Friday, 3 August 2018

"An asset or a liability" - eleven things we noted at Ibrox against Osijek

Last night Rangers booked their place into the ‘big boys’ of the Europa League by clinching passage to the third qualifying round, where the real stuff starts in Europe.

Ibrox Noise takes you through a bunch of things we think we saw against our Croatian victims Osijek:

1: While it was a mixed bag on the night individually (more on that later), collectively the unit worked extremely well managing the match. The goal obviously helped, but there was a steeliness about Rangers which we’ve not seen at this level for a very long time. The shape, tactics, and mental strength held far better than the weak-spined shadows this team has been for the past six years, and it does look, for now, like Steven Gerrard is starting to instil a bit of grit in his men. Nice to see.

2: Defence was imperious but for one man, as usual. Our two centre backs were colossal – Goldson slept through the match (proving a few observers increasingly correct that this is an EPL level defender) and Nikola Katic just gets better and better. While it’s early days, this duo is looking like it could actually be a truly Rangers-standard defence. Which brings us onto…

3: Jon Flanagan – his best match yet as a Rangers player – while he was guilty of one or two lax passes, his positioning, defending, passing and overall reading of the game was titanic. He worked hard, never gave his man an inch, and the fact that effectively zero attacks came from his side says it all. Can’t say that about…

4: James Tavernier. Attack wise he offered very little in this one compared to his usually customary runs down the right, and his defending was just painful, as usual. Exposed wildly for Osijek’s goal, fans on this site keep harping on about how he costs goals. He does. It’s plain for anyone to see that he is an incredibly weak defensive link. And, quite honestly, he appears to be getting worse. How no Rangers manager appears to agree is beyond us.

5: Midfield was a mixed bag. Ovie Ejaria is struggling out of position – he is a winger-cum number 10, an ‘Iniesta’ he isn’t, yet that is where Gerrard wants him. And his game is suffering as a result. His cameos earlier in pre-season were great, but they were much more advanced in position. However…

6: Ryan Jack also had his best match as a Rangers player. He was tireless, tracking back, breaking up play, covering as much grass as he could, this was the first time his ‘unsung’ work was actually pretty obvious. He protected his defence well. However…

7: We still aren’t convinced about Coulibaly. For all the good ‘breaking up’ play he does, there’s a foul in a dangerous area or a needless free kick somewhere. He appears to lack much technical quality, even if he has a lot of heart and runs his socks off. The kind of player who could be a real liability on a bad day, but an asset on a good one.

8: But up front was a bit lacklustre again. Morelos was profligate, although he is still playing better than he was. While this wasn’t as sparkling as the first leg, and he let his attitude get the better of him at times, he still offered a great deal of work and held the ball effectively as we know he does. He wasn’t helped though by…

9: A real lack of quality service from Candeias and Kent. Kent was improved and grew into the match as it wore on, but a lack of connection and understanding with those around him was a huge problem and we get the weird feeling when we look at him that he’s the wrong player in the wrong team. On the other hand his confidence on the ball is inspiring, but we can’t really say he’s got us out our seat yet Stevie! However, his corners are spectacular – a really excellent set piece taker.

10: And for his part Candeias worked better in midfield and defence than in attack – he looks a bit rusty up front, and isn’t delivering the incisive balls he was, but he still bails Tavernier out time and time again.

11: And McGregor? Outstanding again, the level of a proper Rangers keeper, and he will be the most gutted man in Glasgow to have conceded that sloppy late goal.

11: A bit like the first leg, this was a mixed bag – a lot of collective good, and fine work from Gerrard to put out a team which could handle and manage potentially tricky opponents. Osijek are a very decent team and they looked pretty average in both legs, which is a testament to how Gerrard set his men up. It was a well managed 180 minutes and the defensive four (McGregor, Goldson, Katic and Flanagan) are clearly helping give the men in front of them assurance. Just a pity about the weak link…

Overall a great night – Rangers deservedly earned their place in the third round v a genuinely tough team in Maribor, and will do well to manage a place in the fourth round. But the fact they progressed fairly smoothly this far is already a gigantic leap of progress over last season.

This Rangers team is not the finished article yet, but right now it’s closer to the school of 2011 than it has been since Steven Naismith got injured.

We have to congratulate Gerrard and McAllister for their work so far – they’re proving our earlier doubts way wrong. Keep it up; Sunday will be one HELL of a match.

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