After a physically tough and nervy 90mins on Wednesday night, Rangers and their fans will be glad to be back to home territory this Saturday. Unfortunately, the challenge won't be any easier with old foes Aberdeen the visitors who, as always, will be keen to inflict the most possible damage on us tomorrow.
The Light Blues looked a tired bunch as the final whistle blew the other night. Alfredo Morelos was exhausted on his own up front whilst the likes of Jack, Tavernier and our central defence knew they'd been in a game as well. Even the rested Steven Davis had to come off the bench after 20mins for the injured Joe Aribo so I'd fancy most players enjoyed an ice-bath of sorts yesterday at Auchenhowie.
It says a lot for the efforts of Livi over the last couple of seasons that our manager kept changes to a minimum in West Lothian when some fans, yours truly included, felt rotation to some degree would be likely. Instead, aside from Davis, Steven Gerrard went for pretty much his strongest XI available to him which was a slight surprise, knowing the difficult match ahead this weekend - followed by next midweek's trip to Switzerland. Does this mean the manager will make changes for tomorrow or ask his preferred first XI to give him three more 90mins of endeavour before some can take a well-earned rest over the international break?
Personally, I think it's asking a lot but with Aberdeen themselves just off the back of an extra-time and penalty loss to Hearts, perhaps the team won't need to be as fresh as we'd normally like meaning changes can again be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, it has to be frustrating to some of the fringe players that they've been unable to feature for more than the odd cameo when some of our players are clearly tired and not in the greatest of form. For example, James Tavernier remains a key outlet for us but is playing poorly, whilst the same can be said of Scott Arfield ahead of him. Connor Goldson and, especially, Filip Helander didn't enjoy their task the other night either so after he was 'rested' on the back of a poor display against Livi in the league, Niko Katic may well be expecting a recall at some point this week.
Generally though, I doubt the manager will be tempted into rotation this weekend. He's on record as saying he wants to keep this defence playing together and, some dodgy moments aside, we have had three clean sheets in a row. Midfield will see an enforced change with the head injury Aribo suffered meaning Kamara should retain his place in the starting XI alongside Davis and Jack. Further forward is where we may seen some revision though. Alfredo Morelos has been top class recently but was clearly exhausted as the game ended on Wednesday. Jermain Defoe didn't feature the other night but did score two last week and started against Aberdeen when we beat them 2-0 in April; making a nuisance of himself throughout. The aforementioned Arfield also remains off-form so he or the inconsistent Ojo may be taken out for King, Stewart or Barker if fit.
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Our visitors haven't had the best start to the season and threw away a winning position twice against Hearts. However, last weekend they did beat Livingston (sans the suspended Dykes) so will remain a tough proposition tomorrow. They have lost players like Dominic Ball, Max Lowe and Graeme Shinnie from last year's team so it's not a surprise they've perhaps lost a bit of competitive edge but the likes of Lewis Ferguson and the impressive Sam Cosgrove remain so anyone thinking Derek McInnes or his squad will roll over at Ibrox are in for a rude-awakening.
Nevertheless in our last meeting five months ago, we were by far the better team so our manager will be looking for that same quality (and more clinical finishing) this weekend. Coincidentally James Tavernier scored two penalties in that game and referee Don Robertson sent someone off for a flying elbow so sometimes your expectations are met!
Other than our loss against Celtic at the start of the month, it's been a decent September results-wise for Rangers. Yet, at the same-time, it's not unfair to say performances have not been as consistent or as good as we'd like. There have been some excellent periods of play in our four wins but, too often for me, also the kind of sloppiness on the ball we seen in the Old Firm defeat. Similarly, as much as players like McGregor, Jack and Morelos have been at the top of their game, other key figures such as Tav, Arfield and Goldson have not.
With that in mind, it's been a shame we've not seen more rotation but in the race for silverware and European co-efficient credibility, perhaps chopping and changing his team is a luxury our manager can't afford. After all, Rangers fans demand wins and demand success so risking any momentum in any match is a risk when Celtic especially remain unbeaten.
That's just how it is at Rangers and, in a week where Steven Gerrard was recommended as Jurgen Klopp's (eventual) successor at Liverpool we're fortunate to have a manager - albeit still a novice - who understands the often unreasonable expectations of fans. As such, we'll have to trust his judgement when it comes to player selection and game management during busy schedules. However, another win will be expected tomorrow with no mitigation offered if three points aren't forthcoming. The pressure is only just starting to build...
Possible Starting XI
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