After what was a fairly frustrating European night at Ibrox during the week, the big games keep on coming for Rangers. The clocks might only be going back later tonight as we approach Halloween but already we've played 22 games this season. And, so far at least, progress has been pretty good.
Sure, league defeats away to Celtic and Livingston may have blotted Steven Gerrard's copy book and our form generally has actually been quite inconsistent as opposed to exceptional but you'd be hard pressed to find a truly unhappy Rangers fan considering where we were this time last season after the sacking of Pedro Caixinha exactly a year ago.
With a plethora of new players brought in by Gerrard and an almost entirely new backroom staff as well, the turnaround in quality has been notable, if not (understandably) wholly reliable yet. Indeed, it was interesting to catalogue the palpable disappointment after Thursday's draw against Spartak Moscow. Rangers fans' expectations are always high so hell mend any player or manager who doesn't appreciate that - even if the bigger picture is often ignored by some critics.
Strangely enough though, we're still only 5th in the Ladbrokes Premiership and although we sit top of our Europa League section, without genuine demonstrable success and a real challenge to Celtic it's difficult to consider any progress made so far as anything other than circumstantial. To that end the only way to change the status quo is to keep winning and to bring silverware back to Ibrox. Winning the Europa League is improbable but lifting the Scottish League Cup is achievable and we can take another step towards that by beating Aberdeen at Hampden tomorrow afternoon.
Aberdeen, for all their own faults, will present their usual stiff challenge. Yes, their fans may not have bought into Sunday's game (literally it seems going by their embarrassing ticket sales) but you can be sure their players will. They might be five points behind us in the league but, just like Hamilton last weekend, they will raise their game and if we show the same kind of complacency and poor form we did in Lanarkshire then passage into the Betfred Cup final will be far from certain.
Interestingly, it may be in attack that both sides could have trouble tomorrow. Rangers have scored plenty in their 22 games this season but will have no recognised striker tomorrow. Meanwhile Aberdeen have only scored 16 goals in their 13 games so we'll be hoping they struggle up front once more.
In terms of the Rangers team, replacing the impressive form of Alfredo Morelos will be our most difficult task at Hampden. The Columbian has scored just four goals less than the whole Aberdeen team this season so far but his creative play and leading of the line may arguably be missed more. With usual deputy Kyle Lafferty ineligible and our only other striker Umar Sadiq unreliable, it's very difficult suggest an alternative.
Glenn Middleton can score goals so may be the most favoured candidate but can he live with the physical nature of the Aberdeen back line? Or does Gerrard move in-form Ryan Kent further forward given Eros Grezda still looks less than match-sharp? Might Ovie Ejaria be the best option to take the ball in and link with others and what of the usual 4-3-3 system? I don't think we'll know the answer to that conundrum until around 3.30pm tomorrow. Could Gerrard surprise us all?
Moving back through the team, there's also the question of matching Aberdeen's physical strength in the middle of the park. Could this mean another 90mins in the rehabilitation of Jordan Rossiter or can Lassana Coulibaly improve his recent poor form? Ryan Jack is surely a certainty to start and he'll be looking to have Graeme Shinnie's head on a pole to annoy his former supporters after the game. We certainly have plenty of options and finding the right midfield blend will not only go a long way to determine tomorrow's outcome but our season as a whole. Scott Arfield returning would be a big creative boost as well.
At the back, the manager has said he's still to decide on his goalkeeper and as much as Allan McGregor has been top-class this season, Wes Foderingham has been very good when called upon (especially in our away win at Rugby Park) so we're lucky with our quality there. James Tavernier will surely captain the side again from right back and I'd expect the same back four that started against Spartak given the creative threat of Aberdeen from wider areas and set-pieces.
Nevertheless, all things being equal, Rangers fans will be expecting a win tomorrow and despite the loss of Morelos, we have every right to be confident. A score-draw despite wrongly losing the same player to a red card and the loss of a late, late equaliser in our first league game of the season showed we have more quality than Aberdeen. However, Gerrard's 'class above' comments after that game will be used by Derek McInnes to fire up his players so anyone expecting anything other than a hard-fought, physical tight game would be well advised to rethink their analysis.
Ultimately, although the Rangers manager did qualify his comments to that one game, it will come down to Gerrard to prove his earlier claims are correct. Win through and all remains rosy in the Rangers garden. Anything else and the pressure will increase. Fortunately, Gerrard demands success and understands Rangers fans are impatient for it but it's less easy to deliver such. Occasionally our expectations are unrealistic but a win tomorrow is not. We must step up and show our desire for success is authentic. Let's go indeed.
Possible starting XI (4-3-3):
Tavernier | Goldson | Worrall | Flanagan
Coulibaly | Jack | Arfield
Candeias | Ejaria | Kent
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