Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Celtic clash: these are the five big tests for Pedro

With Sunday’s Old Firm semifinal getting ever closer, Rangers could barely be going into the clash in better form. With only two goals conceded in our past seven matches and 17 dispatched, Rangers look a different prospect since the Loaf left, as new boss Pedro Caixinha impresses his philosophies on a previously beleaguered squad.

However, beating an admittedly solid Partick side at Ibrox is a slightly different prospect to overcoming the green and whites from the other side of the Clyde, and a number of key personnel and tactical issues surround Ped the Ted as he mulls over the XI he is set to send out onto the Hampden turf.

The first obvious aspect to examine is whether he sticks with his currently-fluid 4-2-3-1 formation. This system has been smooth, effective, and given a new lease of life to a number of players, especially Jason Holt. But while Rangers had a decent and ultimately successful dress rehearsal for this one at Pittodrie, Celtic are a different prospect altogether and it is hard to say whether or not Caixinha will stick with what has been working, or alter it to cope with the threat of Sinclair, Dembele and co.

The second is whether Lee Hodson comes back in from the cold. The Northern Irish international can consider himself hugely unfortunate since arriving at Ibrox; evidently Rangers’ best right back, he simply was not in favour under the last manager, regardless of how well he played, and has been hampered under Ped by an infection from which he has only recently recovered.

There is no denying Hodson was a massive proponent of why Rangers got a point at Parkhead, given the brilliance with which the fullback nullified Sinclair and left Celtic hugely impotent. He is experienced at coming in from the outside to do a job and it would be a great surprise if he is not in the starting XI on Sunday.

The third is the left back conundrum. In truth, Lee Wallace probably will not be fit by Sunday which basically takes care of that particular dilemma – I see no reason not to trust Myles Beerman again at left back, especially in light of his impeccable display at Pittodrie, so that is less of a problem.

The fourth issue is central defence. Danny Wilson has surely earned a run in the first team with his excellent displays this past month plus; but if Clint Hill is fit does David Bates find himself on the bench? Hill has been struggling with hamstring problems now for a few weeks and Bates, while not spectacular, has been decent, but Hill’s experience against Brendan Rodgers' men could be critical and many would probably feel more reassured by a Wilson and Hill pairing in that one than Bates. But again, if Hill is not 100% fit, should he even be risked?

And last but not least the fifth issue is Joe Garner. Regular readers to the site will know what we think of him, and indeed it seems Caixinha was not overly thrilled by his display in Aberdeen either, dropping him to the bench for the visit of Thistle.

But that said Garner is a handful. Whatever you think of his personality, ability and temperament on the pitch, his sheer physicality is an asset if used properly and he has had success against Celtic of course with that goal in the east end. His strength and aggression could be very useful against Celtic’s back line. Does Pedro take the risk and start him, knowing it could well blow up in his face if it goes badly?

The above five seem to be the biggest dilemmas Pedro has – but them’s why we pay him the big bucks.
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