Two Steps Forward – One Step Back, The Slow Recovery

Defeats are always hard to take, especially against your fiercest rivals. Even more hurtful when it happens at home leaving Rangers yet to win a league game against Celtic since 2012.

In 2007/08 Rangers lost three and drew one of their first 11 games, playing everyone once. We finished three points behind Celtic after losing the last game of the season. We’d lost against Hearts away, Hibs at home, Dundee United away and drawn with Motherwell away. This was with a settled squad with established international players with Rangers supporters throughout the squad. The magnification of short-term results is because of the severity of Celtic’s unprecedented dominance.

In isolation, the defeat against Hibs at home was a farce. Rangers should be 1-0 up and playing with an extra man for about 80 minutes, it’s not even up for debate. If anyone thinks Rangers don’t go on to win that game comfortably they’re an idiot, or a Hibs fan…

Against Hearts, we missed numerous chances including Kenny Miller hitting the post in the first few minutes and I guarantee you will not see a team defend as well for the rest of the season. Rangers have drawn and lost plenty games with Hearts throughout our history by the way.

For me, the only game where Rangers have underperformed or levels have dropped was against Partick Thistle away. where two individual and collective defensive errors cost us the three points. But again, we created enough chances to win the game and could easily have been awarded another penalty to win the game.

I’ve already commented that I think Rangers have better players than last season man-for-man across the pitch and I’d like to think most fans will agree. We have options in most positions and can play different shapes. Are we being too over expectant? Should Graham Dorrans be scoring goals or creating them every game, 3 goals in 7 isn’t bad for someone that has been playing as a defensive midfielder?

This seems to be the main confusion, what are fans genuinely expecting? We can all see when something isn’t going right and offer our opinions but trying to remain objective is hard when passion and emotion are involved. Rangers have had to start from scratch this season and replace a whole team, Pedro Caixinha has managed to create a more balanced squad with a definite style and shape of play.

The next eight games are all winnable for Rangers. Do we expect to win all eight of them? Probably not, but it would be a welcome relief for Pedro. If we do win them, the season will look a lot rosier. It would also be a great boost going into the transfer window where we all know the players that are available on pre-contract or potentially cheap deals. I have already seen enough of Declan John to make me think he is worth nailing down too if, as reported, that he is also available for free next summer.

So where do Rangers go next? We have improved but are still miles behind Celtic. Players will be added to the squad, as the result at the weekend showed we are short in depth still. Except it would appear at centre-half. Could Bruno Alves’ injury have created a potential solution to some of Rangers’ defensive issues?

Pedro has shown he is willing to change shape/formation. Could we see a return of three centre-halves? The players we have suggest that this is probably the most suitable formation for the players we have. Our full backs are good going forward but not great defensively, we leave gaps in the channels between our centre-halves and full backs. 3-5-2, 5-3-2 solves this problem. Ross McCrorie’s performance on Saturday was arguably the best individual defensive performance of the season from a Rangers player. If we don’t go to three centre-halves he surely has to be considered for selection ahead of Cardoso such was the level of maturity and composure he displayed.

With three midfielders Rangers can then fit Jack, Dorrans and Pena comfortably into the team without sacrificing another forward player. Alternatively, Windass could play as the furthest forward without the defensive responsibilities that affect his play. Dorrans would have more freedom to play further forward while Pena and Herrera would be able to get a consistent run in the team with Morelos.

The biggest debate would be at right wing back, it may be a horses for courses decision. Candeias or Tavernier? This, for me is probably the reason we are still playing 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, the relationship they have struck up has been positive but we can’t seem to get the same balance on the other side. Playing two right footers, as we did against Celtic through necessity obviously isn’t the way forward. Windass and Wallace link up well but they’ve never really had 3-4 games on the bounce without one of them getting injured.

Pedro Caixinha has some big decisions to make. Does he continue with the same system and look to continue the development of relationships in key areas? For example, Pena looks to play forward quickly and Morelos looks to play on the last man, in the long run, this could be a useful asset added to the play from both wings. Or does he change shape to solve the obvious weakness that remains defensively?

I’d like to see more of Pena and Morelos together first but if it’s not working for whatever reason, we need to change shape and get Herrera into the team because he’s not really had a chance yet.

With the next eight games being winnable and the transfer window on the horizon it is without doubt the most important two months in Pedro Caixinha’s career. Hopefully, we will be in the position of strengthening our position rather than starting again when the window opens in January, preferably with an Old Firm victory on Pedro’s CV too. We are improving but I’d like to be in a position where we don’t have to look quite as hard to see it.