written by – John McIntosh
We have arrived at the quarter point of the season and with the international break over, Rangers will be refreshed going into this Saturday’s league tie versus Queen of the South. The reverse tie saw Rangers run rampant in a 5-1 victory after a controversial sending off for Queen of the South forward Derek Lyle coupled goals from Andy Halliday, Jason Holt, Barrie McKay and a double from Martyn Waghorn.
Rangers sit comfortably top of the Scottish championship after the first round of fixtures and have beaten every single side in the division, which is a testament to the hard work of the players and notably the staff, who have transformed this team in such a short space of time.
Given eleven players contracts ending & only having five weeks to get players brought in for the start of the season, some of the beautiful football our support have been privileged to watch has been exceptional. It really has been a fantastic start with the only blip being the 3-1 defeat at the hands of St. Johnstone in the League Cup at Ibrox.
With 31 goals scored in nine lleague games and a fluid 4-3-3 passing system which acts more of a 2-5-3 at times with the two wing backs bombing on, our support are buzzing with an expansive brand of football which has not been seen since the Dick Advocaat days.
Our starting eleven’s average age has been reduced from 28 last season to 23 years of age this season, which shows exactly what Mark Warburton looks for – a group of young, hungry players looking to learn and to develop with a few older heads acting as leaders of the group.
Regular match statistics show that Mark Warburton has imposed his philosophy on the side with possession regularly comfortably over 60%, showing that he love his sides “to dominate a football” and in most cases, we do dominate with High/Very High Danger shots, a statistic Rangers Report loves to use and highlight.
The implementation of the same playing style and philosophy from all of the academy age groups through to the first team is a massive positive and something I moaned should happen over the past few seasons. Massive respect should be shown to head of youth development Craig Mulholland, who has been key to a lot of the good work with the youth groups, and he is someone we are lucky to have (he turned down a similar role with Southampton recently).
Every single signing has shown that they can fit into our system and ethos. Normally, when signing so many new players it is expected a few will fall short. But I don’t think you can say that of any of our summer signings although some have made more impressive starts than others.
The signing of James Tavernier was something I couldn’t believe we could pull off at the time but even I am shocked by just how talented he is, with nine goals and four assists in 14 starts. He’s a constant attacking threat from set pieces along with his marauding runs down the right-hand side. He has impressed, immeasurably. He looks a great find and someone we should enjoy while he is here, since his dream is to play in the English Premiership and we should make a good profit on him in a couple of seasons. £200,000 is incredible business – thanks, Gary Caldwell.
Warburton has also shown a great eye for a player – especially with no scouting network, which can be restrictive. That being said, I am delighted we are making progress on that front.
He has rejuvenated the form of captain Lee Wallace with three assists and five goals and young winger Barrie McKay who has three goals and seven assists so far – no Rangers player has more assists than McKay. These are two lads at different stages of their careers but both are like different players this season.
It could be said rotating McKay for the St Johnstone loss was a mistake. Both players link up impressively on the left wing with McKay happy for Wallace to overlap, whereas Nathan Oduwa often likes to have a direct run at defenders.
Looking at our tactical set-up, we play a fluid 4-3-3 with both wing backs pushing forward making the set up more of a 2-5-3 at times. I really like Andy Halliday’s desire and attitude but if he is to command the holding midfielder position then he must drop deeper and develop a better positional sense in order to stop counter attacks and to give the centre-backs much greater protection when our wing-backs attack.
It is a new position for Halliday, so I wouldn’t like to be too harsh; he is a strong and committed tackler with better technical attributes than I gave him credit for prior to his move to his boyhood heroes. Perhaps, with John Eustace’s alleged imminent arrival, he will learn from him as Halliday has commented that holding midfield is his preferred position now.
The need for a natural holding midfielder was all too clear in that St Johnstone loss. Our high line was badly exposed, playing both centre-backs flat with a very high line versus the pacy Michael O’Halloran was slightly tactically naïve, but with they way Warburton is, I know he will learn from that.
Another key point, I think our fans need to accept is that although sorting out the holding midfield position is crucial to protect our centre backs more, we will still be susceptible defensively at times, especially to counter attacks but the motto is “we will score more than you”.
The roles of our centre-backs as more ball-playing defenders shows a lot of trust in the pair’s technical abilities, but the way they take the ball from the back is imperative to our system and ball retention. Rob Kiernan so far this season has looked the more dominating and stronger centre-back, and while Danny Wilson looks comfortable at times, what I call a lackness is slightly concerning.
Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham struggled with passing out from the back in his first few games with some poor distribution, but he has since grown into this role and this has been shown by Rangers Report’s own distribution statistic – showing we keep possession moving into the opposition half far more than our opposition due to how we play from the back, and I find Foderingham is becoming a very commanding figure.
The midfield three are technically impressive with Gedion Zelalem and Jason Holt being the two key gifted players. Signing Holt for £65,000 was a bargain, and he has had a good impact so far this season. I would like to see him with the ball higher up the pitch at times committing defenders, but he has impressed so far. He needs to keep his consistency and he should be a big player for us even going into the top flight.
Gedion Zelalem has shown the massive potential we heard all about when he joined the club. He is technically very gifted, as is to be expected within the Arsenal youth academy, but he is also deceptively strong and he seems to be able to have an extra touch on the ball and players can’t get near him. I would like to see him impose himself on games stronger in the next quarter, but it has been an encouraging start.
Spurs loanee Nathan Oduwa has also shown how skillful he is – at times, making a joke of defenders at this level. This skill even provoked Alloa defender Colin Hamilton to claim that Oduwa was disrespectful – in hindsight a clear overreaction from him. Recently Oduwa has been more direct and has been far more effective, proving Warburton clearly knows how to develop young players.
Finally, Martyn Waghorn has been a revelation up front. I personally was not too excited upon his arrival but felt fans should give him a chance and boy has he taken it with 14goals in 14 games and a 100% penalty record thus far. His ability to hold up the ball, link up the play and sometimes carving defences open with a reverse ball to one of the bombing wingers has seen many chances created.
He is a strong focal point. Against St Johnstone, he was moved out wide with Kenny Miller preferred centrally. This was a bad mistake, in my opinion. And it was all too easy for the Saints defence however his flexibility to play across the front line makes him an asset.
Moving forward, there has been a big appointment yesterday in Frank McParland as head of recruitment. This is an incredible appointment for Rangers Football Club. McParland has an excellent relationship with Warburton, which is one of the reasons he has left Burnley. He brings with him a wealth of experience & contacts given his previous tenure at Liverpool and Watford.
McParland also has experience as director of football, and I wonder if a transition to a sporting director will eventually occur at Rangers. Personally, I am a big fan of this modern structure given that the roles are clearly identified and there maintains a strong working relationship.
Talking about recruitment, former Barcelona La Masia product Gai Assulin has joined us on a trial basis and he will be looking to impress the management team enough to earn himself a contract. Assulin fits in with the sort of player we now crave – technically gifted & is still a good age at 24. He has massive potential but has never reached those heights and he would fit into our fluid attacking system in the wide areas.
He was released by Mallorca this summer and has flirted with deals back home with Beitar Jerusalem in Israel and with clubs in Denmark, but all indications are that he would jump at the chance of a deal with us, like James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn, we could be just the right fit for each other.
Finally, the impact from Mark Warburton has been unbelievable, and the new expansive style of football is drawing fans back. So many fans, including myself, can’t wait for the next match instead of it being a chore as it had been for the past few seasons, bring on the rest of the season.