Rangers v Hamilton - Our mission, should we choose to accept it...

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It's Friday, it's August and it's a wet summer morning. Nothing new there then in Scotland but today is different. I'm nervous, somewhat excited and struggling to relax. It takes me a few moments to place the sensations but it's because tomorrow is match-day and, after four years of lower league football (some fun, some not) Rangers is about to start a new league season back in the top division. The nervousness: a title challenge about to begin again; the excitement: our club is associated with success and we always want more; the tension: oh man, do I want my team to do the business this year and prove our doubters wrong. If I could get on the pitch tomorrow, I would but I'll settle for a place in the stands. But, how on Earth am I meant to sleep tonight...?!

Pity the players and manager then. Given much of the comments writing them off before they've even started, they must be truly desperate to get going tomorrow. Some of the criticism has been fair of course: yes our central defence is a worry and yes, we're largely an unknown quantity in the Premiership but, arrogance or not, we are Rangers and we expect - nay demand - success. Despite that element of hubris, our form last season explains some of the confidence we do have. Mark Warburton's team was largely excellent, the football superb and few teams got the better of us. It's not easy to predict whether or not we can take that standard into a higher division but, given the improvements we have made to the playing squad, our challenge does have merit and anyone writing us off hasn't been watching.

In terms of the squad, we conducted an interested experiment on our site this week in advance of this preview. Rather than yours truly offering a subjective opinion of what I felt could be the team to face Accies tomorrow, I asked our readers to rank the different areas of the squad, player-by-player. The results are interesting, indeed startling in some places, but I think they offer a good picture of how our fans are feeling ahead of the new season. Coming off the back of a poor performance and defeat to Burnley (the best team we'll face this season - friendly or not) I expected some negativity (or conservatism) but our readers' preferred XI also reflects a desire for more balance in the way we play. To be clear, I sense fans don't want to lose the easy-on-the-eye style but perhaps wish a solidity that was missing on occasion last season. You can view the fan ranked team here and the whole squad at the bottom of the preview:



The first thing that will strike you is the defence and that's hardly surprising considering the problems we've had there. However, the fact our readers can't find a place for Tavernier and Hill or Kiernan whilst favouring unknown quantities such as Lee Hodson at right back and a new player entirely at centre back highlights just how uncomfortable we are with the status quo. Now, personally, I'd argue some of our fans on occasion over-react to our defensive performances and the non-selection of a key player like Tavernier seems downright bizarre but the figures do speak for themselves. Suffice to say, no matter who does form our defence this season, they have a lot to prove to our supporters. Interestingly, Danny Wilson is suspended for Saturday's game and Clint Hill trained on his own yesterday so more than a few bears will be shifting in their seats as Rob Kiernan (an under-rated player in my view) warms up tomorrow.

Moving into the midfield and whilst the graphic above shows two advanced players covered by a holding midfielder, arguably the selection of Barton and Rossiter again shows a support inclined towards a solid central foundation with two deeper players, allowing our creative players a bit more freedom. I can certainly sympathise with that view and there's no doubt in several games this season, that's the shape we'll employ. However, more often than not, I think we'll retain the one deeper player with two deployed further forward. Our options in that sense are varied and it is genuinely difficult to guess the manager's thoughts on the advanced areas of the team. What we do have though is a good blend of creativity and mobility with strength in depth. That's a big difference from last season and perhaps one of the main reasons we can expect a title challenge. For tomorrow's game, I'd expect Barton to start with another two selected from Halliday, Windass, Holt and Forrester.

Our attack was perhaps easier to predict our fans' thoughts. After all McKay and Waghorn were two of our best players last season so were always going to be the first two selections for the majority. The main problem we have thereafter is who is the third man? The ranked squad suggests Michael O'Halloran and that's a pleasant surprise for me. The right-sided attacker didn't really get going last season due to indifferent form and lack of availability but has looked bright enough this summer to be placed ahead of Forrester, Miller and new signing Joe Dodoo by our readers. That's interesting given the positive effect both Forrester and Miller had on the team last season. Also worthy of specific comment is the lack of votes for a new signing compared to those who want a new defender. Yes, we have various players capable of doing the business in attack but do we have the same depth standard as we do in midfield? In any case the incumbent players will be tasked with converting the chances we create and, despite scoring over a hundred goals last season, we will need to improve these stats. For what it's worth, I'd expect the three players in the ranked XI above to start against Hamilton.

What of our title chances then? Well, despite some valid confidence, I think we do need to manage our expectations in that regard. There's no doubt the squad below has the quality to make a sustained effort throughout the coming season but it's perhaps asking a lot to be at the top of the pile come next May. Ten months is a very long time and a lot can (and undoubtedly will) happen over the course of this campaign. Such uncertainties afford random surprises and we can only hope luck plays its part as well as hard work. Nevertheless, Warburton and his players' mission, and they have accepted it, is to give their all towards the aim of winning this league. Doing so is a big ask but as 50,000 of us look around Ibrox Stadium pre-match tomorrow, the names of Struth, Greig, Jardine and so many other legends tell us it's far from mission impossible. The journey is over; the mission has begun!

Ranked squad:

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