Watching Wednesday's game against Aberdeen made my mind travel back to 1974. Nothing to do with a football match but to the best boxer the world has ever known, Mohammed Ali, or Cassius Clay as he was originally known. Ali was to take on George Foreman in a fight that was to be called 'The Rumble in the Jungle' because it was to take place in Zaire (today's Republic of Congo). An ageing Ali, the punch and move boxer, who's favourite saying was “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.” Ali, though, was the massive underdog to the younger, stronger, iron-fisted, hard hitting Foreman. Very few could see Ali coming away with a victory.
In the first round Ali started dancing around the ring throwing his jabs. Foreman though had done his homework and was using one stride to force Ali around the inside perimeter of the ring. Ali realised that in the heat of the jungle he could never keep moving for the full fight. In the corner at the end of the first round he said to Angelo Dundee, his trainer, that he had a new tactic.
He said, “I am going to rope-a-dope”. Ali stopped running and retreated to the ropes and let Foreman throw punch after punch with flailing arms. All the punches were wayward or to places that didn't hurt. Ali was taunting Foreman with “come on George I thought you could hit.” With all the misplaced punches Foreman was tiring quickly. Even when he did hit Ali with what he thought was his best shot Ali just taunted him more laughing. Eventually Foreman could hardly lift his arms and, in the eighth round, Ali with his back on the ropes enticed Foreman forward. A number of right hooks further followed by some combination punches and finished with a massive left hook Forman went down on the canvas. He got up at eight but the referee counted him out.
Aberdeen on Wednesday used a football version of Ali's tactics. Aberdeen roped-a-dope. Unfortunately it was against Rangers. They applied tactics that saw Rangers attacking punches fizzle out in a packed midfield. They let Rangers pass the ball in places where it did not hurt. They committed niggling fouls and taunted our leading scorer to a red card. They slowed the game down to crawling pace with a bit of help from the referee who blew his whistle for every little bump. You could almost hear the words ”Come on Rangers: is that the best you can do?” Unfortunately on the night it was the best we could do. The only difference to Rangers and Foreman was that the knock-out blow came after 7 minutes and other 83 minutes were just the pre-programmed nerve cells of a headless chicken making the movement.
Steven Gerrard said after the game that the team plan they had worked on all week was not adhered to and to be honest it was easy to see that it was Aberdeen's team plan we were watching. One last thing is that George Foreman said he learned a lesson that night and never made the same mistake again so let's hope Gerrard and this Rangers team will also learn from this very sore lesson.
The players have had until Sunday to lick their wounds and get into shape for our visit to Dundee. Although Dundee are bottom of the league they have had an upsurge of form over the last few weeks drawing against St Mirren and Hibs and beating Hamilton at home 4-0 on Wednesday.
Two players we know who will definitely not play are Scott Arfield and Alfredo Morelos. Both miss the game due to having received stupid red cards in recent games. As these two players have been our most productive in goals and probably creative play they are going to be a huge miss at Dens Park. You could see on Wednesday what a miss Arfield is with his darting late runs through the heart of defences. We just don't have another player with the will to burst a gut and make those piercing runs. Ejaria and Coulibaly work hard enough but in the months that they have been at Rangers their creative skills have been virtually nonexistent.
With Morelos out that puts all our striking responsibilities on Kyle Lafferty. Big Kyle has had to play second fiddle to Morelos this season but with Morelos out for two games, Sunday gives him the chance to step up to the mark. Lafferty has never been the most popular at Ibrox amongst the supporters but shooting us back to the top of the league will enrich his reputation no end.
Left back is the other position that throws up questions. Many were surprised to see Jon Flanagan come in on Wednesday for Andy Halliday who had a good game against Hearts. Flanagan was substituted at half-time as he has been in recent games due to poor form which must throw up the question whether Halliday was carrying an injury. Personally I hope Borna Barisic is fit again to play. He played 45 minutes for the reserves at the beginning of the week so with nearly a full week of training he really should be fit to play unless he has had a relapse.
Despite my preferred team below, I am pretty sure Ejaria will be in the starting line-up as Rossiter does not seem to be an option. I have also no idea how far Andy Dallas is from the first team but we really need another striker on the bench as well. That said we must also not forget the deeds of opposing striker Kenny Miller who scored a hat-trick for Dundee on Wednesday.
Whatever the team selection, it is time for Rangers to get straight back off the canvas and box clever. Beating Dundee is not punching above our weight. No more stupid red or yellow cards, just a footballing knock-out blow to secure the win. C'mon the Gers!!!
Possible team (4-2-3-1):
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