Luck of the draw
Rangers had the luck of the draw in getting East Fife in the Betfred League Cup at the weekend. Yes, there was the plastic pitch but it was a comfortable win, with no injuries. Compare this to last year where we had a hard game against Kilmarnock and lost Jamie Murphy for the season after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. During the lengthy qualification for the Europa League the last thing you want is a run of tough domestic fixtures. East Fife then St Mirren sandwiched between the two Legia Warsaw ties is, without jinxing it, as good as you could ask for. Steven Gerrard rotated his squad and with good effect, here in this match analysis we look at who got pass marks.
Big names rested
Rangers made a raft of changes going into Sunday’s fixture resting the entire back four and Allan McGregor, Steven Davis, Ryan Jack, Scott Arfield, Sheyi Ojo and Alfredo Morelos completely. As a sign of our new squad strength we were still able to field six full internationals with another four on the bench. Added to this, most of the youngsters in the squad like Greg Docherty were youth internationals. Rangers reserve team is stronger than any first team we’ve seen for seven years. For those still struggling to see improvement just show them this team sheet.
It’s hard to judge players fairly when there are so many changes, on a plastic pitch, playing in a gale force wind. Class always shines through though and it was no coincidence that our best players were Filip Helander, Joe Aribo, Jordan Jones and Jermain Defoe. All either form players or experienced internationals. Helander is slightly behind the curve in terms of fitness hence his absence from the Europa League squad – this might be a nod to him starting against St Mirren.
A stroll for the Swede
I’d read a few things, and I’ll caveat this, on social media, about Helander not performing that well. That he didn’t really look like a £3m player. He won pretty much every header, defensive duel and was directly involved in two of the goals. A goal and an assist. It was the definition of a stroll for the big Swede. It has only been the form of Nikola Katic and Connor Goldson that has prevented him getting more regular game time. We finally have four solid centre-halves with varying skill sets. What a time to be alive!
As Helander demonstrated, you can stroll a game and not really get any credit because of the opposition. What you can do is make the guys on the bench or sitting at home even better by having a stinker. I’m not going to do the whole “we need a left-back” thing but, Andy Halliday was rotten. Even for East Fife, no disrespect intended, was there anyone who struggled so badly at timing headers or passing. Helander wasn’t in the original Europa League squad which makes you think he might be playing against St Mirren.
Greg Stewart was the other who noticeably struggled, he needs a goal. He had one half-chance and you could see his disappointment when he dragged it wide. He didn’t look as sharp as he has done coming off the bench. Stewart has done ok so far, he’s been involved in a few goals whether with the assist or second assist. In fairness, he hasn’t got a lot of minutes so far either. The jury remains out, Stewart needs a Jordan Jones performance to sway the fans.
One player who almost escapes criticism is Glen Kamara. He has enough in the bank to get away with trying to coast his way through this one. Kamara didn’t get the time on the ball he was wanting, partially because he wasn’t really working hard enough for the space. East Fife were also pressing him to stop him dictating the game. A few hairy moments but he just about gets pass marks, just.
The able deputy
With every game, Wes Foderingham is looking more comfortable as the Rangers goalkeeper. I said at the start of the season if he continues to improve, I don’t think we’ll look for a replacement for McGregor. I stand by that still. With a more solid defence he looks more confident and you could hear him constantly barking orders. McGregor’s influence starting to rub off. Foderinghan might have to wait a couple of years mind.
Normal service resumes?
I think it’s safe to assume that Rangers will start with the same team against Legia Warsaw that started against Midtjylland. On paper, despite different set ups, this is a similar tie. A team that has not lost many games, conceded many goals or scored many either. Rangers fans are still unsure if we were impressive v Midtjylland or if they were poor. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
My biggest concern against Legia Warsaw is the lapses in concentration we have seen defensively. Yes. McGregor is there for a reason but I’d rather we weren’t coughing up at least one high xG chance every game. Mitigating circumstances being that we have been coasting in most of the games when this has happened though. Legia are a step up in quality and there are no guarantees that if we lose one that we can score two in reply. Teams have struggled to pick up Ojo and Arfield plus Morelos will be back at his marauding best. We have enough quality that it should be down to us, be pro-active and get the job done. No defensive mistakes and I think we’ll have enough to get through, but it will be a lot closer.
Securing Europa League qualification at Ibrox going into a home Old Firm game would huge psychologically, especially if we were able to see off St Mirren in between too. The fixtures have been kinder than last season, let’s hope Rangers take advantage and make the most of it. Four wins heading into the first international break would be the perfect start in the quest for 55. As a wise man once said – “Let’s go!”.