Rangers will face ‘Michael Beale’-esque Sparta Prague

Rangers will face ‘Michael Beale’-esque Sparta Prague
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 21: Rangers Manager Philippe Clement during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Rangers FC and Hibernian FC at Ibrox Stadium on October 21, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)

Can I start by saying that Rangers are finally back.

After years of watching a team where our midfield would often run away from the ball and hide. After years of watching our strikers being forced to do the midfielders job, and after years of watching our defenders panic as soon as one as a mouse ran way, we finally, finally, finally have a team where the midfield operates as a group, and tries to help the team get the ball up the park.

For years I have been screaming the same thing. The midfield has to track back and help the defenders when they are facing a high press, and it is the midfielders’ job to feed the strikers, so the strikers can do their job, and we have to begin to shoot from outside the penalty box.

It’s just one game, and it’s like night and day. I even asked for two players to guard the post, and what do we see, we now have two players covering the post and this is unbelievable, they are facing up the park, so they can cover a late run into the box. Geez, you would think this football thing is difficult. All the tweaks we at IN have been screaming for, and there is now finally hope and the time to turn this season around.

Ohh, can I say I was the first to point out that Sima actually had a football brain, and it was Sima who realised that the midfield was missing, and he was forced to try to do their job? That was the only reason why he looked like he was running around like a headless chicken. It was because he was trying to do two jobs, and was failing miserably because of it.

But now it’s Sparta Prague and the Europa League, and just for clarity it was Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela who was banned for 10 matches for his racism. Yeah, it does get very confusing when the racism comes from both sets of fans.

So, what can we expect in Prague (apart from their usual racist chants). Well, in Brian Priske, we are up against a carbon copy of Beale, but their team is a little bit slower.

For those who want to know which formation Prague will use, that is as meaningless as trying to understand Beale’s tactics. During the match they will switch rapidly from a 5-2-3 to a 4-2-4, to a 4-4-2. Like Beale’s Rangers, there is no fixed formation. The only difference is Priske has done a better job of teaching his team to read the game. This permits them to change their shape to whatever they think will cause the greatest damage.

That means our players have to be on their toes, but what might have been our biggest problem, the fact we have no fit left-back, is alleviated by the fact that Sparta Prague has no dedicated right winger on their books. Veljko Birmancevic, who scored against Real Betis usually operates on the left wing.

And now we come to Sparta Prague’s biggest problem. Sparta Prague suffer from the exact same problem that we did under Beale. Veljko Birmancevic is meant to be their primary striker, but during the match you will find him wasting time in midfield, and then on the right wing, and he will also occasionally drop back to help out as a defender. This tactic can confuse opponents who have never played against a team that has no real structure, but Rangers know exactly how to play against Sparta Prague, because that is how we have played for the last four years! In fact, I think they saw Rangers get to the final, and thought eh, that looks like a good tactic, and then decided to copy us, including all the worst flaws.

As might be expected, their weakness is in heart of the team. In the midfield, where the lack of structure eventually causes them to lose their shape, and it allows much stronger opponents to dominate the game. They also rely on their left-back (their number 2 Angelo Preciado) to continuously run up the park to overload the left wing, which leaves gaps at the back. Sound familiar? Anyway, we need to be aware of this and cover this part of the park.

For those who remember the tough match we had with them in 2021, being blunt, this team is not at the same level. Their high press is not as effective as it was under Pavel Vrba. That team was scary. They have reasonably fast players, but our players are much faster on the ball, and the fact that we know the Beale system is something that works in our favour.

Yes, we are going to have problems with Barisic unavailable, but they have had no time to do any research on the way we will set up. We have an entirely new manager, and our style has changed dramatically in just a few days.

With our team now playing coherent football with a solid midfield, this is a game I believe we can win. If you asked me two weeks ago, I would have predicted a loss.

My only real concern (and it is sad that I have to say this) but I am worried that Goldson will do one of his famous ducks during this match, and give their strikers a free shot on goal.

My feeling is if he does it once more he should be thrown out of the team. But if he does decides to behave and actually jumps for the ball, my prediction is we could walk out with a 2-0 victory.

We just need to be confident and not underestimate our opponents. Make no mistake, Prague is a well drilled team, and they do have players who can score if we allow them time on the ball, but we have played and won against much tougher opponents than this.

Let’s show Europe that Rangers are finally back.

Game on.

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