One thing we’ve not seen mentioned too much in today’s football pages is, beyond Steven Gerrard’s experimental XI last night, is the system he used.
There were some dramatic alterations last night at Ibrox and while it was admittedly only Hearts, it was still a very composed win and performance against a pretty able side. Even if Rangers have won all our matches against Levein’s men comfortably this season.
So, what was it about this performance which set it apart from the rather turgid and unimpressive showings of the past two months?
If ever there was ambiguity about the formation, last night was a clear cut 4-3-3. There’s been debate over whether it’s a 4-2-3-1 or the former, but last night it was evidently a 4-3-3 with, surprisingly, Scott Arfield in the right-wing position, over Eros Grezda and Daniel Candeias (more on that later).
Meanwhile midfield was a complete and radical overhaul. Steven Davis, Glen Kamara and Ryan Jack comprised the engine room, but stunningly it wasn’t Kamara DM, Jack CM and Davis AM, it was completely the other way around.
Davis sat deep as the ‘regista’ as Italians would say, creatively pulling strings from just in front of the defence, while Kamara anchored ahead of him and occupied the central berth, while Jack was deployed as the ‘Iniesta’ of the group.
Initially this seemed baffling. Literally every one of the midfielders out of position?
And yet, if ever Steven Gerrard asked for some trust, this was the occasion, and the midfield was sumptuous and dominant. MOTM Davis was effortless with his passing and vision (more on that later as well), Kamara did the hard grafting of closing opponents down, while Jack was much more creative and advanced with his positioning.
This shouldn’t really have worked, and yet it was one of the most convincing midfield performances we’ve seen since the rise of the ill-fated Arfield, Jack and Coulibaly combo which peaked v Aberdeen on the opening day of the season.
No, surprisingly, and against expectations this trio, along with the successful use of Arfield out wide, saw some much-needed freshening up of a recently-stale XI, with Gerrard finally showing some tactical nous, which has been all-too rare this calendar year.
And the result was the best performance in a long time and a convincing arrest of bad form. Tougher challenges lie ahead but this freshened up midfield was a huge part of why Rangers’ performance was a vast improvement last night.
Keep it up.