible display go without change - both with regard to personnel and formation, though the latter may not happen against Hamilton given the expected nature of the game. In defence, I don't expect many, if any alterations to recent matches. Allan McGregor might not be the worst offender of late in goal but he really needs to command his box a lot better. Too often, he's stuck to his line and not able to take the pressure off by taking crosses or sweeping up long balls. And screaming at officials doesn't show you care as much as actually ensuring the defenders in front of you know what they're doing. Nevertheless, the performance of the four in front of him hasn't been good enough with only the away game in Portugal an indicator of how good these players can actually be. If Matt Polster was fit, he would replace Tavernier and the skipper will still be very lucky if he keeps his position ahead of someone like Nathan Patterson. The captain has had a very poor season all things considered and simply must improve his contribution offensively and at the back. Patience has now run out. Meanwhile, Connor Goldson has very much been up and down this campaign and we can't keep using the excuse of differing central partners for his inconsistent form. Even so, it will be interesting to see if Gerrard changes this partner again tomorrow. As good as Edmundson was in Braga, he was the polar opposite in Edinburgh. Indeed, shortages in midfield may mean he's pushed forward, allowing a return for Niko Katic who has also been very poor of late. At left back Borna Barisic has reverted back to his ineffectual self of last season and will also struggle to retain his position. As a unit the defence must improve and not one player is immune from such criticism. In midfield, the loss of Jack and Arfield will result in changes within the engine room for the visit of Hamilton and again for the weekend. Steven Davis is another key player who has been nothing short of awful recently but, as with Tavernier, our lack of options may see the manager expect him to turnaround his form. Glen Kamara - another who has been very poor when selected - may find himself back in the team by default with a third player selected from Edmundson, Aribo, Hagi and Halliday. I would actually play Hagi in the deeper playmaker role and see if he can be the one to get us to play a bit quicker from further down the park. In attack, I'm expecting a three-pronged approach. For all his faults and recent issues, Alfredo Morelos remains our best player so it would be a big surprise if he didn't start. Kamberi is again available for selection, so after some decent showings, the Albanian international should start with Ryan Kent also played off the Colombian. Kent has shown glimpses of his talent but they're fee and far between for a £7m outlay. The likes of Jordan Jones, Greg Stewart, Sheyi Ojo and Brandon Barker might expect to grab a place in Kent's stead but, other than Stewart who can create in and around packed defences, Kent arguably remains our best option. All in all, the conundrum for the manager is fairly clear. His preferred XI haven't been performing but neither do we have players ready and capable of stepping up in case of poor form or injury. Yet, can the manager really afford not to make changes when the same players keep letting him and the fans down? And, as much as we can cast doubt on the ability of a Jones, Ojo or Barker, they've not had the same kind of extended run in the team that others have. Why were the signed if they're not to be played regularly when others aren't doing the business? Ultimately, I don't think the manager can let what has happened of late go. He has to change the team and he has to change how we line up. It might be difficult to make defensive changes but further forward we can and we must. That's the leadership required here and the players have to be made to understand if they don't play well - or least work hard - they will be replaced. Second best isn't good enough at Rangers and that's a lesson that now needs to be given at every opportunity. Possible Starting XI (4-3-3):
  4. In the absence of a proper preview, I'll point everyone in the direction of today's press conference thread on Twitter. After such a tough game physically the other night, I'd like the chance to make a few changes to the team but I think we need to play our strongest XI tomorrow and perhaps allow more players a rest next Wednesday at home v Hamilton. As such I'd go with an XI along the lines of below. I would rest Kent: he worked incredibly hard the other night and I don't think the tight Tynie pitch will do him any favours. In saying that, Hearts have been playing a very open game lately so it may depend on the manager's thinking in terms of finding space on the counter. Nevertheless, I'd replace him with Stewart who might work better in this game. Joe Aribo might also fancy his chances of making the starting XI as Ianis Hagi might be another who could start from the bench. Arfield has been in good form recently and we'll need him again tomorrow but with him, Jack and Davis all playing the full 90mins in Braga, one of the three may well drop out as well for Aribo or Kamara. Good news is that Morelos is available again (and has to start scoring again soon surely) whilst the manager has also said that Jermain Defoe might make the squad after his recent injury. Possible Starting XI (4-3-2-1):
  5. Sorry there was no match thread, could this be made the match thread?
  6. It’s fair to say 2020 hasn’t really been kind to Rangers so far. A combination of suspensions, injuries, poor form, bad refereeing and awful weather means performances and results haven’t been of the standard required since we return from the winter break. With that in mind, turning our attentions back to European football over the next week might be a welcome distraction for everyone connected to the club. Firstly, as has been the case for the bulk of our Europa League campaign, we’re not really expected to progress against Braga. That lower expectation decreases pressure on the players and may allow them to play with a bit more freedom than they have of late. Similarly, unlike most of the Scottish teams we’ve faced this year, Braga are much more likely to be positive themselves, meaning we get more room to play and actually get some of our attacking players into the game. There’s no coincidence that we’ve often looked more comfortable against European opposition. Games have tended to be more open and we usually do well on the counter. Conversely we also appear happier in a defensive sense with deeper midfield cover for our full-backs, meaning we’re not usually exposed to the counter ourselves like we can be when having to commit so many players forward in domestic matches. Unfortunately, injuries and suspensions means the manager may again be unable to choose his strongest team; certainly in the first leg. Ryan Jack was sent off against Young Boys so misses this match whilst Borna Barisic picked up a knock at Hamilton ten days ago and hasn’t featured since. In terms of replacements, as much as Joe Aribo has proved his worth in Europe, he doesn’t offer the same presence or leadership as Jack so the latter will be a huge miss tomorrow night. Similarly, whilst Andy Halliday rarely shirks any role he’s offered in the team, neither does he offer the same quality of Barisic at left back. Jon Flanagan isn’t in the squad so won’t be an option at wing back. Despite these missing players, the starting XI should still have a fairly recognisable look to it. Defensively we now have plenty experience with McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson and Katic having all played in earlier rounds. The same can be said for our likely midfield three of Arfield, Davis and Kamara who are all capable of not only winning the ball back effectively but are positionally sound and able to keep the ball when we have it too. Further forward we also have several options. Jermain Defoe will miss both these games and Jordan Jones is another who didn’t make the squad for this round. However, Ianis Hagi has impressed since joining from Genk on loan and Flo Kamberi also showed against Livi that he could be a useful alternative should he be required. Most importantly for Rangers though will be getting Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent back in form. The Colombian has been unlucky with some poor officiating ruling out two perfectly good goals in his last two games but hasn’t looked quite as sharp as he did in 2019. The same can be said for Kent who looks well short of confidence and hasn’t done anywhere near as much in a creative sense of late. However it would be a surprise if both didn’t start leaving one more attacking midfield role for either Hagi, Kamberi, Aribo, Greg Stewart, Sheyi Ojo or even the lessor spotted Brandon Barker whom the manager has turned to before in European games this season. Whatever the team chosen, it’s not an easy task at all against Braga. When the draw was made last year, we were certainly more confident than we are now. The Portuguese outfit have since shown better form than us this year though and, although well behind Benfica and Porto in the Primeira Liga, have won matches against both over the last month. With players such as Francisco Trincão (who will be moving to Barcelona in the summer for €35million) they have undoubted quality. Nevertheless, what some of our fans and, perhaps the players as well, have forgotten recently is we do too. As such, this represents a great opportunity for us to restore some of that belief and increase morale with what is effectively a free hit at progressing to the last 16 of the Europa League. With a few months still to go in that tournament, as well as the Scottish Cup and Ladbrokes Premiership, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers can still make a challenge in all three of these competitions and the Englishman should be keener than ever to make that clear to the players. As winter hopefully blows itself out here in Scotland soon, fingers crossed we can see some shoots of recovery in our season by the time we enjoy the warmth of Portugal next Wednesday. Possible team (4-3-2-1):
  7. There is no doubt it has been a frustrating few weeks, to say the least. A couple of defeats to Hearts and Kilmarnock, and more worryingly in my opinion, a series of pathetic performances have littered our fixture list. Any potential title challenge we had within our grasp has been wrenched from it -- perhaps irrevocably? As is right, the manager has been at the forefront of some robust criticism. There have been some over-the-top, knee-jerk reactions (such as, 'Gerrard should go!'), but there are valid questions to be asked. The main criticism is his reluctance to use the bench. We are well past the hour mark before he makes his first change, even when it is clear the game is not going the way it should well before. Gerrard is almost damned if he does, damned if he doesn't here, though -- Were we not complaining about constant changes to the first XI last season, and now we're complaining about him being too obstinate? It doesn't matter what he does, as long as the end result is the right one: there were a couple of glorious European performances that were based on not changing things. I'm not so sure we have the quality on the bench to change things. The only player I think that has been unlucky, with regards to minutes on the pitch, is Stewart. Stewart is not blessed with pace, but he is a clever, technical player capable of unlocking stubborn defences. He is also not shy to shoot from distance. He is a natural forward, than has that instinct to get into the box. I'm not so sure the players on the bench should be getting more game time. Polster has not done anything wrong, but he is a replacement for Tavernier, so won't play often, and shouldn't; Docherty doesn't quite suit the system, and is now on loan; Jones has been injured; Ojo has been disappointing; and Edmundson has Goldson, Helander and Katic ahead of him, so he's not going to play much. Add to that they are different types of players from the ideal first XI players. In the attacking positions, Gerrard wants players that can take the ball in tight situations, between the lines. Jones and Ojo are not able to do that. It is clear we need more attacking options off the bench, more suited to our system. I'm not so sure the criticism around our formation is valid either, or at least not entirely so. The 4-3-2-1 was working very well, and then since the break we've struggled to create chances and score goals. Gerrard is not even being obstinate here, for he has tried to change that with a recent shift to the 4-2-3-1, which adds another attacker to the mix. (I would question the make-up of the two sitting players: I don't think this role suits Arfield.) We are still struggling. For me, the problem is not personnel or system, but the lack of movement from the first XI. If we look at the blueprint Gerrard is trying to emulate, or take inspiration from, Klopp's Liverpool, we can see several instances of this lack of movement. Mane and Salah are constantly running into the channel, in-behind; our guys are standing there waiting for the ball. Liverpool also have Robertson and Alexander-Arnold running on the overlap too, or coming into the channel to make space for the wingers out wide; our Full-backs are quite static, waiting for the ball -- although Barisic is better than Tavernier in that respect. Even Henderson and Wijnaldum break forward; our Centre-midfielders seldom break forward. If you watch Robertson, Mane and Wijnaldum, the left side of their team, they are constantly rotating position. Robertson will lay it off to Mane out wide, and drive into the channel, and Wijnaldum will drop off to take Robertson's LB slot. Sometimes Mane will cut inside, while Wijnaldum will drive out wide, or into the channel to create space. Sometimes Robertson is out wide, with Mane coming back to cover Left-back. There is constant rotation. As well as creating space and moving players about, their positioning keeps passing options open. Our first XI is good, in my opinion, but we need to work on movement on and off the ball; rotations, making space for each other, third man runs, running in-behind to stretch the defenders, etc. I think it's an almost old-fashioned way of playing to say 'go out and express yourself' -- it is too vague and you need to be a good player for that, and we don't quite have that calibre of player. Our players need to be given more detailed instructions, like a Guardiola or Bielsa: if X has the ball, Y moves here, Z moves there, etc. To make that next step, I don't think wholesale changes are needed. Taking on Livingston on Saturday, we need to see better attacking movements. We could switch to a front two--which is an easy change to make--but, it means dropping Kent or Hagi for Kamberi, and going to a 4-4-2 (diamond)/4-1-2-1-2, with Hagi or Kent as a lone #10. However, if we continue with the same impotent attacking movements, nothing much will change. I would revert to the 4-3-2-1 that has stood us in good stead for a while. It is a more defensively stable formation, and packs in most creativity. I think Kent has been off form, so I would replace him with Stewart to play in one of the #10 roles. He has a natural instinct to get into the box, which can benefit us. I would also like to see Aribo play deeper, with a license to drive forward. He suits the deeper role: he is good at winning the ball back, has good close control, and can beat a man with his power and pace. (Kamara is better in a sitting role, because as with Jack and Davis, he can't really break the lines by beating a man.) I think we have the components of a good side. If we can show a little more courage, aggression and creativity in the final third we can get back on track. It is important to get back to winning ways, so any win will do: whether that is 1-0 or 5-4. If we can pump some confidence and energy back into our attacking players, we'll see a much improved side. Results will follow.
  8. Looks like the wind might ease off in time for tonight's trip to Rugby Park. As always a very tricky game awaits so will be interesting to see if the manager tinkers with his team. Although I think Edmundson will retain his position, Katic might return alongside Jack and I think Barisic will make it too with Kamara dropping out. You have to think Davis will start as well so, despite his important second goal on Saturday, Aribo may join Kamara on the bench. Midfield balance key with Dicker and Power always a strong partnership for Killie. Vital we play our own game though and avoid a physical contest. Possible starting XI:
  9. Hamilton Academical host Rangers in the 5th round of the Scottish Cup today. Kick-off is set at 12.31 GMT to raise awareness of mental health issues in sport. Steven Gerrard wants Rangers to build on an "extremely positive" second-half show against Hibernian as they try to reach the Scottish Cup quarter-finals. A late Ianis Hagi goal sealed a comeback win on Wednesday to keep Rangers seven points behind Celtic. And the Ibrox boss wants a similar approach in their last-16 cup tie at Hamilton Academical on Saturday. "I'll be looking for the same standards, people being really tuned in to get the right result," said Gerrard. "This is a club that demands that you give everything in every competition, you can't pick and choose. "We'll be going to Hamilton in decent shape, certainly on the back of the second-half performance against Hibs, which was extremely positive and very close to where we've been for most of the season. Hopefully we can take off from there." Having fallen behind, Rangers drew level with Hibs in first-half stoppage time and went on to dominate the rest of the match, pinning the visitors back for long stretches. "It was a really strong 45 minutes," said Gerrard. "Collectively, everyone was at it. Both in and out of possession, the intensity levels were exactly where I want them. "We had 15 corners and I think it was the second most crosses we've put in in a game. We could have scored another two or three goals, but for their keeper and players not taking chances at the time." Midfielder Ryan Jack remains sidelined but on-loan Florian Kamberi is available after sitting out against parent club Hibs, with Gerrard saying there "won't be wholesale changes" for the cup tie. Rangers have won on their last nine visits to Accies but Gerrard remains wary of a side who drew at St Mirren on Wednesday after staying level with Celtic for 77 minutes despite a first-half red card for Jamie Hamilton last weekend. "Every environment is different," he said. "They are very effective on their pitch. They've got a good coach and they have players who can hurt you if you don't defend properly. "Every time we've gone there, they've tried to stay in the game for as long as they can. We've had to finish them off late on." https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/51412598
  10. A week is a long time in football so a lot has happened since my last match preview last month ahead of the Stranraer game. In that preview I was extremely complimentary of the players given our strong league position tucked in behind Celtic with a game in hand. I discussed our points tally improvement as well as progress made in terms of goals scored and conceded. Importantly I also discussed the character of the team with what seemed an improved belief in the squad when it came to adversity. Winning at Parkhead at the end of 2019 was clearly evidence of that after disappointment at Hampden. Unfortunately, since then we've went backwards in frustrating style: losing to Hearts and drawing at home to Aberdeen, meaning we've dropped five points in six days, falling behind Celtic again and minimising any supposed title challenge in short order. The manager has since spoken of 'missing a spark' and he's right. Suffice to say we've not played well in any of our five games in the new year and although we won our first three, unconvincing and functional were as good any 'praise' got. As such, it wasn't a huge surprise that we struggled against Hearts and Aberdeen: two physical outfits that usually cause us problems. The reasons for this loss of form are less easy to put a finger on. Yes, we've been without a combination of key players since the winter break: Morelos was suspended for three matches, Tavernier has been injured for all five and Ryan Jack has missed the better part of two games. Arguments can be made for the likes of Goldson, Davis and Barisic but, in my opinion, the three that have been unavailable are our three best players and any team would miss such. Even worse is that those you'd expect to step up such as Davis, Arfield and Kent haven't played well recently either whilst no-one else in the team (aside from perhaps McGregor and Goldson) have found the level of form they had towards the end of last year. All things considered, when you're not sure of an answer, the simplest solution is best so any lack of quality is demonstrably down to the loss of key players: either via their unavailability or just a loss of their form generally. Yet other worries also persist. Our preferred 4-3-2-1 system has worked well for the last nine months or so. Within this setup our football is good to watch and usually played at a high tempo with various players capable of creating or score goals; especially with the focal point of Morelos. However, when the tempo is missing and when teams pack their defensive areas, we can struggle and that has been fairly obvious in recent weeks. Yes, aside from the Hearts game, we've still dominated most of the matches (and should do so at Ibrox in any case) but we have failed to reliably breach defensive setups when faced by them. Opposition sides haven't necessarily parked the bus per se but they're working very hard across medium blocks and in half-spaces to stifle our creative outlets. Davis becomes anonymous, Kent can't find space, Kamara continually turns back, Defoe isn't physical enough and our full-backs are closed down very quickly too. Indeed, it's often left to the centre halves to make the play and you'll even find any opposition attacker trying to limit Goldson's use of the ball. Quite simply teams aren't giving us the oxygen to breath and we don't have the imagination to combat this. So much so that, for the first time in a fairly long period of time, we changed system at least twice in our most recent match against Aberdeen. First of all, Sheyi Ojo was brought on to play more as an orthodox winger as opposed to one of the 'double tens' we usually deploy. That didn't work so we even tried a 3-5-2 later in the game with two men up front and new signing Ianis Hagi trying to play vertically from deeper positions; again without success as Aberdeen sat deeper and deeper towards the final whistle. This shows finding the missing spark isn't necessarily as simple as changing the formation, though it can be argued without being more flexible across more games, subtle changes won't work when used 'off the cuff' or when under pressure. And that last word is proving interesting as well. I mentioned character above and, as much as it's difficult to suggest this team lacks it (see our December results), in certain positions we do seem to lack belief. Not necessarily when reacting to tricky situations but when put under pressure ourselves. For example, we've done very well in Europe this season with little expectation at the start of the group stage. However, as soon as we were expected to qualify, our form wasn't quite as good. Similarly, when behind Celtic in the league, we seem to tick along fairly well but as soon as we become de facto favourites, we look lost. We couldn't beat a ten man Celtic side in the League Cup Final and twice this season we lost league title initiative almost as quickly as we grabbed it. That should interest Steven Gerrard and any sports psychologist. A final valid point, and I don't need to wear tin foil whilst making it thanks to Rick Roberts' fine polemic on the site yesterday, is the effect of the officials. A common sight this season has been opposition teams attempting to disrupt games right from the first whistle. Not only do we see a large number of niggly, cynical fouls made throughout games but time wasted as well. Bizarrely, officials don't seem keen to clamp down on either of these so we find a general lack of rhythm to our matches, decreasing our tempo, increasing player knocks and generally stopping us playing our usual game. OK, it's hardly a scientific answer but it is a factor nonetheless and one the manager and players can't really account for - or even change. All the above should represent food for thought for Gerrard when attempting to find our spark. There's no doubt in my mind losing our three best players has affected us most of all and contributed more than anything else to our loss of momentum. Having James Tavernier back for the visit of Hibs will help and getting Alfredo Morelos' mind back on the job will be key to any aspirations of success we have. Yes, Ryan Jack remains injured but good sides should be able to cope with that so Gerrard and his coaching team will be eager to prove that on Wednesday night. After all player form is partially their responsibility with team selection, the system(s) used and how we deal with gamesmanship all part of how players will perform. With all that in mind, I'm hoping for a proper reaction at Ibrox tomorrow and I suspect we'll see some changes to reflect that. Tav should return to the starting XI and I think the likes of Katic and Kamara would benefit from a rest too. Kamberi will miss the next two games of course but having Hagi and Stewart available should help creatively if Hibs fancy playing for a point. Meanwhile, the combination of Aribo, Arfield and Hagi allows for flexibility in attack with all three capable of drifting wide and supporting the attack or making passes from deeper positions if required. We certainly have plenty of options so finding a spark needn't be as complicated as at first glance. If only football was as simple as that... Possible team (4-3-2-1):
  11. The late Jock Wallace is often characterised as the archetypal old school manager; gruff, authoritarian, intimidating, bellowing orders and ruling through fear. Some of that might be true, but it’s also true of many football managers of that era. What’s so often overlooked about Wallace was his subtle use of psychology. Wallace was faced with a daunting task when he assumed the mantel of Rangers manager. Not only was he in direct competition with Jock Stein, a manager of incredible ability, but also a Celtic side containing hugely talented and experienced players who knew how to win the league. Wallace’s first season in charge saw Rangers finish 5 points behind the champions and one point behind second place Hibs. Wallace knew that Rangers had good players, we’d won the Cup Winners Cup only a couple of years before, and any squad that contained Greig, Jardine, McLean, MacDonald and Johnstone was as good as any in the league. Wallace understood that what was missing was belief and a mental toughness. Wallace needed something that made his players believe they were unbeatable, something that gave them a psychological edge over their opposition. Wallace found the answer on a beach overlooking the Firth of Forth close to where he was raised. Murder Hill, as it came to be known, is simply a long, steep sand dune. Wallace knew about it from his childhood, local sports clubs, including Hearts, had trained on the Gullane sands for years before Wallace took his Rangers side there. But most of the Rangers players didn’t know about it. The squad were made to run up and down it, sometimes carrying medicine balls, sometimes teammates. The mix of the coastal wind and the sand made the players thirsty, the sand would get everywhere making them uncomfortable and the gruelling nature of the training exhausted this band of fit young men, as all pre-season training does. Wallace was able to convince his players that this pre-season work had made them fitter than they had ever been before. He convinced them they were now the fittest team in the league, that no other side could live with their strength. His final masterstroke was telling the press about it. Not only did the Rangers players believe it but so did the support and, importantly, the opposition too. We welcome, if that’s the right word, Aberdeen to Ibrox this Saturday. Unusually for a match between the clubs it takes place at 3pm on a Saturday. Aberdeen arrive in poor form with only one win in their last four, a scrappy 1-0 over Dumbarton in the cup. Their support are restless, the turgid, pragmatic football Derek McInnes sets his side up to play can be tolerated when it brings victories but finds you friendless when it doesn’t. It’s almost surreal to think 24 months ago we were still smarting from being unable to prise him from Aberdeen’s grasp. As Ross Bennett on the Gersnet Podcast quipped it’s the greatest bullet dodge since The Matrix. I expect Aberdeen to bring a defensive mindset, giving us the ball until the final third, then filling it with bodies and closing the space. They’ll aim to frustrate our players and perhaps our support. Prepare for a physical match, lots of niggles, off the ball stuff and gamesmanship. We enter the match still missing our captain and first choice right back and our most influential midfielder in Jack along with Helander and Defoe. At the time of writing we look to be signing Hagi and possibly one or two others. I wouldn’t expect any of them to start though our bench might contain some new faces. Polster should retain his place, personally I think anyone looks good when compared to Flanagan, but in the case of Polster he does seem to bring something to the team. Aberdeen will be a test of his attacking ability, he’ll spend most of the match in their half, so his passing and crossing will be vital. I expect Arfield will also retain his place in midfield, along with Davis and Kamara. Whether Ojo has done enough to keep a starting spot is harder to guess, I suspect not and think Aribo with start along with Kent. Defoe’s absence is lessened by the return of Morelos. Morelos will be targeted by the Aberdeen players and probably their support. A support who think nothing of singing about the 66 football supporters who tragically died whilst at the site of that disaster are almost beyond redemption. I suspect Ian Durrant will get a mention too. Morelos has more reason than most to be fearful of opposition supporters. Already this week police are investigating an incident with his car and intruder close to his home and a man called Sean Baillie appeared in court charged in relation with throwing a cup of scalding liquid at Morelos during a recent Motherwell match. Morelos has to face this whilst living thousands of miles from home and with his wife expecting their first child. Gerrard has played down the incidents and their affect on Morelos, as is Gerrard’s style, but I’m not sure if I believe him. The hatred Morelos faces has long ago crossed the line from supporter rivalry and into something altogether more sinister. The man in court this week is 30 years old, he’s not some daft teenager. For me this is the culmination of years of public demonisation of Rangers. The neanderthal narrative some love to peddle stops being banter and turns into something much darker when it fuels the kind of incidents we’re seeing now. That we face Aberdeen this weekend, one of the more enthusiastic participants in the denigration of our club and our support, is fitting. That they went to the bother of creating a banner, in Spanish, aimed squarely at Morelos tells you all you need to know about the mindset of some of their support. This act by their support was ignored by the SPFL and the police, but hey, it’s only the funny wee foreign lad after all. It’s been open season on the league’s top scorer for a while now, players, managers, referees, supporters and the media have all been complicit in this. As for the match itself we should win comfortably. But then we should have won our last encounter with Aberdeen comfortably too. Throwing away a 2 goal league was very disappointing, particularly after having dominated the match. We were mentally weak that night, unable to match Aberdeen’s rise in tempo and direct style. That weakness was evident again last weekend at Tynecastle. This will be our third league match in 7 days, surely we’re now over any rustiness that set in after the winter break. The clever thing about Murder Hill of course is that you don’t actually get any fitter running up and down sand dunes than you would running on a treadmill or round a track; you just think you do. Wallace understood this, he knew the dunes helped the side’s mental strength far more than its collective stamina. Gerrard needs to find his Murder Hill, the thing that galvanises the squad and makes them fully believe they are unbeatable. Saturday would be the perfect day discover it.
  12. Big game today. We've already dropped points at Tynecastle this season and can't afford to do it again. This time, we're missing our main threat and our captain and I suspect Hearts, who have just added a striker, will be very competitive. We need Aribo and Kent to play well and to make sure we're switched on at all times. Step up and play Rangers!
  13. Since no-one is in the preview list ... The Scottish Premiership Ibrox Stadium Rangers FC vs St. Mirren FC Referee - Nick Walsh Assistants - Alan Mulvanny and Graeme Leslie Fourth Official - Steven Kirkland Missing - Filip Helander (foot), Alfredo Morelos (suspended), James Tavernier (infection), Greg Stewart (calf), Glenn Middleton (foot) LIVE on RTV, KO 7.45
  14. It's only been a few weeks since Rangers got the better of Celtic but, as the winter break finally comes to a close with a return to action in the Cup against Stranraer, that victory in the East End of Glasgow already seems a long time ago. Yet, there's a sense of familiarity with the position we're in - especially compared to this time last year. Going back to January 2019, we were getting ready for a Cup tie away to Cowdenbeath, still basking in the glow of a home win at Ibrox against Celtic and excited by the fact we were tied with our greatest rivals at the top of the table. That positive feeling didn't last long: the Cup game was postponed and a clearly sluggish Rangers team went down to a defeat in our first match of the new year to Kilmarnock. Joe Worrall was the scapegoat as we lost the game despite taking an early lead but it was fairly obvious the whole team lacked that extra bit of belief, the winners' mentality any successful side requires to win trophies. Any league title challenge was gone without really starting and it was back to square one in terms of offering any sort of competition to Celtic. Fast forward 12 months, the top of the league table is eerily similar so at first glance, you'd be excused for thinking we hadn't made progress since last season. However, you'd be wrong. This time Celtic have played a game more, thus, if we win our game in hand, we'll actually be top of the league on our own. Moreover, although Celtic's points tally has increased, we've also won more games, drew less games and lost only once this campaign. Most importantly though is the way we've found that improvement: whilst no Rangers supporter can say we've been excellent throughout the league campaign, there has been an obvious advancement in the way we're able to achieve three points. Indeed, from the very first game - ironically away to Kilmarnock - the character in the side is a lot clearer. There now appears to be a belief in this Rangers team that they can win any game and, crucially, even when suffering from setbacks. Of course goals win games and skill on the ball excites fans more than anything else. But, if you don't have mental strength, then you can forget any sort of winners' medal. With that in mind, Rangers' efforts through this season and in December in particular, were very impressive. To come back from the disappointment of an avoidable draw in Aberdeen as well as a League Cup Final defeat and win every domestic game since has demonstrated a strength of will that I wasn't sure this Rangers team had: in fact, there was a small part of me that thought this crucial element of desire may have gone from the club itself. Thankfully, I've been proven wrong in little over four games with tricky away wins at Motherwell and Hibs as well as hard fought victories against Killie and Celtic. Quite simply we wouldn't have done that last December so this new found confidence of the players and coaching team should be appreciated by the fans. We wanted progress. We've got it. However, the real challenge is just about to begin. OK, it might not come tonight at Ibrox against Stranraer and tougher tests are on the way but don't prepare correctly for this match and the same slackness will affect us in the league. Accordingly, whilst many fans are quite reasonably expecting in effect a reserve XI, I'd prefer as strong a team as possible - even if it means some accepted first choice players come on from the bench. Yes, we've come a long way in terms of general squad quality since we drew with the Wigtownshire Blues in 2013 but, with one eye on next week's match against St Mirren, we need all of our players back as sharp as possible as quickly as possible. Given we'll also be without captain James Tavernier and top-scorer Alfredo Moreos for at least the next three games, then we need the rest of our best XI to find the top of their game in advance of resuming our league campaign. Consequently, tonight's team/squad pretty much picks itself again for me with only Tav's replacement the real source of debate. Does the manager go for experience with Matt Polster (apparently free to leave on loan but reluctant to do so) or Jon Flanagan (rarely a let down on the left side but, even of his preferred right flank, hardly an attacking option like his skipper) or will 18 year old Nathan Patterson be offered the chance given he does like to get forward. Personally I suspect the latter tonight with one of the first two in future games. In attack Jermain Defoe will again deputise for the suspended Alfredo Morelos. In the face of some disgraceful reporting in the media of the Colombian, Rangers supporters are quite right defending their talisman but his preventable loss of discipline in his last two away games has represented his manager with a problem. Fortunately, even from when Defoe joined Rangers this time last year, the veteran Englishman has rarely let us down in terms of goal supply so the onus will be on him for the next three games and, most probably later again in the season. One wonders if the manager may be tempted into signing another striker for back-up purposes? In terms of the rest of the side, cases can be made for various fringe players to come into the team. Going by yesterday's press conference, George Edmundson will be starting instead of Connor Goldson and Wes Foderingham will likely displace Allan McGregor as well. Others such as Steven Davis or Ryan Kent may be utilised from the bench as opposed to starting but I'd like to see both given a good run out as they will be the creative players tasked with unlocking a stubborn St Mirren defence next midweek. Yes, we need minutes in the legs of fringe players but after a three week break, the same can be said for the whole squad. Finding that balance may not affect tonight's outcome but it will across the rest of the month. In view of this, we may see some some of hybrid starting XI tonight: in effect a combination of fringe players needing game-time and first-teamers requiring a staged return to full sharpness without risking fitness longevity. Ergo, a team along the following lines seems likely: Possible starting XI (4-3-3): Foderingham Patterson | Edmundson | Katic | Barisic Arfield | Jack | Aribo Ojo | Defoe | Jones From the bench, I'd expect Steven Davis, Glen Kamara and Ryan Kent to feature later in the game whilst players like Goldson, Halliday and Barker will also fancy same minutes alongside the youngsters who've recently trained with their first team in Dubai. All things considered, I'm perhaps being overly cautious when it comes to worrying about the fitness (or at least the sharpness) of players. Other teams will have the same concern but, for me, it's all about learning from past lessons. In that regard, I do think we were unfortunate last January with the postponement of the Cowdenbeath Cup tie and I did think it cost us to some degree in our first match back at Rugby Park. As such, I'm really keen for us to use tonight's match not as a training game or as some sort of friendly but give it the competitive respect it deserves. That's not to say we can't involve fringe players or promote younger talent but that we do ensure the bulk of our usual first XI - those who will be tasked with delivering the league title above all else - are ready to resume that challenge in perfect condition next Wednesday. We won a fantastic battle on the 29th of December, let's not lose the war this time.
  15. Rangers travel to Celtic in the Old Firm derby on Sunday looking for a first Parkhead win since 2010. Sky Sports News reporter Charles Paterson analyses who will strike a winter blow in the title race. New Year is always a special time in Scottish football. It is a chance to pause for reflection and look forward to a well-earned break - but not before a catch-up with the neighbours. On Monday the Scottish Premiership heads into cold storage for three weeks. Celtic and Rangers are bound for warm weather training camps in Dubai but before then they meet one last time in 2019 at Celtic Park on Sunday, with the hosts looking to open an eight-point lead at the top and land a massive psychological blow in the title race. It is not just a new year on the horizon - Rangers supporters will gladly wave goodbye to the decade ending next Tuesday. The club's financial meltdown nearly seven years ago led to years in the wilderness and, as they floundered in the lower divisions, Celtic racked up the silverware. In this decade Rangers have won just once at Celtic Park - in October 2010, when Kenny Miller scored twice in a 3-1 victory. That season Walter Smith's side went on to win the league championship on the final day; Rangers have not won a major trophy since. Their best chance to end that barren run was just a few weeks ago at Hampden Park, but despite dominating the League Cup final Rangers could not find a goal and 10-man Celtic took home the glory. It was a thoroughly dispiriting day for the men in blue, in particular Alfredo Morelos, who passed up numerous chances, including missing a penalty. Fraser Forster was outstanding in goal for Celtic but the Colombian's profligacy was extraordinarily uncharacteristic. Morelos has been sensational for Rangers since his arrival two-and-a-half years ago. With 28 goals in just 34 games this term he is already on the verge of surpassing last season's total of 30. It is a massive return on the minimal outlay to bring him from Finland in 2017, yet in 10 games against Celtic across three seasons he has never scored. Morelos is in the form of his life. There is an argument - which Steven Gerrard dismissed last season, but which is rearing its head once more - that Rangers are overly reliant on him. Jermain Defoe has scored 11 league goals this season but the pair rarely play together; the next highest scorer in the squad is Joe Aribo, with six. Rangers have lost just one domestic game under Gerrard when Morelos has scored - against Kilmarnock on the final day of last season. Sunday represents his latest opportunity to break his Old Firm duck; if he doesn't, his side's chance of victory significantly diminishes. If he does, Rangers may finally lay to rest their Celtic Park hoodoo. This season the home of the champions has been an ominous venue for any visiting side. Celtic's record in their own stadium is outstanding - only one defeat, in a Champions League qualifier to Cluj with a last-minute winner - with 18 victories in all competitions, scoring 59 goals and conceding just 12, four of those to Cluj. "Relentless" is a word Neil Lennon has repeatedly used to describe Celtic's drive for results. Eleven successive league wins since mid-October display an unmatched hunger and steely mentality during a punishing fixture list. Perhaps the most impressive achievement has been to top their Europa League group but their domestic dominance remains absolute. As talismanic as Morelos is for Rangers, so too is Odsonne Edouard for Celtic. His presence as an attacking focal point was sorely missed in the first hour of the League Cup final; once on the pitch, Celtic got a grip on the game as Rangers' threat diminished. Unlike Morelos, Edouard has consistently delivered in the heat of Old Firm battle, scoring five times in the fixture including the opening goal at Ibrox in September. The Frenchman is not a pure goalscorer like the Colombian but offers something Morelos does not: the ability to influence the players around him. When he is on song, James Forrest, Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor thrive around Edouard's link-up play; Celtic's Scottish triumvirate have scored 35 goals between them this season. The striker who prospers on Sunday may well decide the game but Celtic, five points clear, begin the afternoon with the stronger hand. Rangers dare not let the gap stretch any further despite their game in lieu, but the psychological advantage to be gained from a victory before the league pauses is not necessarily clear-cut. A year ago Rangers won this fixture at Ibrox to send the teams into the winter break level on points. They then lost at Kilmarnock upon the league's resumption and drew at home to St Johnstone a few weeks later, while Celtic won eight successive league games to create an insurmountable cushion. Rangers have proven in 2019 they are closer to Celtic, and at times capable of outplaying them, but their only Old Firm win this year came in a largely meaningless match in May. Once again it is Gerrard's team who have the bigger questions to answer on Sunday. Celtic, time and again, have proved to possess a mentality for the big occasion. As they chase nine-in-a-row and a possible quadruple-treble, Lennon will be sure to prime his squad for one last push before the bells toll for 2020. It promises to be a fascinating encounter. Team News Jonny Hayes returns to the Celtic squad for the Premiership clash with Rangers at Parkhead on Sunday. The left-back has recovered from a shoulder injury and is back in contention. Boss Neil Lennon has no fresh injury worries after the 2-1 Boxing Day win over St Mirren, with Mohamed Elyounoussi (foot), Hatem Abd Elhamed (abductor) and Jozo Simunovic (knee) still out alongside Daniel Arzani (knee). Rangers will be at almost full strength for Sunday's Old Firm clash at Celtic Park. Midfielder Steven Davis made his return from a foot injury against Kilmarnock as a late substitute while Jordan Jones was back on the bench after recovering from the knee injury he sustained against Celtic back in September. Only defender Filip Helander (foot) remains out for Steven Gerrard's team. https://www.skysports.com/football/celtic-vs-rangers/411340
  16. Rangers vs Kilmarnock Scotland – Premiership Date: Thursday, 26 December 2019 Kick-off at 15:00 Venue: Ibrox Stadium. Steven Gerrard’s side have the chance to close the gap on Premiership leaders Celtic when they take on an out-of-sorts and manager-less Kilmarnock. Rangers vs Kilmarnock: Head-to-head Overall Stats (85 games): Rangers 60 wins, Kilmarnock 10 wins, 15 Draws. Rangers have won 33 of their 44 home games vs Killie. Four of the last six head-to-head duels had over 2.5 goals. Both teams have scored in four of their last 6 encounters. The reverse fixture between these two sides in August finished 2-1 to Gers. Helander misses out with a foot injury. Davis returns from injury and Jones may have a spot on the bench. Morelos is available again after suspension.
  17. It's safe to assume Separate Entity FC will beat the sheep and St Mirren over the course of the next eight days, so a win against Hibs on Friday night is essential. Morelos being unavailable makes it a harder task and Gerrard is yet to win at Easter Road. Kent, Arfield and Aribo need to get into the box and support Defoe, which is something they haven't done enough of.
  18. Ever been kicked in the balls? That’s what Young Boys injury time winner in Bern felt like. Only the pain from a boot in the chuckies would have disappeared a lot quicker than the gut wrenching, pit of the stomach feeling that I, and other bears had following Fassnacht’s 93rd minute winner. However this isn’t a time for “what ifs” and we don’t know how we would have got on in future games had we not lost the late goal, so there’s no reason to worry about it now. This is the last game of the group stage and all 4 teams in the group could still qualify for the Round of 32. The various scenarios are: 1. We win – we win the group, and I believe it would be the first ever European group in Europe that we’ve topped, which would be a fantastic achievement, particularly as we were bottom seeds. 2. We draw – we qualify for the next round. If Porto beat Feyenoord then we’re second in the group, but any other result means we’re top. 3. We lose – we qualify for the next round if Porto fail to beat Feyenoord, but if Porto win then we’re out. Tactically, Young Boys will likely line up in their normal narrow 4-4-2, with their full backs Janko and Garcia providing the width and a diamond shape in the midfield. Nsame and Assale continue to provide the threat up front with Fassnacht also offering a goal scoring menace from midfield, with all 3 of them having scored twice in the group stages. Due to the diamond shape, Young Boys tend to play the ball forward rather than to the sides. If we can push back their full backs, perhaps by overloading the wings with our own full back and wide player then we may stifle some of their play. They need a win as a draw may not be good enough so they will likely be adopting an attacking approach to the game. Young Boys appear to have some defensive issues. In their previous 4 games before their 1-0 win at the weekend, they’d lost 3 goals in each of their 3 domestic games and 2 goals at home to Porto. They do however remain top of the Swiss Super League by a point. It looks like Davis may still be missing and Helander may be a doubt. Katic would step in for Helander and is a more than adequate replacement. I think that he will stick with the same midfield as Sunday with realistically only the right-sided attacker place being up for grabs. Will he stick with Aribo or go for Ojo’s pace, or perhaps even reinstate Barker? I think that he may surprise us and pick Ojo to try and limit Garcia’s attacking threat. Their centre-half, Sorensen, struggled against Morelos in the first game, so hopefully we will create a lot of chances from wide areas with the full backs overlapping, with our midfielders providing cover, and our wide players cutting in and pulling their full backs out of position. We have the set-up to cause them some tactical problems. Let’s do it, Rangers! You owe us after Sunday and this would be a huge pick-me-up for the club. I value my crown jewels too much for us to get anything other than at least a draw, to allow us to still be in Europe after Christmas, a scenario that would have seemed impossible 18 months ago.
  19. It has been a strange week. The disappointment of last Sunday's Cup Final still lingers, and then the last minute equaliser against Young Boys was gutting, but we did still qualify for the last 32 of the Europa League -- a magnificent achievement. And yet, I suspect we're all a tad deflated. That is two games, big games, where by all accounts Rangers played wonderfully; dominating the ball for long spells with an aggressive , stifling tempo and peppering the opposition goals with shots, but ultimately unable to take the chances that our performances deserved. The matches come thick and fast this month, and next up in the League, Rangers travel to Fir Park to face Motherwell on Sunday. Since the last meeting between the sides, Motherwell have been on a solid run of form. In their last seven matches, they have won 5, losing two (against Celtic and a surprise away defeat to Hibernian), and in that run, they have scored 13 goals. They have kept three clean-sheets in their last three games. This form has seen them jump over Aberdeen to claim the third spot in the League. The last meeting between the sides was far from easy, despite Rangers claiming the 2-1 win at Ibrox. A unusual front-three of Barker, Defoe and Stewart started the game for Rangers but they struggled to find the breakthrough against a resolute Motherwell team despite being quite lively. An early goal for Motherwell was just what we didn't need, but Defoe equalised in added time at the end of the first half. It took a late Helander header to claim the points. Despite doing well in recent visits, it is never a quiet day at the office at Motherwell. Of the last five league fixtures at Fir Park between the pair, Rangers have won three, with two high-scoring draws making up the other results. In the game at Ibrox, Motherwell employed a 3-5-1-1 formation. They were compact both horizontally and vertically, looking to counter -- a tried and tested way to play against us. They let Rangers have the ball, and went direct as often as possible. The out-ball was to their #9, Long, who waited for the overlap from the wing-back. The other forward player would get himself into the box to receive the cross from the wing-back, or the ball would be cut-back to their #9. Their goal come from a long ball from the 'keeper to the wing-back, who knocked it on for the two roaming front players. In their other games , Motherwell have employed a 4-3-3, sacrificing a defender for another attacking player. Against Celtic they employed the 3-5-1-1/3-5-2 as they did against us, to it is likely they will revert to that on Sunday. Their key men in this set-up are the tall, pacey wing-backs, Jake Carroll and Bevis Mugabi, and their #9, Chris Long. Long is not much of a goalscorer, but he is a good target-man and has developed a good partnership with Devante Cole, who is usually deployed in a supporting role around him. Motherwell remain without David Turnbull -- the central-midfielder was subject to a bid from Celtic in the summer --, and full-backs Christian Ilic and Charles Dunne. Their centre-back Declan Gallagher is one booking away from an automatic suspension. Filip Helander and Steven Davis both missed the Europa League match on Thursday through injury. Helander looks to be out for another game or two with a foot injury, but Davis is pushing to return against Motherwell. Jordan Jones is also still out. With Helander out, we could see Katic retain his place after being reinstated midweek. Katic will be more than capable of dealing with the physical threat of Long, but I wonder if he can deal with the pace? Could Edmundson perhaps come in? Katic is more likely. Dealing with Motherwell's counter-attacking pace, snuffing it out before it begins, may well be the role of the midfield, which should be Jack, Davis and Kamara. Davis may not last the full 90 minutes, but his creativity and metronomic ability to dictate the tempo will be crucial. Morelos and Kent seem certain to take two of the three forward spots. Alongside them, Gerrard may opt for the pace of Ojo or the guile of Stewart for this one. Aribo was magnificent against Young Boys, but he was dead on his feet towards the end; a rest is well-deserved. I'm a big fan of Stewart, so I'll opt for his inclusion. Our performances have been phenomenal for the most part over the last week, but we are lacking a cutting edge. They were both big games, with an even match-up; both teams going for the win. Sunday's game against Motherwell will be different; they will be looking to defend deep, but aggressively, and counter with their big target man and pacey wing-backs. Rangers will need to be patient, but we have the quality to continue our good League form. I think I'd settle for a poor, but clinical performance for this one!
  20. The Light at the end of the Tunnel. The current situation reference Rangers is nothing new to those of us passing three score years. The almost five year period between April'66 and October'70 felt like unrelenting darkness. It was impenetrable, the Scottish Cup final replay victory over Celtic was a dazzling brightness; however, by Autumn'70 it had faded. Of course, we knew where we had come from, locating the way ahead was the real problem. Rangers had made a ECWC final and a Scottish Cup final too, in the intervening years, and failed to secure both cups. Further, we had endured a couple of Championship campaigns where we managed to secure defeat from the jaws of victory on the last days of the seasons. Flicking the switch appeared useless too, three differing Managers and a repeating temporary Boss did not raise a glimmer. Season '69/70 had seen Wullie Waddell pontificating on Scottish football from the lofty designation as the Scottish Daily Express's Chief Football Writer. He could talk with considerable authority, done it all as a Rangers player and managed Killie to a Championship victory five years previous. The immediate aftermath of our defeat to Polish wizards, Gornik had seen Waddell condemn the then gaffer, Davie Whyte with a piece entitled, 'the Boy David'. The Board sacked Whyte and appointed Waddell in his place. He cleared out the dead wood and introduced a host of youngsters into the team. The likes of Alfie Conn, Alex Miller, Colin Jackson, Graham Fyfe, and Derek Parlane were elevated, and he decided a most effective, free scoring inside forward, William Jardin was a better right back. Pre-season '70/'71, Waddell's final piece of the jigsaw arrived. The former player/Boss of Berwick Rangers and then Hearts Trainer, Jock Wallace took over at the Albion. The beginning of the campaign was at best described as inconsistent. We lost two out three pre-season friendlies, the other a draw. We qualified in top position from our League Cup group, involving Motherwell, Dunfermline, and Morton. The quarter-final was two legged against Hibs, winning both games 3-1 for a 6-2 aggregate. Meanwhile, our League form was poor, losing 0-2 at home to Celtic and by mid-Autumn, we languished fifth in the table behind Celtic, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, and Motherwell. The perceived wisdom cited Jock Wallace taking Rangers to Gullane sands. We had left all our energy on the East Lothian coast. We defeated Cowdenbeath in the semi-final, both goals notched by Johnston and Stein in the second half. The final was due, ten days later; we had a league fixture in between, at Ibrox against Aberdeen. A hopeful 40,000 watched a well drilled Dons outfit manage the game from minute one until the ninetieth. A Colin Jackson own goal follow followed by classy finish from the biggest blue-nose on the field, Joey Harper settled a deserved 0-2 triumph. The murmurs leaving the Stadium focused on the inconsistency of so many youngsters, and the pre-match news of returning to Gullane sands for three days before the final. The build up to Hampden was dispiriting for Bears,the Daily Record ran a two day series of interviews with the remaining 16 clubs Skippers in the then, Division One. All but three predicted a comfortable green'n'grey victory. Gullane sands became the subject of relentless jokes ie we endured the twice daily sessions on the sands, then played a team of dustbins. The game finished a 0-0 draw, noting the bins had been denied a clear penalty. A final casualty of the coast was Captain, John Greig going down with the flu. I suspect the conclusion to the Gullane sessions(revealed after the final by Sandy Jardine) might have been the cause? The 24th of October arrived and 108,000 squeezed into the old ground. Our supporters bus had been alive with the news that Greig had failed a fitness test the previous day. Speculation on his replacement split the ranks, we needed the craft of veteran campaigner, Andy Penman as opposed the legs of youngster, Graham Fyfe? A further shock was the team news, neither two was in the starting line up, a callow 16 year old who had debuted a month before against Cowdenbeath in a league match, scoring twice, was the Skipper's replacement. Derek Johnstone's name was overwhelmingly met with, "WHO"? The team that wet and windy day was : McCloy, Jardine, Miller, Conn, McKinnon, Jackson, Henderson, MacDonald, Johnstone, Stein, and Wullie Johnston. Fyfe was our sub'. Our back four was Jardine and Miller as full backs, Jackson joined McKinnon as the centre two. They were never realy troubled. Our midfield star was Alfie Conn, Doddy and Henderson provided the heavy lifting. Bud and Stein continually took the Sellik back line into wide areas. Jim Craig was terrified of Bud's pace, resulting in Bud sitting on the ball late into the game. He teased and enticed Craig to come out and tackle, before dancing around him to deliver another cross. The winning goal was scored in the 40th minute, Conn slipped a ball wide to Henderson. He galloped 40 yards and slung the ball inside to a supporting MacDonald, who in turn pinged it wide to Bud. He checked and delivered a high looping cross, DJ got up between McNeill and Craig, heading the ball firmly past Williams. We scored another in the second half, Colin Stein squeezed the ball at least a foot over the line, but Tiny Wharton was fifty yards off the play and Evan Williams quickly retrieved the ball. As Ronnie McKinnon stepped up to receive the trophy, the clouds momentarily parted and a streak of silver blue became apparent. It was nearly five years and the darkness was bleakest before the game began. Our youngsters outran and outsmarted the acknowledged masters of trophy retention, Celtic were participating in their sixth consecutive final. The youngest player participating in his second game and first final was the light at the end of our tunnel. It was the beginning of sustained success, we won the Scottish Cup, the ECWC, and the league Championship in subsequent seasons. Big DJ - the bringer of the light. NB - Sandy Jardine revealed a few seasons later, that the end of the Gullane sands sessions included either a dip in the sea, or a hosing down by Jock Wallace. Apparently, before the League Cup final in the dressing room, Wallace separated the players into groups of four, and turned a freezing fire hose on them. Thoroughly soaked, they were required to lie of the Masseuse tables and the Trainers rubbed in raw alcohol into all muscle groupings as an embrocation. No wonder Greigy was down with the flu! The events of half a century past feel similar today. We have been through several years of darkness, we have endured a number of Gaffers, and it's the separated brethren tormenting us again. Like 1970, we lost 0-2 at Ibrox to them a few weeks before the final. We attempted to nullify their game, forgetting about our own. Similarly, we did this back in August. We played far too narrow and allowed ra Sellik to dictate the tempo. Hampden is a huge playing area, we have to be expansive, I suspect whoever owns the tempo will own the match? Out of possession, our tempo must remain high, pressing them high up the pitch. It's this manner that laid the foundations for our respective 1-0 and 2-0 victories at Ibrox My team would be : McGregor, Tavenier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic, Davis, Jack, Arfield, Kamara, Kent, and Morelos. Hopefully, 2-1 to the good guys?
  21. Rangers make the long trip north to Pittodrie on Wednesday night to take on Derek McInnes' Aberdeen. The games against the Dons last season were trying, for fans and management alike; most trips to Pittodrie are difficult hunting grounds for Rangers teams, but Rangers can take a lot of confidence from recent results, including the last meeting between the sides. It is easy to get distracted by the upcoming game at the weekend, but this represents a tough challenge; a crucial test that we need to pass. Our record against Aberdeen last season was terrible, culminating in them knocking us out of both cup competitions. We played Aberdeen seven times last season, winning only twice, drawing twice, but losing three times. No matter how well we played going into these games, getting a good result was a difficult proposition. Gerrard himself has mentioned the challenge we face on Wednesday, saying "it will be a tough game. Certainly, in my time, we have had some battles up there." "Aberdeen are a good team capable of going on good runs - Derek [McInnes] will get his team fighting all the way to climb up the league". One of this Rangers squad's biggest assets this season thus far is the ability to withstand intense pressure and weather hostile atmospheres, whether that is Feyenoord's De Kuip or Porto's Dragao. In both instances we have gone behind and managed to drag ourselves back into the game. Pittodrie may not be a glamour tie, but it will be a hostile atmosphere, which Gerrard is aware of: "We thrive and enjoy the atmosphere up there, the players have faced challenges such as Legia and Feyenoord so I don't think any of my players will be intimated by Pittodrie." Rangers continued their good form beating Hearts on Sunday. The 5-0 win was their 5th on the bounce. Despite this string of good results, we're still a little too passive in games. We clearly have the ability to step it up, but we're almost drifting through games at times. We'll not be allowed to drift through this one. Aberdeen have been in good form, scoring goals and winning the majority of their games - outwith their customary loss to Celtic. Although last weekend saw them stumble to a draw against lowly St Johnstone (despite having a two-man advantage for the last 15 minutes of the game) they followed it up with a win against St Mirren at the weekend. Their main man is forward Sam Cosgrove, with the 22 year-old notching up 9 league goals this season -- almost half Aberdeen's entire tally. Altogether, he currently has 18 goals in 22 appearances. It's fair to say, if we can stop him, we take away Aberdeen's main threat. There is reportedly a host of Championship clubs interested in the Englishman. Despite the poor head-to-head record last season, the last meeting between the sides was the emphatic 5-0 win at Ibrox. Rangers produced 27 shots to Aberdeen's meagre 4, with goals from Morelos, Stewart, Defoe and Tavernier wrapping up the victory. The manner of the result went a long way in shaking that monkey off our backs. Funso Ojo is nearing a return for Aberdeen but will still miss out on the clash on Wednesday, while Scott Wright remains a long-term absentee. McInnes revealed that Craig Bryson’s ankle problem isn’t as bad as was first suspected, but after missing the St Mirren game, he may not be ready quite yet for Wednesday's game. Aberdeen's win against St Mirren was a close one, apparently helped by an inability to get to grips with a new formation. They employed a 3-4-2-1 formation, with McGinn and Hedges playing off Cosgrove. Their three-man defence was vulnerable at set-pieces too. Aberdeen will probably resort to their more typical 4-2-3-1 formation against Rangers. Rangers have no new injury concerns. It is likely Gerrard will recall Jack to the side for this match, to play alongside Davis and Kamara; the three have been immense this season, providing a solid foundation to let the forwards, and full-backs, get forward. It has been a main feature of our play to see the wide central midfielders drop out into the half-space to facilitate the build-up. Further forward, Ojo may be preferred. Gerrard does seem to prefer Ojo's energy and running ability in the tight, cagey games. He is always a threat in the final third -- when he decides show up -- and he does put in a shift defensively. Alongside Ojo, it should be Kent, with Morelos leading the line. This is a big test. Despite the good result when we last met at Ibrox, matches at Pittodrie are a different proposition. It will be a battle; good football often goes out the window. If Ranges can deal with the physical threat, and the players can win their individual battles, we'll give ourselves the opportunity to win. The threat lies on the counter. Aberdeen have a few pacey players, which can cause problems; and, of course, Cosgrove will be a threat we need to snuff out at every occasion. Rangers have shown an ability to stand up to the physical side of these games this season, so I'm looking forward to it.
  22. Rangers travel to the Netherlands on Thursday to play Feyenoord in Rotterdam. Their name is now spelled Feyenoord but was originally Feijenoord. They updated their name from the old Feijenoord and took a modern English language plunge to Feyenoord in 1974 - pity really; changing your original historical name. For anyone who has been to the Feijenoord stadium, known as de Kuip (the bath tub), will know it is a mass of steel. I would rate it higher quality than tin city on the east side of Glasgow, though. During the war years the Germans wanted to demolish it for the scrap metal to turn the steel into weapons but the director of the stadium estimated a much lower tonnage of high class steel and the Germans decided it was not worth knocking down. Later the stadium was also used for pop concerts and my moment of fame was going to watch Pink Floyd playing there in 1988 which was unfortunately the last time the band toured Holland. As we all know Jaap Stam begun the season as manager. Jaap was probably one of the best defenders you could get but after a spell of managing Reading and PEC Zwolle he got a move to Feyenoord,. The team started off playing not great and quickly got worse. Defeat against Rangers, who a certain Dutch journalist called a nothing club, and a chanceless 4-0 defeat against Ajax saw Jaap fall on his sword. Since he left, players have come out and said he was unclear in his instructions. Why didn't they tell him that at the time seems a logical question for me? After his management performances up until now questions do have to be asked about his coaching ability and man management, I am afraid. After Stam departed, Rangers old boss Dick Advocaat took over as interim manager until the end of the season. Dick Advocaat will do one thing to the team: discipline. He is up to this point unbeaten but after Feyenoord drew 1-1 with Groningen at the weekend the same Dutch journalist stated on telly last night that even Dick Advocaat can't polish a jobby! The fact that Feyenoord had less possession than Groningen must set some alarm bells ringing in Rotterdam. In general though, Dutch Journalists expect Feyenoord to win and stated they could not name one player in the Rangers team. I would say that it is their lack of knowledge as Steven Davis missed a penalty against their national team just a few day's earlier. I have to say that one of the problems with Feyenoord is that they have really only one central striker in Nicolai Jorgensen and he is pretty much always injured. The only other specialist central striker they have is a seventeen year old kid who is still learning his trade. They have been trying many other permutations of wingers or attacking midfielders with Luis Sinisterra playing there recently as striker, but obviously a natural striker is a big part of the backbone to the team. At the back their big money defensive buy Argentinian Marcos Senasi has instead of being a rock in defence actually become a laughing stock amongst the media. They have have painted him as the big money defender who can't defend and can't pass a ball more than a few metres. Dick Advocaat defended him this week saying he will be money well spent, and to be honest he had a reasonable game against Groningen, so maybe he just had problems getting used to his different surroundings. It is my view that we cannot let Feyenoord play football. We have to be in their faces every minute of the game. Defensively they are weak and Morelos should be able to role their defenders. I would try to let them give the ball to Senasi and the put pressure on him to make a mistake. If we let them come at us then they do have players that can hurt us in Steven Berghuis, Luis Sinisterra and Sam Larsson. Obviously a forward line built for on the ground football and not for high balls into the area. With Jens Toonstra, Leroy Fer and Orkun Kökcü they have a decent midfield but certainly not world beaters. Rangers Rangers didn't play that great on Sunday but we got the three points. Playing bad and still getting the points, is the sign of a good team. If we defend as we did on Sunday though then Feyenoord could rip us apart. The Hamilton goal was a comedy of errors with our central defenders caught out of position and Barisic looking on like he had bought a ticket for the game. Thankfully our defending has been great in Europe so hopefully we can keep the clean sheet and get the win or draw that we need. One thing we can all be sure of is that Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent must, and barring injury, will play. Morelos' value to the team is of paramount importance and Sunday's game showed that Jermain Defoe when not scoring goals is a virtual passenger. Morelos can score and also hold up the ball to bring the midfield into play. I may be biased but in my eyes Steven Davis, Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara are certainties for the midfield and are good enough to dominate the Feyenoord midfield. I think Ojo will make up the wide right position. With the knowledge that Feyenoord have small, quick technical footballers and virtually no aerial threat, would it possibly be better to have Edmundson at the back other than Filip Helander? We all know Goldson won't be dropped but Edmundson certainly looks quicker than both. I doubt Gerrard will mess around with the defence to be honest. I think the Rangers team will be: A draw will probably take us through to the next round depending on the result between Young Boys v Porto. With a Porto win being the only result to stop that. One thing is certain: to be sure, two wins from the last two games would be just what the doctor ordered and give certain Dutch football pundits a remembrance of who the famous Glasgow Rangers are and our players names. C'mon the Gers.
  23. It is back to league business after the positive, yet frustrating result in Rotterdam midweek, as Rangers welcome Hearts to Ibrox on Sunday 1st December, kicking off a crucial month of football. Most would have taken the draw before the game, but because of Porto's win in Bern and the way the game against Feyenoord panned out, we could have came away with three points. "Of course--We would've liked to have got the job done [Thursday night], but we can't control what happens elsewhere, " Gerrard said after the game. It's a tough group. It is still in our hands. We move on. Anyway--It is the start of the gruelling winter schedule, where we have eight tough games lined up in the run-up to Christmas. Success is all about grinding out results in December, and keeping any dropped points to an absolute minimum - last season we dropped 9 points in these fixtures. On paper this game looks like the easiest fixture of the lot, but Hearts will bring along some old and new threats. It's imperative we get this month off to a good start. Recent results have been good, but performances have been patchy. Gerrard said "we saw two sides of us over the course of the game [on Thursday]", which sums-up our recent record. We started the game passively on Thursday night, and the performance against Hamilton seemed to fall off a cliff edge after an hour. Despite this, we have been able to grind out good results, staying unbeaten since early October. We'll need that grit even more so in the games to come. It is fair to Hearts' form has been inconsistent since we played them last. They had been on a poor run of form before our last meeting, resulting in the sacking of manager Craig Levein. We dispatched them quite easily in the end in Austin MacPhee's first game as interim manager in the League Cup Semi-final. Since then they hit an impressive five goals against a stubborn St Mirren side, before following it up with a 3-0 away thumping at the hands of a resurgent Kilmarnock (all 3 goals coming in the space of 8 minutes). The defeat to Killie was labelled as "embarrassing", which saw only one player (Jamie Walker, rated 6) score above 5 out 10. Whether Austin MacPhee -- also Assistant Coach of the Northern Ireland National team -- is in with a shout at making his position a permanent one at the end of the season or not, his chances have certainly taken a hit after the defeat to Kilmarnock. MacPhee has been seen as a promising young coach over the last decade. He was credited with bringing a tactical nuance to a St Mirren side that defeated Celtic in 2011. He even caught the eye of the Mexico National Team, who appointed him as an opposition analyst for the 2014 World Cup. Mexico had impressed, but narrowly missed out on a Quarter-final place after a last gasp defeat to Netherlands. Rangers must be wary of a man that has a good tactical eye, even if his tools are lacking; a game against Rangers will prove too good an opportunity to recover his damaged reputation. The Last meeting between the sides was, on the face of it, a straightforward 0-3 win at Hampden. However, it did take Rangers until added time at the end of the first half to score, when Helander popped up to beat the offside trap and stab the ball into the net. It had been a stifling game, in wet conditions. We had struggled to create any decent chances. A couple of quick sucker-punch goals at the end of the first half and then early in the second snuffed out any chance that Hearts may have had. The meeting prior to that game was against Levein, which was another stifling affair, from which we only came away with a point. They are a wounded side, with a man in charge looking to impress. MacPhee is a tactically progressive coach and the formations Hearts have used in recent matches reflect that. They restricted Rangers with a 4-2-3-1, but then followed it up with a 3-4-3 in the 5-2 win against St Mirren; and their last match featured a 4-1-3-2 formation. It may be evidence of a team unable to settle, or simply a coach trying to set up his team to best take advantage of the opposition. Gerrard said, "they've certainly got players that, on the day, are capable of hurting teams: Naismith, [...] Ikpeazu, Jamie walker is back in the picture, Mulraney -- they have got exciting players, that, if we're not at it, they can cause us problems". Invariably, the man-mountain Ikpeazu leads the line, with Naismith and Walker occupying spaces in-behind -- all three have caused us issues in the past. It's likely that they will try to soak up the pressure and hit us on the counter. They also have an ability to press well, so our Centre-backs will need to keep the passes crisp and sharp. The right-sided Mulraney has a lot of pace, which they've used to good effect coming off the bench in recent games. Hearts have no new injury concerns -- Souttar remains out long-term. Halkett was listed amongst the substitutes last week after completing his rehabilitation from injury, so the former Rangers man could feature. The experienced Glenn Whelan returned last week too. Christophe Berra is one booking away from suspension, but it's doubtful he'll curb his more aggressive tendencies. Morelos usually gets rested after his European exploits--a regular occurrence--with Defoe replacing him in the following domestic game, but Defoe did not travel to Rotterdam at all, so it is unclear whether he will be able to make an appearance. The only other 'forward' we have is Greg Stewart. Barasic needed a late fitness test midweek, but came through the game unscathed. Jones may make an appearance on the bench as he recovers from a long-term injury. The majority of the Rangers team picks itself. McGregor, Tavernier, Helander, Goldson and Barasic have formed a strong foundation over the last few weeks, notching up 4 clean-sheets, so it is unlikely any changes will be made there. In midfield, Ryan Jack is too important to leave out, but Davis and Kamara can be rotated out to bring in specific options for the game. Ryan Kent is almost a certainty to start, as he gets closer and closer to getting back to his best after injury. The changes will come up front and perhaps one in midfield. Although Defoe has not scored in a while, he may get the nod if fit -- Morelos needs to be rested to keep him in good shape for the month ahead. In midfield, it may be a game for the more creative option of Aribo, in place of Davis or Kamara, to open up this Hearts team. If Hearts hold us at bay, then the guile of Stewart could be a good option coming off the bench. This is the start of a tough month of football; A good start is imperative. On paper, this game looks to be the easiest fixture of the lot, but we cannot underestimate this Hearts team. Austin MacPhee is a tactically progressive coach, who can set up his side to stifle us and cause problems. If we can blast through their game-plan early, taking our chances like Kilmarnock did, then it could be a comfortable afternoon. Otherwise, we're in for a tough test. It is important to deal with the physical threat of Ikpeazu and keep a keen eye on the deeper runs from Naismith and Walker.
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