Few would deny Rangers’ pre-season has not been entirely plain sailing. Some disappointing close-door results along with a painful exit from European competition has left the club and fans licking our wounds and trying to figure out where things were going wrong.
So when news broke that Rangers were to face French giants Marseille the collective sigh and ‘we’ll get gubbed’ rung around many with a feverish intensity, many it must be said, including Ibrox Noise.
We feared today, with unsettled players, a manager unsure of his best strategy. We need not have worried.
While there remains some distance to go before Rangers are on the permanent road to restoration at the top of Scottish football, the performance and result today against one of Europe’s true marquee sides cannot be overstated.
Without further ado, here are some key issues we picked up in an impressive draw against Ligue 1’s finest.
Rangers’ defence is simply a different animal with Bruno Alves in it. We sung the praises of this guy, this signing, and when he finally made his maiden bow at Ibrox he was a colossus. Only he was as valuable for the effect he had on the players around him as he was for his own defensive abilities. The leadership qualities on display were the type quite simply missing for the past decade. We have not had such a titan there since the days of Weir and Cuellar – not even Bocanegra, Goian and Bougherra can be considered equals to this guy. He was magnificent and while he cannot quite sprinkle fairy dust on those around him to make them better players, he nearly just about does.
James Tavernier was a massive beneficiary of the Alves effect. He defended properly, he got forward, and seemed to raise his game to a level we have not yet seen from him at Ibrox. The defensive unity and bank of four appeared to inspire Tav and while he has a way to go to produce the consistency we need from him, if he delivers as he did today he is welcome at Ibrox and will be an asset.
The Dorrans and Jack combination in the centre of midfield added to the core spine Rangers have so badly missed in too long. Dorrans’ harrying and hard work both advancing forward and keeping Rangers’ shape in the middle kept the team ticking beautifully, while Jack smoothly dictated centrally and did the dirty work when needed. It was such a sight to see an old-school Rangers central midfield working like one should work.
4-4-2. So simple. What a difference this formation made. While on paper it seemed possible with the exception of Kranjcar, on the pitch this was a really smooth and well-drilled tactic. Everyone knew their role, the shape of the XI retained itself for the majority and it is the best organised Rangers performance I can remember, outwith the Hamilton result, but against a hell of a lot better opponent.
And that better opponent is what made this display so significant. This was not a mediocre display against some rank average SPL side, it was a fine showing against one of the top 50 teams in Europe. Rangers matched a side with Patrice Evra and Dimitri Payet, and maybe even bettered them. If you are going to castigate the side for the duff results against the weaker teams we have had this pre-season, you must praise for something like this too.
Pedro. He has not convinced everyone yet, including ourselves, but this is the first indication we could be wrong about him, and we would be more than delighted to have a ‘we were wrong about Pedro’ banner put on the site if he turns out to be the answer. We would love our club to be on the right track, and if today is any indication, there are signs of progress under the Portuguese.
Both Candeias and Herrera, disappointing in previous outings, excelled today. Both worked hard, tirelessly, and looked far more the part than we initially feared. Herrera kept pushing and did not give Mandanda any time to breathe, while Candeias beat men more than once to manage creating chances or winning corners. This 4-4-2 seems to have given life to the squad.
Kranjcar really loves Ibrox. Once again, like the first 35 v Niederkorn, he was outstanding, only he was unable to dominate solely this time because his team mates were doing the same thing! Plenty of those raking passes albeit a few did not quite work, but the desire to keep trying. He also lasted longer, keeping up his consistency till he was hooked. In truth he could probably have gone on. Hopefully the classy Croat is past his worst fitness problems.
Rangers can match almost anyone – the big key fact is if Rangers can get all their best players in the team, they have every chance of pushing the best on their day. This is not to overreact – it was a friendly. But it was a friendly everyone expected Rangers to lose, and to field nearly our strongest XI and show what we are capable of is a bit of a message.
The one downside was the defence losing its way a little once Alves came off. Indeed, replacement Wilson and captain Lee Wallace were left like statues for Marseille’s opener, something that just did not happen while the boss was on the field. Rangers must keep Bruno fit, he is the key.
Today was commendable. So much improvement, so much to be positive about and such a pleasing afternoon’s work. If Rangers can continue to develop like this, and go to Hillsborough and give a good account of themselves, even in defeat, the signs are there that the manager and squad are at long last on the right track.
And we could not be more pleased.