Sunday, 19 March 2017

What a difference having a manager makes...

“And to that end, Rangers fans could not have a better way to judge new Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha than by focusing on Saturday’s hosting of Hamilton. The last time Rangers played Martin Canning’s side at home in the league was the opening day of this season; and that performance and result set the tone for how life would pan out in Scotland’s top tier under Rangers’ ex-boss. On his debut in the SPL, he failed, miserably, as Scotland’s worst top-flight side (give or take with Inverness) gleaned a point in Govan.
On Pedro Caixinha’s debut in the SPL, he faces the same opponent, with mostly the same squad, at the same ground, in front of the same expectant fans, in the same tournament, with the same exact ramifications of the result.
It is the perfect litmus test for our new manager to begin life in Britain, and the best way for Rangers fans to see, even at this early stage, what we may be able to expect from our new gaffer.
When Walter Smith returned in 2007, his debut was a 5-0 tonking of Dundee Utd at Ibrox. That set the tone for his dominance over those following years. Naturally we do not expect similar dominance this time round (would be nice though!), but more often than not, how a regime starts is pretty much how it continues. Very rarely will a bad start by a Rangers manager be turned round to be a success.” 14/03/17

Yesterday, Rangers made Hamilton Academical look like Hamilton Academical. That sounds like a truly odd evaluation, but my praise could not be higher; let me explain. For the first time in as long as we fans can remember, a Rangers team went out against a rubbish diddy team (with all due respect to Accies) and made them look exactly what they were. There is no higher compliment than that to start this article off.

One of the tragic failings of the ex-manager and even initially his temporary successor was to make rotten teams look good. On countless occasions Rangers would find themselves struggling against Hamilton, County, Dundee or Killie, failing pathetically to make their obvious on paper superiority translate to the pitch.

That sits squarely at the door of our arrogant and foolish ex-coach who knew better than anyone, including Rangers men, how Rangers should play and how his methodology had nothing to do with any opponent and was solely about how Rangers played. His way.

Yesterday, for the first time in arguably years, a technically excellent Rangers took the field and strolled their inferior opponents, under the tutelage of a new manager who had said pre-match how, yes, what we do is very important, but you must scout and analyse your opponents, studying them, respecting them.

Indeed, Ped the Ted even gave a little insight into the depth he went to, noting that Hamilton’s other matches against top four teams this season had always been played by Martin Canning setting out with a back five, but for facing Rangers it had been with a four, and he expected the same again.

And that level of research paid stunning dividends as Rangers crushed the Accies frankly with the kind of ease Rangers fans are used to from yesteryear.

The opening quote from this piece focuses on what this site said earlier in the week – that the best test for Ped was to face, on his debut, the same team his predecessor had in the same circumstances. The difference was not just night and day, it was earth to moon.

Caixinha elected a 4-2-3-1 formation, with gasps of disappointment initially about the personnel selection. It seemed in every sense like his predecessor was still picking the XI, but from the first whistle it was evident everything else had changed.

Rarely have I seen, certainly since 2012, a Rangers side working like a completely autonomous machine, smoothly clicking together and functioning completely in harmony. Every single player knew their exact role, and how to execute it. It was as if each man in blue was running like a computer program, all within one large software application which was remarkably bug-free.

The technical proficiency especially was truly exemplary, with extremely thrifty use of the ball, some excellent passing, efficient running and well-drilled off ball movement, as well as a level of pressing which has been alien to recent displays.

This was truly a Rangers team playing like how we expect our side to deliver, and Caixinha simply could not have produced a better start than this.

From Jason Holt’s tireless work in the middle of the park, to Jon Toral’s MOTM passing and awareness, to Martyn Waghorn running like a bull at every ball, this was Ped’s gameplan being executed to a level he will have been delighted about.

He even discussed the Portuguese iteration of square pegs in round holes and how that was absolutely at odds with how the game should be played. Caixinha literally expressed how it was basically idiotic to play players out of position – they should be playing where they can be happiest, he said. And going by how the players fit into the formation he set out, they were clearly all very happy indeed.

Sure, it was ‘only Hamilton’ but that is exactly the point. Rangers need to be rolling these teams over, and if this is a sign of things to come, if such a good display is possible with a pretty mediocre squad by Rangers’ standards, then one hopes our manager can not only continue this level against Motherwell and beyond, but get the budget to invest in better players and make a serious fist of next season.

Continue this way and Ped the Ted will head Rangers to second.

In a way, this really did remind me of the impact Uncle Walter had in 2007. And if this level of quality, work, technical class and general organisation continues, Rangers really are on the right path at long last.

There is SO much work to do, and the next fixture could be a disaster, but we can only judge on what we have seen so far. And it was very, very impressive.

Excellent stuff!
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