Rangers continued their successful start to the season with a comfortable, if unnecessarily, tight game against St Mirren at the weekend. The 1-0 victory maintaining their unbeaten start and extending the record to nine wins and two draws. Something Rangers struggled to do last season was grind out results against ‘lesser’ opposition between Europa League fixtures. So far, so good for Steven Gerrard’s men. In this analysis, we look at what is going well for the men from Ibrox.
Squad strength and rotation
Gerrard now has a decent squad at his disposal having recruited well so far this summer. Despite making five changes, the starting line-up was not really any weaker. It’s not often the replacements have more international caps than the first XI, except in the case of Glen Kamara. Borna Barisic, Filip Helander, Jordan Jones, Jermain Defoe and Kamara are all established or experienced international players. These guys would’ve been heroes a couple of seasons ago. Now they have to take their chance when they get it to put pressure on the man in possession of a starting berth.
One man who did just this is Borna Barisic. Not only did he score the winning goal, a stunning 25-yard free-kick but he is returning to more confident form. With two goals* and an assist already, he is beginning to show what we know he is capable of. But for some poor finishing by his teammates, his numbers could be even better.
Time to empty the tank
It is a week of contrasts, Gerrard has utilised his squad to perfection. Changes are being made each week without any detrimental effect on results. This, however, without question, is the biggest week of the season so far. There is likely to be a noticeable reduction in squad rotation where fitness allows. Most Rangers fans could pick what is perceived as Rangers best XI for the two games this week. Gerrard will be looking for his side to ‘empty the tank’ once again.
This season the tables have turned slightly. Instead of an arduous away tie in Russia, Rangers are at home. Celtic will be the ones doing the travelling this year as they travel to Stockholm, Sweden. Rangers also have home advantage in the first Old Firm game of the season. A deciding factor in last season’s fixtures.
Gerrard has spoken about players having to ‘increase numbers’ and two of his direct replacements have done just that. Sheyi Ojo is approaching a goal involvement every 90 minutes and Joe Arribo has four goals in nine starts from midfield. These players could be the difference when fine margins dictate winning and losing. Expect both players, if fit, to start both games this week.
Jermain Defoe was unlucky not to score against St Mirren but that and his early-season form won’t be enough to dislodge Alfredo Morelos as the first-choice striker. Morelos is on a Messi-esque, two-goal involvements per 90 minutes and nine goals in nine games overall. He has also calmed down. This time last year he had been sent off twice and had had three yellow cards. This season he has just the two yellows, one was harsh v Midjtylland and a daft one against St Mirren for stopping a free-kick. You could almost see him realise what he was doing was stupid and tried to get his foot out the way. This week we will find out if he is a truly reformed character.
Rangers will be more aggressive in this week’s games. Expect a higher press and a more concerted attempt to benefit from counter-attacks rather than just ball retention. It is a huge week and one that Gerrard’s critics will be watching and analysing with a fine-toothed comb. For the first time in nearly a decade, Rangers are now masters of their own destiny. No mistakes and playing to their potential will see Ryan Jack heading into the Scotland camp with the biggest of smiles on his face.
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