International break – meh. Especially when you are a Scotland fan. At club level, things are going significantly better than this time last year for Rangers fans. There has been one area of concern for Steven Gerrard though, ironically, the strongest area of last seasons team. The away form. However, I don’t think it’s as big an issue as it’s being made out to be. If there was a recurring theme, it might be an issue, but looking at each game in isolation reveals a different story.
Straight away, if you include Rangers’ results in Europe into our overall away form, it doesn’t look good. This is ridiculous. Each European tie has its own scenario. Rangers are unbeaten in Europe and top of their Europa League Group. Each game plan has been executed perfectly. Plus, we have played in Spain, Russia, and Croatia, hardly European backwaters. Steven Gerrard has negotiated each hurdle with a competence belying his managerial experience.
Anger at Aberdeen
With ten men for 87 minutes. The nationally acclaimed “second best team in Scotland” were the second-best team at Pittodrie in the first game of the season. Rangers out-played, out-thought and out-fought Aberdeen in the season opener despite having Alfredo Morelos (wrongly) sent off in the 12th minute. A 93rd-minute equaliser taking the shine off a wonderful Rangers performance. Rangers should’ve been out of sight by the time Aberdeen equalised.
Did Motherwell out play Rangers? No. They scored from a defensive slip and two set pieces. Again, a poorly defended set piece in the 94th-minute proving to be Rangers’ downfall this time. As a side point, how many goals have Rangers lost from set plays since? Offensively, Rangers did play some decent football, three well-worked goals from open play is a testament to this. This was Rangers’ first experiment with a back three and there is a feeling this wasn’t the time or the place. It is also the least comfortable the defence has looked. Lesson learned.
I’d hazard a guess that there has never been worse preparation for an Old Firm game than playing with nine men in Russia in an intense European tie 48 hours previously. We all wanted Gerrard to “have a go”. Was it realistic? No chance. Injuries left us playing the same midfield that played against Ufa. Ryan Jack and Ovie Ejaria had been incredible in Russia but there is no way they could’ve recovered properly. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.
We’ll never know if Rangers would’ve held on for a point if the correct decision had been made in the build-up to Celtic’s goal. Indeed, with more composure, Rangers could’ve had a last-minute equaliser of their own. It won’t be the last time we see a Rangers team sit in at Parkhead and try to hit them on the counter-attack.
Nothing to do with the pitch. Nothing to do with the shape or team selection. We just didn’t turn up. Few players, if any, got pass marks. A bad day at the office. People have a habit of over analysing things sometimes and this is one of them. Man for man, Rangers are better than Livingston, no question.
Rangers needed to resort back to basics. Passing the ball with pace with one or two touches. This was like a Pedro or Warburton performance. Too many players taking too many touches, it was unlike anything we have seen this season. Again, I don’t think we’ll see this sort of performance again under Gerrard. It’s no coincidence that we’ve had arguably our two best performances since this defeat against Rapid Vienna and Hearts.
What does Hamilton hold?
Hamilton away, on another of those brutal pitches, are up next. In a similar situation to the Livingston game, it shouldn’t matter who Rangers send out if the desire and application is there. With Celtic, Hibs, Hearts, and Aberdeen playing each other this weekend, points will be dropped so Rangers have a chance to make up some ground. If results go our way, we could be above Celtic in the league with a cup semi-final on the horizon. Not a bad start to the season with such a “disastrous” away form!