One of Mark Warburton's clichés is 'we must look at every game and learn from it'. Looking back on the first 3 games of the season I think we have certainly learned one thing. Teams in the premier league are in fact going to play against us with the exact same tactics as teams in the lower leagues did. Hamilton, Dundee and Motherwell have all lined up to defend in numbers with a 4-5-1 system. Most of these games have been played 30 yards from our opponents goal with a wall of 9 defenders for us to break down. Frustrate, steal a goal, shut the back door and frustrate some more is on the menu.
The difference is in the premier league they do it better. The players are fitter and very well organised. A 1-1 draw with Hamilton, a scrappy 2-1 win against Dundee and a last gasp 2-1 win against Motherwell are testament to that.
Another unfortunate thing we have learned is that our defensive frailties of the last few seasons are still there for all to see. Set pieces are a nightmare with players losing their opponents far too easily and ball watching instead of attacking the ball has cost us goals in all 3 games. That of course means we have to score at least twice to secure a victory. That is a feat that we are struggling to do through a lack of a cutting edge, umpteen missed chances, good defending, and a catalogue of the so-called professional fouls that referee's seem to let go unpunished.
Tonight we travel to Kilmarnock and for Killie to use any other tactics would be the biggest shock since Leicester City winning the English Premier league. As Gary Lineker may say, if they use any other attacking tactics I will write my next preview in my underpants. Good nobody will see as it is not a pretty sight.
We will as normal be playing plan A. Get possession of the football, pass it around and try and break down the Killie defence. That fact is now set in stone. What Warburton has to have learned from the last 3 games is: Why is plan A is not going as it should?
Another cliché from Warburton is: If we train well and prepare well we will be in a good place. The thing is, not only do we know how we will play, other teams know the rigid tactics we adhere to. We are now amongst the big boys and they are also full professional players. They will also be training and preparing well. Most of their training will be based on trying to frustrate us and make our good position, not so good.
Given that both teams have trained and prepared well, then the difference to force a result lies in team selection, technical ability and, the word I love, 'pitch geography'. Technical ability is the easy one that puts Rangers in a clearly advantageous position.
Team selection and pitch geography are actually very much linked together. I know we are only 3 games in and Warburton is trying to find his best formation, but after 30 plus years in the metal industry I learned you can't cut an iron bar without a cutting edge. With that I have to ask, is picking 3 defensive midfielders and a striker who drops deep the best option to finding that cutting edge? Our pitch geography regularly looks more like a U-shape, rather than that sharp diamond cutting edge needed to carve through the opposition defence. Add to that the slow walking-pace passing that 3 defensive players in the engine room generate, then it all becomes all too easy for the defence to soak up the pressure -- and even hit us on the break and get players into the spaces between our midfield and defence.
Another lesson that our coaching staff should have picked up on is how Kenny Miller came in from the left wing to the back post to score the winner against Motherwell. They should have placed Barrie McKay and Michael O'Halloran in a video room and let them watch a video of that goal a couple of hundred times over and over again. Don't get me wrong, I think Barrie is a great player but that is one thing missing from his game: A will to bust a gut to get into a scoring position in the box. Have we ever seen Barrie McKay contesting a header at the back post? I can't remember one.
Last season I criticised Wes Foderingham a lot but I have to say, he has been excellent in the 3 games played; and you could even say he has won us 6 of the 7 points we have won with some fantastic saves. He also looks a little more comfortable coming for crosses but that is a work in progress, and given his height he should be able to make it a strong point of his game. He is still young and should grow in confidence in his own ability.
James Tavernier has also started to look like a reasonable defender, although that has come at a cost of his attacking play. We have to accept there is no way we will get the same goal tally from him as last season.
Rangers have also added Joe Garner to the Squad. He is noted as an out-and-out goal-scoring striker. Hopefully he will be that diamond cutting edge our team is crying out for. Warburton has stated he will certainly play a part against Kilmarnock but whether it is in the starting line up remains to be seen. I doubt it personally and think he will come on after 60 minutes.
I think -- and hope -- Warburton will have seen that Rossiter, Burton and Halliday is not working and will either play Kranjcar or Forrester as the third midfielder in place of Halliday. If Forrester is chosen, then O'Halloran will probably play wide right; and if Kranjcar is chosen, then Forrester will play wide right.
Another factor to consider on team selection will be the plastic pitch. This is the pitch where Martyn Waghorn was injured last season and will probably sway the manager not to play those players returning from injury. In his press conference he stated that he hoped it would be well watered so he has obviously noted it as an issue.
I think the starting line-up will be:
At the time of writing it has been rumoured that Philippe Senderos has been taking a medical and may be in the squad for the Kilmarnock game, but I doubt even if he does sign he will play a role for this one.
Come Monday morning I hope we can quote one of Warburton's clichés and say "top of the league! We are in a good place."
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