Rangers face a massive test of their Hearts

Rangers face a massive test of their Hearts
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 05: Kenneth Vargas of Heart of Midlothian and John Lundstram of Rangers battle for possession during the Viaplay Cup Semi Final match between Heart of Midlothian and Rangers at Hampden Park on November 05, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Is it safe to say Saturday’s crunch fixture with high-flying Hearts is a ‘title-decider’?

Ok, that might be going a bit too far, but the Gorgie form since they lost to the Dons in December is frightening. 12 matches, 11 wins, one draw.

They are Scotland’s in-form team, even more so than Rangers right now, having dropped two points to our three, and yes, they beat Celtic in there as well, on their patch.

So this really will be a clash of Scotland’s top two sides on form right now, and if Rangers get the three points from this one it’s a gigantic statement.

But it’s far from given. Shankland is, via some distance, Scotland’s top scorer, outweighing anything we have at Ibrox, and he will be desperate to put one or two past the side he equally desperately wants to play for.

That said, he’s also the worst in the SPL for losing the ball – in both unsuccessful touches and dispossessions he is definitively, by a mile, the most incompetent, and that is something very important for Rangers’ rearguard. 151 losses, worse than anyone including Sima (who’s obviously fallen away due to missing so much football), and second-placed Miovski.

In short, Shankland is miserably poor at holding play up – he will never be a big tough target man who can drag his men up the field, instead, he just reads the game well and finishes in the right place right time.

But it means Rangers can easily choke him out of the match, press him, harass him and he WILL lose the ball a lot.

He will make turnovers very easy.

Which means playing against Hearts is about strangling him and raking up the park to take him out of the game.

To put another perspective on it: Shankland has scored 18 of Hearts’ 35 goals, which shows the influence he has. But yet another one is that he doesn’t score vital winning goals that often, just 4 winners of the last 11 matches were scored by him.

He is the fulcrum of their team, and snuffing him out will massively help, but there’s more to Hearts’ game than just Shankland.

That’s evidenced by the lack of influence he has overall in matches in terms of play and the fact they’re top of the table in the last 10 minutes, clear, without that influence.

His possession levels are solid, in fact his at St Johnsone (39) surpassed Fabio Silva’s (24) so he does get a lot of the ball.

Just doesn’t keep a hold of it so well.

But we’ll leave the rest of it to Philippe Clement.

One thing is for sure, this will be a massive test. Come through this and it’s a fantastic start to the big three-match header.

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