Alex Rae on Rangers: Caixinha, attacking class & chasing Aberdeen
Rangers have re-announced themselves as a force to be reckoned with, following a difficult February, with two wins and a draw so far this month – including a 6-0 Scottish Cup hammering of Hamilton Academical and, of course, that impressive point away at Celtic.
And with new boss Pedro Caixinha now installed, and the Gers frontline beginning to click again, things are looking up for fans. Here’s my view on all things Ibrox right now…
Parkhead point signals the way forward
I was very impressed by the way Rangers pressed Celtic so high up the pitch, and forced them to resort to long balls, which hasn’t happened in the three previous meetings between the pair this term.
I think this was the first domestic game this season where Celtic have had to encounter that sort of tempo and aggression, and that helped nullify their key players like Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair and James Forrest.
The performance and 1-1 scoreline showed Rangers’ resilience as well. You need a lot of mental toughness to get anything from Parkhead as a visiting side, especially when Celtic have won their previous 23 Ladbrokes Premiership games – and that’s a quality that Gers fans have really been looking for from the team this season.
It was the perfect response to those previous defeats, and showed they have the belief that they can compete with Celtic and match them. Combined with the new manager arriving, it will give everyone at the club a huge lift.
Front-men finding their form
One of the upsides of that high-tempo style we’ve seen lately – both at Ibrox and on the road – is that it suits Rangers’ creative players.
We’re beginning to see more of Emerson Hyndman on the ball and advancing into more attacking positions, especially in that 3-2 win against St Johnstone. He’s such an intelligent footballer – entertaining to watch, and can handle the ball well.
Barrie McKay is another who’s looked good lately, and all he needs to really kick on is a bit more consistency. That could be a vital factor in terms of how Rangers finish the season, because he can really hurt the opposition, at his best.
That’s been bolstered by the likes of Kenny Miller and Clint Hill, who are in the twilight of their careers, but are still cropping up with crucial goals and linking up well with the talented young boys.
And Clint’s got five in all competitions already this season, so I’d definitely class him as an attacking threat!
Next three games need to equal nine points
If Rangers are to have any real chance of clawing second spot back from Aberdeen, they need to be winning the next three games. Hamilton, Motherwell and Kilmarnock are all games they should be winning, especially with two of those being at Ibrox.
Their home form has been relatively good this term, with eight wins from 14 league games at Ibrox. But they’ve been poor travellers, which was reflected in those defeats at Dundee and Inverness last month.
Rangers need to get the bit between their teeth on the road, starting with that next away game at Killie.
Win those…and the Dons can be caught
Yes, Aberdeen are obviously favourites for second place come the end of the season, and aside from losing to Hamilton in their last away game, they’re on a stellar run.
But they’ll have to face Rangers twice before the season ends. That means that if Pedro Caixinha and co. can build on the momentum of that point at Celtic and win the straightforward-looking run of games they’ve got coming up, then the pressure could be on Aberdeen for those meetings.
Why Rangers voted for Pedro
Caixinha was a left-field appointment, and there’s a bit of guesswork in terms of what he’ll change at Ibrox – but his ethos and way of doing things is already becoming visible.
He has a clear focus on energy and pressing, and that’s reflected in the training methods he’s put into place. A lot of it is focused on performing with a high tempo and forcing the opposition into mistakes.
One thing they lacked under Mark Warburton was aggression. They were too lightweight and got bullied out of games too often. And that’s something Caixinha is already looking to change.
Tactically, we’ll have to wait and see. Right now Rangers are used to 4-3-3, having played that way for 20 months under Warburton, so it will be interesting to see if and how he changes that formation, and where he uses certain players within the set-up he chooses.
New arrivals and securing loan Rangers
I think the manager will see the current Rangers squad as a blank canvas. He’ll give everyone a chance between now and the end of the season – and see how they all do on their audition for him.
However, while there are some very good players in the current squad, Rangers need to strengthen throughout the spine of the team this summer. They need another centre-half, especially with Hill turning 39 later this year, and a midfielder who can really pull the strings.
I’d also say they could do with some extra firepower up front. Rangers have been wasteful in front of goal at times this season. There have been games where they’ve dominated play and created changes, but failed to win.
I personally think that trying to secure Hyndman and Jon Toral – both on loan – on permanent deals would be a good move, but I’m sure the manager will have other targets in mind too. Especially so as he has so many connections in world football.
A lot of managers look to bring in players who have done a turn for them in the past – so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him reunite with some of the guys he’s managed in Portugal, Qatar or Mexico.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing