With two huge matches coming up, and the nature of the performance against Motherwell, the reaction of the fans to the late concession of the equalising goal was understandably negative. There were positives from the match, but they were overshadowed by negatives and unexpectedly poor performances. It was also the first time questions were raised over the tactical decisions made before and during the match. Here are some of the talking points on the day.
Before I start here, I’ll admit that I’m a big fan of Tavernier. If you think the following is biased due to that, so be it.
James Tavernier had a poor match against Motherwell. He didn’t do well defensively at all. He’s taken the blame in the eyes of the fans for poor marking leading to goals from set-pieces. He also struggled to prevent crosses getting in from his side of the pitch on a number of occasions. And yet, his crossing when going forward led to a goal and was unlucky not to get at least one more assist.
Tavernier seems to be one of those players who when struggling makes a number of mistakes rather than just one. It was that sort of match for him on Sunday. Despite him being a player who has a positive impact on many matches, certainly far more than those he plays poorly in, there’s a lot of focus on him when he does struggle in a game. It’s something that’s a little bit harsh but is the nature of being a football fan.
I fully believe Tavernier will go on to have a good season and be a very positive influence overall. Calls for him to be dropped or claims he’s a liability are over the top.
THE 3-5-2 DEBATE
Many, many Rangers seem to want the team to play a 3-5-2 shape. As such, there was a bit of excitement when the team was announced as it was clear we were doing so. Personally, I’m not a fan of the system but could see why Gerrard went with it for this match.
What I was worried about was the lack of time the team has had on the training ground to work on it. It’s been a schedule of Thursday and Sunday matches for weeks now, and most of the training will be about recovery or theory work. The fact the defence had to change positions in the three very early showed that we weren’t sure how best to utilise them in that system. Some are now suggesting we should never play that way again. Whilst I think we will use the 4-3-3 more often than not, I wouldn’t write this one off just due to one match. The team clearly needs more time to work on it, though.
For the first time, the decisions Gerrard made looked to be incorrect with hindsight. Not only did the formation change not really work, but the substitutions in the match were also worth scrutiny. In particular, there was the change which brought on Middleton to replace Barisic. It meant a move back to the 4-3-3 to try and change the pattern of the match. I have no real issue with the theory of that, but it wasn’t a game for someone like Middleton to come into. We had Ryan Kent and Daniel Candeias on the bench as well, both players far more experienced and ready to handle that sort of scenario. Middleton was unable to get any sort of possession, and his defensive work isn’t as strong as either of the other two. In many ways, it was an attack-minded substitution when a more defensive minded one was required.
Then there was the decision to bring on Wallace when Motherwell had that last minute corner. It’s one of the old footballing adages, never make a change when defending a set-piece. I don’t think it really caused the likes of Tavernier and Goldson to just not follow the runners, but it was something that fans focused on after the match.