Fri, Jul

An artificial challenge? Kilmarnock v Rangers

Match Analysis
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After yet another win, yet another clean sheet and yet another match without an opposition shot on target, it wasn't really a surprise to see Steven Gerrard get frustrated with one journalist in the post-Poznan presser when asked about Rangers managing to win despite not playing well in a supposed '7/10 performance'. The manager's sharp retort was understandable: yes, we may not always be at our very best in every game but that need not mean we played badly, just that the opposition can be of a standard to provide an actual contest where grit, hard work and patience can be just as important as composure, technique and wonder goals from the half-way line.

In that respect, Rangers have not been found lacking this season. There has been an undoubted addition of quality into our play in general but industry and organisation have been just as important in several games which is why, so far at least, no-one has beaten us. Of course we've not been at our best in every game - that's impossible - but it's easy to forget we've played our nearest challengers of Celtic, Hibs and Aberdeen all away from home with only two points dropped out of the nine available and that, arguably was down to an avoidable error, compounded by an offside equaliser. Meanwhile, at Parkhead and Pittodrie, we controlled the games and again, without being fantastic, deservedly won both.

There have also been some weak arguments that Rangers are a one-trick pony, capable of playing just the one way and struggling to adapt in certain situations. A 0-0 draw at Livingston in mid August could certainly provide evidence of such a point of view, as well as several games under Gerrard in previous seasons, but this campaign seems different. Rangers absolutely do have a game-plan of course but that's not to say we're predictable. For example, the manager clearly prefers a 4-3-3 but that can vary depending on the venue and the opposition. We sometimes prefer the 4-2-3-1 variation, often used in European games away from home to counter attack with a lower block but we're equally comfortable with a 4-3-2-1 which allows to push our wing backs much further up the park and look to dominate games with a higher press. Clearly, personnel choice within both systems can also affect our strategy and the acquisition of players like Roofe, Itten and Zungu - as well as an obvious difference in what has been asked of Alfredo Morelos - means the management team have put a lot of thought into tactical flexibility.

With that in mind, as usual, a trip to Rugby Park will be a stern test of all our abilities. Killie will be well organised, physical, dangerous on the counter and eager to puncture our increasing morale. Does that mean we look to match them in midfield with the oft-criticised partnership of Jack and Kamara going toe to toe with Power and Dicker? Do we push our full-backs forward and leave gaps for the likes of Burke, Kiltie and Brophy? Which centre-half should deal with the physical presence of Nicke Kabamba? How best can we expose changes to their defence after their loss to injury of former Hearts centre-back Clevid Dikamona? What effect, if any, should the pitch and forecast stormy weather have on our selection?

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All these questions aren't easy to answer which demonstrates Rangers are flexible. And, our starting XIs from the last two games show the manager will make changes where necessary with five in the matches at Liege and against Livi as well. However, it could be argued our performances in those two games have been somewhat disjointed at times so, chances are there will be less for Sunday.

Change one should see a return to the left side of central defence for Filip Helander whom has been rotated with Leon Balogun of late. Despite an injury keeping the big Swede out for the best part of nine months, he has featured twice on artificial surfaces this season so his aerial presence and calmness at the back may be preferred this weekend. The rest of the defence should be as expected, barring any knocks from the Lech Poznan win. Calvin Bassey is just one backup player who has done very well when called upon and his physical presence may well be used at some point this weekend.

Midfield should see one further change with Ryan Jack a likely starter in what I'd expect to be a three on Sunday as part of a 4-3-2-1. I'd fancy Glen Kamara will be part of that trio with Scott Arfield retained to provide a threat running from deeper areas. Although new signing Bongani Zungu may well be looked to in such games going forward, his lack of match sharpness make him an unlikely starter this weekend. Steven Davis will most probably be rested after playing the last two full matches and I believe Joe Aribo will be used in one of the two number 10 roles this system utilises.

That leaves two more roles to fill in the XI and most probably one further change with Alfredo Morelos, fresh off Thursday night's header winner, likely to lead the line backed up by the afore-mentioned Joe Aribo and the ever-reliable Ryan Kent. The latter hasn't quite been in the same top form he showed earlier in the season but continues to contribute in a defensive sense which will be important against a team like Killie who are comfortable on the counter. However, if the manager does fancy one more change then Brandon Barker or Jordan Jones could start with both doing decent jobs lately. Their selection may well depend on the system deployed and as much as I'm favouring the 4-3-2-1, our 5-1 win at Motherwell one month ago shows a 4-2-3-1 can be just as effective.

All things considered, it's a big bonus for all connected with Rangers to have so many options available and the standard of the squad testament to how far we've come under Gerrard. Our form so far this season has shown further improvement and only the most churlish of supporters would be unhappy with where we sit right now. However, with a yellow Met Office warning for rain and wind, Rangers will need to weather another Killie storm on Sunday afternoon with the outcome being just one more indication of our chances of silverware on the SPFL pressure barometer.

Will the dodgy 4G surface of Rugby Park display another artificial title challenge from Rangers or is this, finally, the real thing?

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

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