Well, the last match preview went well didn’t it?! Hopefully, this one won’t be published just after the announcement that the game has been called off. I thought I’d put the wrong date or wrong team in the article such was the level of abuse I was getting. This time, Rangers will actually return to competitive action against Kilmarnock on, yes, one of those pitches. As tough a league game as you can get after a few weeks off but how will Steven Gerrard’s men fare?
Kilmarnock under Clarke
Kilmarnock away, under Steve Clarke, is a hard fixture. That is a given. Post Mark Warburton I was an advocate of Clarke getting the Rangers job. We needed stability, a presence, a personality who would garner the media’s respect. A manager with decent contacts. Clarke has shown what he is capable of in a few jobs now, he gets his team organised and well drilled.
He has vastly overachieved, I hate the “calendar year” statistics but this one is relevant given when Clarke arrived. In 2018, Kilmarnock topped the points table. One point ahead of Celtic and two ahead of Rangers. Admittedly they have played two more games than Celtic and one more than Rangers.
To put into perspective Kilmarnock’s improvements, Clarke’s weekly wage budget is less than Scott Sinclair’s weekly wage. Clarke compared his budget to Jermain Defoe’s wage but as confirmed by the standard setters at the “Four Lads had a Dream” blog, the astronomical figures quoted are way off the mark. Still, he must be applauded for the job he is doing.
Kilmarnock have lost Greg Stewart who has been their biggest goal threat this season, as we know too well. Clarke saying the deal which saw Stewart return to his parent club Birmingham City then move to Aberdeen smelled of “bullshit”. Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy. I think Stewart’s loss will be harder felt than if they had lost the Ibrox bound Jordan Jones in this window.
Jones will be an interesting watch. Everything he does will be under the microscope. If Rangers go with Andy Halliday at left back, Jones will play on Kilmarnock’s right. It could be a long night for Halliday. If he defends aggressively and is pro-active rather than letting Jones come onto him (behave) he’ll have a better chance of nullifying him. Similar to what he did to James Forrest before the break when he was outstanding.
Rangers Formation Decision
We all know Kilmarnock will be difficult to break down. Rangers have to play with pace and intensity. We need to press them high up the park and force the mistakes when they are in possession. This is when we are at our best. The question is, what shape will Gerrard go with? Does he start Defoe with Alfredo Morelos in a 4-4-2 diamond or does he stick with Daniel Candeias and the trusted 4-3-3? I think he’ll go with the trusted which has worked against them before.
The return of Ryan Kent and Scott Arfield is key to Rangers’ success, as is the return of Steven Davis. Rangers should now have a more mulita-dimensional attack. Jermain Defoe will only add to this, either from the start or off the bench. If Davis starts with Arfield, who misses out? Ryan Jack or Ross McCrorie? Not an easy decision. It may be that Gerrard starts with Davis on the bench given the type of surface. We now have options, good options, hallelujah!!
If any Rangers fan got offered a 1-0 win before the match, they would take it and run. If we show the intent and aggression required I think we now have the quality and confidence to win these games more often than we have been previously. We are now in a title race, we have to find a way to win these games. The return to fitness of key players and the addition of Davis and Defoe should be enough to see us edge this game, I’m going 1-0 Rangers but with a positive performance.
By the end of January, we will see if Rangers are genuine title contenders, we have the quality, now let’s have the consistency. As a wise man once said, “LET’S GO!”.