Fri, Jul

Taking the early initiative: Livingston v Rangers

Match Analysis
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In the weird and, not so wonderful, pandemic affected world we currently live in, it's not really a surprise that the start of the new Scottish Premiership season has been an equally strange one. With Aberdeen and Celtic players falling foul of restrictions placed upon them (eight at the Dons and two at Celtic), and subsequent postponements of their games, the league table already has a somewhat unfamiliar look after just three games (well three for those able to actually fulfil their fixtures).

The good news for Rangers fans is that we top the table, and with good reason, after three solid (if unspectacular) wins in our first three games including seven goals for and zero conceded. That means that Hibs who also have a 100% record have to be content with second place. Meanwhile, six teams in the bottom half of the table haven't had good starts, including our opponents this Sunday, Livingston who have taken just one point from their opening three games whilst looking uncharacteristically vulnerable at the back, even at home where Hibs hammered them 4-1 last Saturday.

On paper then, this represents another good opportunity for Steven Gerrard's men to extend our winning run and apply more pressure to Celtic who won't be playing again this weekend. Of course it won't be a case of simply turning up to secure the points. The Tony Macaroni Arena with it's dreadful artificial surface has rarely been a stadium we look comfortable in. Yes, we beat Livi in all four games we played against them last season but we didn't open the scoring until the second half in each of our home league matches whilst both games we played in West Lothian (one in the league, one in the cup) were tense and tight affairs. We can expect more of the same on Sunday.

Team-wise I don't see many changes from Gerrard's preferred XI so far this season. Allan McGregor continues to have an apparently generic niggle so will likely not be risked on a plastic pitch for now and, after coming off with a knock against St Johnstone on Wednesday, Leon Balogun is awaiting scan results on a quad muscle problem that will keep him out for the short term. In saying that Filip Helander didn't look overly comfortable on the plastic last season and is also coming back after a long spell injured so the left side of central defence is uncertain at the time of writing. The manager would do well to consider this fully given Lyndon Dykes (oft linked with our club over the last year) usually plays well against us and will have an extra point to prove after being overlooked in the transfer market it seems. Livi's new signing Alan Forrest (younger brother of James) has also scored against us twice in the past so we will need to be attentive at the back against any counter.

The rest of the team should pick itself. Many fans remain unconvinced with our balance in midfield via the continued selection of both Glen Kamara and Ryan Jack who some see as too similar. However, playing both does allow the manager to be more flexible with his attacking choices with the deeper midfielders able to pivot to allow our full backs to provide a high width. Moreover, Joe Aribo can play deeper if required in a more orthodox midfield three or form part of an attacking three behind the striker. Indeed, Aribo has arguably been our most consistent player this summer, not just contributing outstanding skill but creating chances and scoring himself. Our other attacking midfield options are rather impressive with Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi showing glimpses of what they can do in most games whilst Kent has also scored two important goals already this season. And, with Barker, Jones and Murphy in reserve, we should be able to unlock most domestic teams.

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It goes without saying that scoring goals will be vital if we're to be successful this season. Our defence again looks pretty strong this year after matching Celtic's goals against column in 2019/20. However, our main issue was turning our dominance in possession and territory into goals. With that in mind, it wasn't a surprise to see us bulk up in attack - both with respect to squad depth and in the literal physical sense. The additions of Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten bring strength, hard-work and an aerial dimension which we've not always had in recent years. No-one can deny the continued importance of Morelos (who, it seems, will remain first choice as long as he remains focused as our player) but having other strikers ready and able to share the scoring burden - not forgetting Jermain Defoe either - is a necessity over what is hopefully going to be a long, busy campaign.

In conclusion, it can be argued that last season wasn't a complete write-off for our club. Yes, we didn't win any trophies but a dominant cup final appearance and our impressive efforts in Europe and Parkhead showed we are capable. However, the fact remains there was nothing tangible for our efforts and our downturn in form after the winter break and our inability to put stuffy sides to the sword were of a concern as we entered 2020/21. Thus far at least we've demonstrated we can break down defensive blocks in our three wins through early August and this challenge will continue in Livingston on Sunday, with an added physical element from the likes of Dykes, Bartley and Ambrose. Such a test is nothing new though so the manager and players need to take another opportunity to show our early league position is something we intend to keep right through to next May.

Dropping points on Sunday may not end any title challenge but taking all three with goals to spare will demonstrate we believe we can be successful and continue to reaffirm the kind of winning mentality and habit expected at Rangers. Not to mention apply just a bit more pressure to those teams behind us who are not playing and have also already dropped points. Let's take the early initiative and really push on...

Possible team (4-2-3-1):

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