What a difference a week makes. From Europa League humiliation and no goals in two games against St Johnstone to a credible draw and a markedly improved performance against a side that has spent £25m on one player this year.
You can’t read too much into friendly results. Sorry, but when you’ve been playing absolute garbage you take anything you can get. It’s not just the results against Marseille, Watford and Sheffield Wednesday that have raised the spirits of Rangers’ fans. The level of performance has risen dramatically too. Marseille and Sheffield Wednesday are both at the end of their respective pre-season programmes so there isn’t the excuse of a lack of competitive edge and Watford played a full-strength team except a couple of injured and recently signed players.
There are numerous reasons for the improvement in performances:
- A change of shape to 4-4-2 that the players are obviously comfortable with.
- Bruno Alves, Bruno Alves, Bruno Alves (and Cardoso partnership).
- The Dorrans and Jack axis.
- Miller holding his shape and playing upfront and not in midfield.
- Herrera annoying centre halves and providing quality link up play.
- Playing players in their preferred positions.
- See 6) for Windass’ improved form and a couple of goals.
- Improved quality of substitutions coming off the bench.
- Consistency of selection with clearly defined player roles.
- Leadership throughout the spine of the team.
With every successful team, there is a mix of experience and youth but always quality. Rangers are now at their strongest where last season they were weak, right down the centre of the team.
For Cardoso and Alves there is a similarity to Gough and McLaren. A strong leader with physical and mental qualities aided by a younger partner with obvious potential.
Dorrans and Jack have an uncanny resemblance to Stuart McCall and Ian Ferguson in their respective styles of play. Combative, committed, passionate but above all they possess a greater quality than anything Rangers fans have seen since Davis, Thomson, Mendes and Barry Ferguson. They dovetail beautifully.
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Kenny Miller and Eduardo Herrera appear to be creating a good relationship. Herrera has more quality with the ball at his feet, better movement and a better work rate than any forward Rangers have had since Nikica Jelavic. I doubt he will score as many goals although he will be just as much of a handful for defenders. He needs a goal early in competitive action to get him truly settled in and should be targeting 20 goals at least for the season. As should his strike partner. I love Kenny Miller, just not when he is dropping into midfield. Wide left when Niko or Windass cut inside and make forward runs is fine but not taking the ball off the back four! He has been guilty of wasting a few opportunities and trying Zidane-esque passes but he is now getting into the box playing off Herrera as a partnership which should bode well for the team.
Alfredo Morelos will surely play more of a part against teams that sit in deep. Miller can’t play every game, not just because of his age but because there are other options now. I’d even back Waghorn to be a success playing through the middle with a partner like Herrera. Morelos will thrive feeding off Herrera and the creative players in midfield when possession is being dominated. Its maybe a bit early for a Hateley and McCoist comparison though! Rangers fans are dying to see Morelos play over a longer period than 10 minutes at the end of a game though.
The full backs have better cover through Dorrans, Jack and the organisational strengths of Alves. Candeias has shown an immensely positive attitude in defence and attack and certainly isn’t shy of a challenge. Niko is looking fitter and closer to the player we believed we had secured at the start of last season. Windass, although different in style looks immeasurably more comfortable in the new shape. Confident in possession, supportive in defence and scoring goals. He could be the surprise/bonus player of the season.
Against Progres at home the spine included Bates, Holt and Waghorn. All regular starters at the end of last season. They have been replaced with Alves, Dorrans and Herrera. A different breed and quality of player which will hopefully take Rangers to the next level with the potential of one or two more signings on the way. Time will tell but every Rangers fan is feeling a lot better now than they were a couple of weeks ago with a growing anticipation for the first league game against Motherwell. The only Latin I’ll ever really remember holds great resonance just now as the new season dawns, “per ardua et astra” – through adversity to the stars. The season starts now.