Writing match previews isn't always easy. In Scotland we often play teams more than four times a season so it can be tricky to put a different slant on a subject that has already been covered to death in the preceding six months or so. By naming his first XI the day before our second away fixture to Kilmarnock (as opposed to the customary hour before the game) Pedro Caixinha has just made this task even harder. As such, please bear with me...
There's no doubt that despite being in the job just a few weeks, the Portuguese manager has already surprised most Rangers supporters (and those that say he hasn't are lying). Yes, his appointment was somewhat out of left field but his tactical comments (before the last few days at least) seemed to fit with the modern systems of today's sport. Indeed, in his début win against Hamilton and in the first half on Saturday, his tactics weren't all that different from his predecessor: more pragmatic for sure but the same attacking outlook was evident and whilst we did revert to direct balls a few times, we were still trying to play football on the deck.
Half-time on Saturday changed all that.
Sure, his hand was somewhat forced by injuries and illness to four players (including, it now seems, Senderos on the bench) but there's no denying the manager's three-man substitution got tongues wagging in the library that is modern-day Ibrox. I even seen a few fans put down their mobile phones when the teams came back out! Replacing a struggling Wallace with Halliday made relative sense given the latter has played a lot there during his career (and he did well on Saturday). Meanwhile, O'Halloran for an ill Hodson was definitely bolder than putting Windass on instead but the former St Johnstone man's pace perhaps swung that decision. However, the introduction of Garner for the injured Clint Hill showed just why Caixinha isn't afraid to stand off with bulls - even if Senderos was supposedly only half-fit.
All this resulted in as exciting a half of football I've ever seen at Ibrox. For five or ten minutes the Steelmen didn't seem to know what to do (note the quick introduction of the experienced Keith Lasley to help their younger players) and what was a very tight game in the first half, opened up completely in the second with both teams having a plethora of chances to win the game. I'm still not sure how the match finished 1-1 but both 'keepers deserve praise for some superb saves. In that sense, after drawing games, I usually go home disappointed but Saturday was different, having been genuinely entertained for the best part of an hour. I was knackered but also strangely refreshed.
Ahead of our next match against Killie, the manager's decision to name his starting XI early (see graphic below) feels equally liberating. Instead of guessing at the likely team, we know the players in advance and can properly discuss what each one can bring. OK, the majority of those featuring we know enough about to form a judgement (and not all are capable of continuing at the club) but the débuts of David Bates and Myles Beerman alone will make the game worth watching as Celtic (and Aberdeen) romp away with first and second positions.
Bates was a surprise capture from Raith Rovers earlier in the season and, with another cheap goal conceded from a set-piece on Saturday, surely can't be much worse than the inconsistent lads who've been less than reliable this season. Meanwhile, Beerman arrived last year from the development setup at Manchester City and has progressed nicely through the national teams in his native Malta. Having turned 18 last month the left-sided player who can play at full-back and on the wing, will also hopefully make the most of his chance.
Although we do know the team, given how we played on Saturday after half-time, the system can still be debated as well. A more orthodox 4-4-2 is again most likely with Waghorn dropping wide and deep whilst perhaps switching positions with Hyndman on occasion. However, it may be a 4-2-3-1 is preferred with Garner as the focal point and Waghorn in a wider right position. The Killie caretaker manager Lee McCulloch might be pleased to know his opposition in advance but how much time will he waste worrying about the Rangers team? Is that the kind of mind games Caixinha is looking to play?
In conclusion, the new manager's new/refreshing/mental way of thinking is certainly interesting, however we look at it. Nevertheless, a different approach will only be worthwhile if results improve on the pitch. With that in mind, as much as the manager is entitled to be judged when he brings in more of his own players, our fans remain expectant and are always fickle. No more so when 35 points behind title winners Celtic and with European football still far from guaranteed for next season. Like Motherwell and Hamilton before them, Kilmarnock may be another struggling provincial Scottish club but if we don't start beating these teams again - and comfortably - then six league titles will soon turn into ten for our greatest rivals. That fact needs to sink in.
The fun and games of Saturday are now in the past - it's time to go to work and deliver.
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