The opening weekend of the season has arrived, as we finally see the end of what has felt like a long summer. Let’s have a look at our pre-season, how we think we’ll start, and what our expectations for the season should be.
It all started with a bit of excitement. Players being signed, retails deals being sorted, the prospect of European football. The month of June was one of the most fun we’ve had in years. Unfortunately, Rangers did that thing they always seem to do in early pre-season and lost against part-timers to put us out straight away.
And that led to some major disappointment, a desire to see Caixinha sacked from many, and credence given to any negative rumour that could be found. We had senior players starting rebellions against the manager. Some openly calling him a “fraud” on the training ground. Further signings being blocked due to a lack of confidence. Pedro being told he has the first six games to turn things around.
The club largely went silent. Videos of training days and interviews with new signings stopped. We arranged a couple of friendlies and some more games behind closed-doors. So many supporters reckoned we were on a hiding in the Marseille and Sheffield Wednesday games.
Thankfully, that home friendly allayed fears in a big way. We looked organised, good on the ball and capable of playing well against some top class players. Ryan Jack, Graham Dorrans and Bruno Alves were clearly making a huge difference to the team, and Alves had only been in Glasgow for a week. The 1-1 draw was a fair result, and surprising as many had said they’d be happy if we conceded less than 4. The Sheffield Wednesday game was just as encouraging, as we were clearly the better side and won 2-0 without ever looking under serious pressure.
From those games, fan mood and expectations have swung somewhat back to the pre-Progres mood. Fans are excited to see the league get started, and whilst some doubts remain, it seems Pedro has bought himself a little more breathing room. Transfers have slowed down a little, but we’re coming up to the crazy few weeks of the summer, so I’m sure we’ll have plenty to discuss there.
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So what should we be expecting from the season ahead, given everything? Are we capable of a title challenge? Will we see something similar to last season, where high expectations were quickly extinguished by the reality of our performances? Can Caixinha carry more luck in terms of scoring chances and keeping players injury-free?
There’s a lot to consider. Based on the evidence of July, though, it’s fair to say that we can’t be too confident just yet. That’s not to say we won’t be better than last season, which I think is a certainty, but we have a lot to prove. Performances in friendlies against teams who tried to win the games against us were encouraging, but not entirely reflective of the challenge we’ll face in most games. Doubts about where the goals will come from regularly are understandable. There’s no way that the games against Progres were in any way reflective of what we’ll see going forward, but they remain a concern until we get to the competitive stuff. Last season, we strung together 3 wins only once from memory in the league. That needs to be changed very quickly if we want to have an enjoyable season.
The first three games present a decent challenge. Motherwell away is always difficult, but with a relatively new manager and loads of changes to their team, there’s a lot of unknowns. Hibs, with the Lennon factor and a strong squad, will be a difficult match. Now that Hearts have let Cathro leave and will no doubt bring in someone with experience and the ability to make a team hard to beat, they also present a challenge we can’t predict just yet. Winning your first three games isn’t the norm for most sides, yet it’s almost a demand this season as we look to banish the poor results which hang over Caixinha so far.
From our performances in the recent friendlies and interviews with the manager and captain, there does seem to be a desire to turn things around quickly. Realistically though, that’s not going to be easy. Despite a lot of our new signings being clearly better than the squad we had, they’re still settling in. Our fans can be quick to write players off, and it’s hard to see any who start slowly being given much time to change those opinions. With so many changes in such a short time, patience is required, but it’s not likely to be given.
Whilst we can’t be too confident, it’s also fair to have some excitement about the prospect of our squad clicking early and doing well. Many of the new signings have the ability to really do well in this league. We look set to play a 4-4-2 of some variation, which fans enjoy in the main. We play a far more direct style of game now, and almost every pass from our midfield wants to go forward. There’s pace and energy in almost every position, and the experience of Alves and Dorrans is going to be key. If answers can be found to breaking teams down who sit in and aren’t going to be moved easily, we have a real chance of doing more than we should reasonably expect.
Off the field, things continue to move in the right direction. We now have a Director of Football hired. We’ll be able to sign a new retail deal for next season. The fans have more of a voice on the board, and season ticket sales have been huge again. If the season doesn’t go as well as we hope on the park, we should be reminded of the magnitude of just what we achieved this summer regardless. We have work to do, but we’re far closer to the normal situation at Rangers than we’ve been in years.
Should we be making predictions? Probably not, but where’s the fun in that? From everything we’ve seen, and the sort of signings being made by the teams we can expect to be around us in the league, a second place finish is a fair expectation. With a mentally weak squad, hampered by injuries to players with the most ability, we lost fewer games than Aberdeen last season. The draws killed our chances of second place, and given the level of investment and ability brought in, we should turn many of them into wins.
There’s an assumption that Celtic would struggle if put under some pressure early on. They are extremely unlikely to have as good a season in the league, but there’s no way they’ll drop 20 points from last season, and if we gain 20 from ours we’re making great progress. We should hope that a title challenge is possible, but we certainly can’t expect it to be.
The cups are always a lottery, but it would be nice to go on a decent run there. The loss of European games will mean it’s difficult to get a lot of the squad a run in the team if we get lucky with injuries. Cup games would give us the chance to rotate somewhat.
We can expect a better season. We should demand improved performances from individual players and the team as a whole. What would be unrealistic is the idea that we’re ready to challenge for the league just yet. If we somehow get past the various realities which would normally hold back any club in our sort of position, we shouldn’t play down that achievement by saying “that’s how it should be anyway”.
What’s your thoughts on the upcoming season? Tweet us @rangersnewsuk and we’ll be happy to discuss!