Well, the much dreaded international break didn't disappoint. It was every bit as tediously boring and excruciatingly long as feared. Tragically, some would eventually succumb to madness as everyone from Paddy Roberts to Alan Power were "linked" with sensational switches to Ibrox as the prospect of even a crumb of a genuine rumour became less and less likely before the end of the break. Fortunately, there was a welcome relief from the deafening silence around Ibrox in the scintillating football played by Steve Clarke's dynamos as Israel were bravely thwarted at Hampden and Czechia's C team were effortlessly brushed aside in Olomouc. But for now, the only thing that matters is that our players came back injury-free.
The league visit of Dundee United to Ibrox is the first in eight and half years and promises to be an entertaining occasion. On the way back from demotion, a United side very strong at the time put Rangers to the sword twice in the cups and there will be just a little bit of a sense of revenge in mind on this occasion as the balance of power has reverted to the norm.
On to this season, both sides will be happy with the start they have made. Rangers have gone six games without conceding and top the league. In early August, spirits were high as the red carpet was rolled out for long term target Kemar Roofe and Swiss striker Cedric Itten. Unfortunately, the green carpet of the Toni Macaroni put a premature end to their honeymoon period as Rangers toiled to a no-score draw and the usual debates began to rage among the support (Jack and Kamara anyone?). Dundee United may sit in eighth place but they have given their support reason for optimism in the season ahead.
Tough opening fixtures have perhaps masked the fact that Dundee United have made a comfortable return to the top flight. They have picked up wins at Fir Park and Dingwall and have been very unlucky not to take all three points from hosting St Johnstone and not to take any from the visit of Hibs. The young side took plaudits for holding off Celtic for 83 minutes before cruelly losing the game to a jammy Ajeti strike. But while they have held their own against several top half sides and showcased some good football, their soft underbelly was exposed in a 4-0 humbling at the hands of an experienced, physical and clinical Kilmarnock outfit.
What has not yet been tested is how they can cope with the particular pressures of an away tie in Glasgow. Unlike many Premiership sides, they do not have experience of playing with their backs to the wall and it doesn't seem they have recruited the players to play that kind of system. They normally line up in a 4-1-4-1 with two attack-minded centre midfielders in front of a holding midfielder, but the signing of six foot five centre back Ryan Edwards has given them the option of switching to a 3-5-2 which might give them more of a chance of holding out at Ibrox.
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Despite currently looking like a bottom half side, the Arabs have not one but two strikers who have made a name for themselves as prolific goalscorers. Fit again, Lawrence Shankland has scored an incredible 89 goals in 106 games and often only needs one chance to score. Nicky Clark has never quite rediscovered the form that saw him score 41 goals in the 12/13 season, but showed his worth last season when he scored or assisted a goal in all but one of the last 12 games of the season and has carried that form into this season.
On the creative side, Manchester City youngster Luke Bolton is on loan for the season and possesses devastating pace on the right wing. In a game where the Tangerines' strategy will be all about the counter attack, any chances created are likely to come from the ball being played into space behind Barisic for Bolton to run onto before trying to find Clark or Shankland with a hard and low cross.
Rangers will be looking to pick up where they left off after bouncing back from the disappointment at Livingston to pick up two 2-0 wins. The loss of Aribo to injury for another month is a big blow, and all but confirms that the team will remain unchanged in the middle of the park for the time being. McGregor's ongoing injury concerns confirm that Jon McLaughlin will keep his place in goals too. The experienced keeper perhaps hasn't had the praise he deserves for his role in our new clean sheet record and former Hearts boss Craig Levein was keen to point out that Jon McLaughlin broke a 100 year clean sheet record in his time at Hearts too.
Further up the park, the return to training of Defoe and Itten are a big boost to Gerrard in terms of the options available to him but the two big talking points are likely to be whether Morelos will start and whether Barker will retain his place. Morelos has been training well and, according to Gerrard, is looking sharper. Both questions may be answered in one change with Kemar Roofe dropping into Barker's position behind Morelos, but I think it is more likely that Gerrard will go with the same team that started against Hamilton two weeks ago.
Whatever the line-up, it is of course essential that Rangers pick up three points, but fans will be hoping to see the forwards being far more clinical in front of goal too and taking the opportunity to send a message to Celtic that this season we aren't going to give up the top spot so easily.
Dundee United possess much more danger on the counter attack than St Mirren, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock, but their dismantling at Rugby Park has rung some alarm bells in the Arab support and their first visit to Ibrox after promotion is likely to be one they will want to forget: Rangers 3-0 Dundee United.
Possible starting XI (4-2-3-1):
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