New signing midfielder Lassane Coulibaly and winger/forward Ryan Kent are new options that have become available to Stevie G for tonight’s oh-so important Europa League qualifier in Croatia.
Gerrard wants to make sure that when the supporters see the new players, they are ready to play at the highest level fitness-wise. I think it would be doing them a severe disservice if we put them on the park in competitive games, when they are not really physically ready to perform to their real potential.
Unfortunately, Umar Sadiq has not quite reached the standard of fitness required for such a crucial tie, and has remained in Scotland to work further on his fitness programme. We wait to see if he will make his Ibrox debut in the 2nd leg of the competition.
It could depend on several situations whether Sadiq will be rushed into playing at centre forward next week. If we don’t gain the right result in Croatia and we have to score a few goals, his services will definitely be required.
If Morelos and Windass (assuming selection) perform in Croatia and we get the right result, he can be given a little longer to get his fitness up to top condition. I’m sure Stevie would prefer to play him at Ibrox in the friendly game against Wigan on Sunday 29 July, when he wouldn’t be under so much pressure to perform for his new club.
The next home and away European games will have enormous repercussions on Rangers’ future financial signings etc. If we are to grow and truly become title contenders, we have to beat the Croatians to gain more money to compete against Celtic in the long term.
The importance of the FK Osijek match has not been lost on the Light Blues support and the new management team. It won’t be easy to progress against our Croatian opponents who will be not be any pushovers, as this time last year Osijek eliminated PSV from the Europa League, by winning both matches 1-0 to go through on a 2-0 aggregate – no mean feat!
I loved when Stevie G’s message was to try and win this away game and to stay focused on the task at hand. It was so refreshing compared to what other Scottish managers say about playing away. They usually say they want to keep the tie alive to give us a decent chance to beat them at home in the next game.
It is probably the way Liverpool’s attitude approaches their away games, when they expect to win unless they play really badly. Our manager explained:
“The idea will be to win the game, and we are coming here for a result. I think the important thing is that we take it into the second leg and give ourselves the best chance”.
He wants his Rangers team to have more belief in themselves and show more aggression to take the game to the opposition when we have the ball, and defend like demons when we lose the ball.
Easier said than done, as it depends entirely on his new team performing to their potential on the night. Rangers have done their homework and know that FK Osijek are an aggressive team who are very good going forward.
Gerrard could see that Ezekier Kenty, their new signing is pacey, powerful and quick. He started at No. 9, then moved to the left wing. This made them strong down the left-hand side with the left-back putting in quality crosses into the box, and he also added danger from his set-pieces.
This means that James Tavernier in particular has to defend better and not wander too far up the park in search of a goal. Whoever he picks for the right midfield position will have to help him out in defence, if the strongest part of their team is to be nullified by smart defending.
The backroom staff now know that the Croatians have strengths and match-winners in their team, but if Gerrard picks the right team to compete with their dangers – we might come away with the right result.
Gerrard thinks that the most important thing is to make sure Rangers are set up right, ready and prepared to face this difficult challenge.
My predicted team in 4-4-1-1 line up:
Tavernier Goldson Katic Flanagan
Jack Coulibaly McCrorie Murphy
Subs: Kent, Ejaria, Alnwick, Candeias, Middleton, Docherty and Aidan Wilson.
When Tavernier starts to attack, Jack must tuck in to replace his forward runs, but Coulibaly and McCrorie must continue to hold their defending positions.
According to Stevie G, Coulibaly is blessed with his physicality, power and natural fitness and has excelled through the fitness work he was given, so he’s available to start if required.
This leaves Murphy, Tavernier, Windass and Morelos to try to assist and score the goals.
Arfield has not travelled and won’t be risked and will be kept for the return match at Ibrox, in case we need his talent to make and score goals.
Ejaria and Kent will probably be the first 2 substitutes used, with Middleton, Candeias or Docherty brought on next depending on the result at the time.
It’s going to be no easy task tonight – this team are a major upgrade for Rangers, probably the most theoretically tough side Rangers have faced for a long time. Here’s hoping the boys are ready.