The first round of the split starts this weekend, and as we look at the games from a Rangers perspective, we’ll only consider the matches from the top six. In many ways, the bottom six is far more interesting in terms of what they’re playing for, but it won’t affect us at all now.
Rangers v Celtic
The second of our double-header, having lost the one we really wanted to win rather meekly. Everyone connected to the club will be looking for a reaction, and it’s going to shape the mood of many in terms of how this season has gone.
I don’t believe it should make such a huge difference to our thinking or mood, but I know I’m in a minority there. I’m certainly hoping for a win, similar to last time, whilst full in the knowledge that it won’t be easy, but Celtic will be a little weaker starting this game. We’ll find out if Brown gets his red card rescinded, but I don’t think he will, and Dembele will miss out due to injury. That’s two big players for them. In saying that, their replacements will be good players, and right now it’s difficult to point to any player we’ll have on the park as being good enough to be considered in the same bracket.
Despite what the media are trying to run with, it’s clear that Caixinha didn’t want the team to sit off so much last weekend. Even the comments Miller and Wilson have made would point to that as well, that it was the players not doing their job rather than some sort of tactical mess or confusion. As I said last week, even a good performance from us could have led to a defeat, but it was a stinking attempt at nullifying Celtic’s game, especially in the first half. Despite some late chances and a brief five minutes at the start of the second half where we looked more threatening, we were thoroughly outplayed.
The team last week contained a few players who weren’t up to it. Garner and Halliday, in particular, looked lost and not entirely motivated. There’s been rumours of Toral pulling out just before the game due to nerves, and that would explain why Garner started when so many were sure of the team beforehand, but we’ll obviously never get any official word on that. His involvement, or possible lack of, on Saturday may give us more of an indication. If the team Caixinha had been working with all week was disrupted in that way close to kick-off, that also adds to the challenge we faced.
Saturday will almost certainly see us play better, and we’ll make them work for it more. They’ll be slightly weaker, possibly even less motivated, and we’ll have extra motivation after Sunday. All of that might not be enough, but hopefully, we’ll get there.
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At the time of writing, I’ve read no team news or had sight of any pictures from training, so the predicted team is largely guesswork:
Foderingham; Tavernier, Wilson, Hill, Beerman; Holt, Hyndman; McKay, Miller, Dodoo; Waghorn.
If Toral is fit and able to play, I’d play him next to Holt and move Miller up top for Waghorn. However, I have a feeling Waghorn will start. We ran a poll on RangersNewsUK asking fans who they’d like to be the striking option, and Miller was a clear winner, but next to no one voted for Waghorn or Garner, and that’s down to how poorly they both played last weekend. Comments from Miller about how we have done better when we started getting balls through to Waghorn give me the impression that he’s deemed an important part of our approach, though, and that’s why I think we’ll see him playing again.
It’s a game we’re not expected to win, but we have better chances of doing so than we did last week. We’ll be able to get some answers as to how much the squad wants to play for Caixinha and how adaptable he is. I won’t overreact to a win (as much as I’d enjoy it), or a defeat – this is a game that stands outside of the overall process in terms of judging our new manager in my opinion. I just hope for a good performance, a cracking atmosphere, and a win…
Aberdeen v St Johnstone
The only other game which really has any sort of impact upon us this weekend, given the relative positions of the teams. Aberdeen have had a good run, only disrupted by the game we beat them in, and I’d expect they’ll win this one as well. If we can fashion some sort of win, and St Johnstone do us a favour, I may have to re-assess my belief of a third-place finish though.
Hearts v Partick Thistle
Hearts have had such a bad run of late that Thistle are only four points behind them in 6th place. The split can often have effects on teams – Hearts may see this as a run of games they just want rid of, and Thistle may see it as job done. This one will go to whichever team can find the most motivation for the game, as there’s not a huge amount between them in terms of current form and ability.
What’re your thoughts on the weekend fixtures? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk to let us know!