Rangers are back in action today following a thus-far impeccable pre-season. 12 goals scored, none conceded, and players already starting to look fairly convincing in places.
The level does, however, ramp up a considerable level from Gibraltese sheep-herders last week to French Ligue 1 giants today, with Velodrome cracks Marseille arriving in Glasgow for a glamour friendly in Steven Gerrard’s first ‘major’ match of pre-season.
Indeed, the former Champions League winners finished fifth last season in a very, very strong league, and with talent at their disposal like Brazil international Luiz Gustavo, French star Dimitri Payet, Dutch stalwart Kevin Strootman and world cup winner Florian Thauvin, the Gallic giants will be one heck of a hike from Oxford and St Joseph’s.
The question is what team should Stevie send out? With a formality on Thursday coming up, team selection becomes a lot less of an issue than the Oxford friendly, and more about keeping fitness up. Obviously a result would be a bonus against the quality of Marseille, but it will be decent match practise at a fine level against top players, and Stevie will want as many men as possible to get game time.
If we were to project our preferred XI, we’d like to see continuity, plus strength – we have momentum, and rotating too much from the start wouldn’t be ideal. Guys like Tavernier certainly need more minutes, he particularly was notably off the pace and rusty on the continent last week, so he requires more game time to get that sharpness back. And that applies to varying levels around the side, as it gears up for a greater intensity in the Europa League as well as the trip to Rugby Park on the fourth of next month.
So what would we go with?
McGregor would be in goal – he’s the best we have and Marseille have significant firepower up top.
We wouldn’t gamble on a debut for Helander – having only played 20 times for Bologna last season, he’s certainly in need of minutes, but he’s not ready having barely even met his team mates yet. No, we’d suggest a back four of Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, and Barisic – to start getting a touch of continuity at least on the wingback berths. We might consider him for the bench to get a taste of the Ibrox atmosphere but that’s it.
Midfield we’d select Davis, Kamara and Aribo – we want the new signing to impress us, and justify the hype, so a performance v Marseille would be a good place to start. It would also be a hell of a hike for him in terms of level – throughout his whole career he’s never faced a better team than-then League 1 Blackburn Rovers, now a Championship side, so this today would be an excellent litmus test of his potential.
And up front, Jordan Jones on the left, striker Greg Stewart, and then on the right that ridiculous Ojo v Arfield conundrum. And we won’t lie, we simply can’t choose between the two most effective players Rangers have.
Why not start both? Well, we want to give Aribo a chance to impress in his best position, and given all the hyperbole about him and the hoohah in getting him it’s a good opportunity. And we can always bring on the non-starter at half time.
So, your Ibrox Noise XI (4:3:3):
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Davis, Kamara, Aribo; Ojo, Stewart, Jones
Foderingham; Polster, Edmundson, Helander, Halliday, Jack, Docherty, Defoe, Morelos, Arfield, Hastie.
Not bad, is it?