A Starting XI Juggling Act : Livingston v Rangers

Match Analysis
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I think it's fair to say that if we rewind a few weeks back to September 1st, most of us were in a disappointed mood after being beaten at home by Celtic in the league.  As such, it was vital that, after the international break, the team got back to winning ways: not just in terms of fan morale but for the players and any thoughts of trophy success we might have. 

To their credit and, although our form hasn't exactly been consistently sparkling, we have won all three games since, including a wonderful (and rather emotional) win last midweek in the Europa League.  All things considered, I find it somewhat interesting that instead of arguing about us losing points in games we should have won (see recent reasons), some fans are now debating our best two centre-halves or our attacking midfield balance, no matter whether we win 4-0 or 1-0.

Livingston

run out comfortable winners in the end.  However, the 3-1 win doesn't tell the full story.,/p>

Although he was sent off just after our second goal, Lyndon Dykes stood out for the away side for most of the game and arguably gave Niko Katic in particular his toughest physical/aerial test of the season.  The big striker worked our back-line hard for much of his time on the park, won the penalty and helped create space for his team-mates at set-pieces as we struggled to contain his physical play.  After missing Livi's game at the weekend against Aberdeen due to that red card he'll be extremely eager to offer the same threat tomorrow.  And, with other experienced, strong players such as Bartley and Erskine, the home side will again be a danger if we don't match them in effort and strength.  Perhaps another reason for ensuring the team is fresh?

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Rangers

With the above in mind, Wednesday night's match away to Livingston in the Betfred Cup is an interesting one when we want to discuss team selection.  Does the manager risk progression in a tournament that may provide a chance of some much-needed silverware by rotating the bulk of his starting XI?  Or will he stick with a core XI of trusted players capable of providing a result in West Lothian and being fit and ready for the visit of Aberdeen to Ibrox just 72 hours later?

As I write this, I'm still not sure of the answer and may well change my mind by the time I reach the end of this preview.  On one hand, our squad is a big one and should be capable of rotating players in and out with ease.  I also don't think it's disrespectful to suggest teams like Livingston would love to have the option of players like Polster, Edmundson and Kamara to freshen up their side.  However, making too many changes could also unsettle the team and, in the last round against East Fife, the 'deputies' were hardly outstanding on the artificial surface of the joint League 1 leaders.  Let's not forget Livingston also beat us at home last season on their own 4G pitch so anyone approaching tomorrow's match expecting an easy win hasn't been paying attention.

For what it's worth though, I think the key factor may well be the fact we have such a tough match on Saturday.  As such, asking the bulk of the side to play Thursday and Sunday of last week, as well as this Wednesday and Saturday doesn't make sense when you've put together such a large (and capable) squad.  Of course having a settled team is best but managing the load of players - more so our best players - is very important in modern football.  We seen as much when our player of the season so far Ryan Jack returned injured from international duty. 

That means I think we will see a markedly different team from that which won handsomely in Perth; indeed it may well be similar to the one that beat East Fife last month.  That could mean starts for the likes of Foderingham, Polster, Edmundson, King, Stewart and Defoe.  And it's been no coincidence that both the manager and Michael Beale have sung the praises of most of these fringe lads in their interviews of late.  

My team at the bottom of the preview represents nine changes from Sunday and that does make me rather uncomfortable but not so much as injuries or avoidable strain on players I'd consider first choice ahead of two important matches this weekend and next Thursday. The manager's thinking will be fascinating tomorrow night in that regard!

Conclusion

Guessing the Rangers team is a past-time we all enjoy ahead of games and it's usually good fun amongst fans.  Chopping and changing the team for games against East Fife is also easily dismissed without concern when we have Europa League qualifiers a few days later.  However, as cup competitions progress and league games get steadily more meaningful, the juggling act of squad rotation without affecting consistency and quality becomes an increasingly tricky and serious skill. 

How many changes can you make to your best XI without compromising results?  Two or three?  Five or six?  The whole team?  Ultimately, it's down to the manager: he signs the players and he knows whom he can rely on thereafter.  At least at Rangers there's one constant.  We have to win all our games.  That's not too much to ask, is it?!

Possible team (4-3-2-1)

Prediction

According to the competition sponsors, Rangers head into the game as the 4/11 favourites to win the match and there can be no excuses when our motivation to return trophies to the club should be so high. To that end, I'm expecting a tight 2-1 win to Rangers. For other opportunities on football, golf, this autumn's rugby World Cup and casino games then you can check out what are the top 5 sports played in Ireland.

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