With an overnight frost across Eastern Scotland, it was certainly freezing cold last night and the temperature isn't much higher this morning under clear skies. On this side of the Forth, today's race meeting at Musselburgh has already been abandoned so I don't hold out much hope for Rangers return to action after the winter break tonight across the water in Fife. We should know around lunchtime if the game will go ahead after the covers come off the Central Park pitch at 11am. Fingers crossed this preview isn't moot!
First and foremost, I'm sure the manager and players are as eager and as excited as the fans to get playing again. In our last match to close 2018, we destroyed Celtic so confidence is high in the Rangers camp. Add in new signings of proven quality, the support can't wait to see the team hopefully step forward in terms of results and performances in the second half of the season.
Ahead of the match later, the manager has already said his new signings should play some part and with the likes of Ross McCrorie suspended, it certainly seems Steven Davis should start in his first appearance of his second spell at the club. Alfredo Morelos' continued good form may mean Jermain Defoe has to be content with a place on the bench but that may be dependent on the system we use and again, Gerrard has suggested he may alter his preferred 4-3-3 more often going forward.
Starting in defence though, it will be interesting to see if Wes Foderingham may start in the cup games again to keep him sharp. That may well happen at some point if we progress but with a tough match at Rugby Park on Wednesday then I suspect a strong team tonight to develop sharpness which means Allan McGregor should be retained in goal. Ahead of him, I'd be surprised if the back four changes after the Old Firm clean sheet. Borna Barisic is fit again but I fancy Andy Halliday will keep his place after two fine performances against Hibs and Celtic of late. Centrally, Connor Goldson and Joe Worrall did well in the last game and if both are fit should start tonight. The availability of Goldson isn't certain though so don't be surprised to see Gareth McAuley MBE take his place. As always, captain James Tavernier will start at right back and it was great to see him play so well against Celtic after some average form.
Moving further forward, the rest of the starting XI will be dependent on formation. The midfield were fantastic in the Old Firm match but with McCrorie suspended that will mean changes. In some ways, I'm not sure the same three would have started tonight anyway so it gives Gerrard the idea opportunity to allow Jack to sit with Arfield and Davis able to support the attack and find space on what is a very small and tight home park. Because the pitch lacks space, our wide men won't be able to stretch the game as much. This means the manager may just play the one winger in Ryan Kent and ask Defoe and Morelos to interchange in terms of leading the line and working the deeper channels. Candeias perhaps remains the most likely option with just the one striker but Gerrard will be as keen as the fans to see what Defoe can bring when we face tight defences with minimal space.
Indeed, although we've still scored plenty goals, breaking down and/or finishing off teams was arguably our biggest flaw in the first half of the season. Therefore, not only increasing creativity but making the most of the chances we do make is obviously a big priority for the management team and the signings so far reflect that outlook. It will be very interesting to see if we can improve and the challenge is a very tough one as we move into the business end of the season.
All things considered the Blue Brazil and a hard, bumpy Central Park, may not offer us the perfect litmus test of where Rangers stand just now but whether or not the game goes ahead, the heat is just getting going in Scottish football (and just not in the hummel training centre sauna). Let's hope we're on fire tonight and over the rest of the campaign!
Possible team (4-2-3-1):
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