After three months of statements, counter statements, political machinations, legal challenges and the general circus that is Scottish football, Rangers fans were finally able to do the one thing they want to over all others – watch Rangers play. They may only have been friendlies, but the matches against Lyon and Nice were as highly anticipated as any league opener.
And in true Rangers fashion, there was plenty to discuss from the trip to France. What could we take from the Trophee Veolia tournament?
FITNESS AND FAMILIARITY
With the world of football in a state well deviated from the norm right now, the number of transfers and player movement has been relatively minimal. Rangers have been largely affected by this as well, and as such it meant the line up for the game against Lyon had a very familiar feel. In truth, that’s no bad thing. Many clubs in leagues the equivalent or even somewhat stronger than Scotland will struggle to maintain even a status quo. This Rangers squad has a number of promising players at a good age who can improve over time. The good planning and work put in over the past two seasons may just bear more fruit than any three or four new signings would. Time will tell on that one.
Going into the games, there were two main talking points. What formation will we see, and how fit will the players look? With the huge gap between what was a poor run of form when the season was prematurely ended and these games, the conversation around tactics and formation has had even more focus than it normally would. For these games, Gerrard and the management team stuck with what they prefer, the 4-3-3 which sees the midfield used in a more protective role and asks the full backs and forward 3 to provide the attacking threat. And very quickly, you could see that Kent, Morelos and Hagi looked sharp, as the team got going around ten minutes into the first game and played particularly well (Kent’s red card aside, of course!).
It generally takes teams years to get to their best in a formation and approach. If you look at Liverpool, the team who we clearly try to emulate, Jurgen Klopp took over in October 2015, and finished 8th, 4th and 4th in the first two and a half seasons. Better players, and stability in terms of approach and the support structure for the first team, led to them becoming what they are now. It’s arguable that Klopp went into a far stronger situation than Gerrard inherited also, which has to be taken into account. There are plenty who feel the current approach our management team is taking is flawed. Maybe we’re just a way into a process that’s got to be given the time to truly flourish. There’s no guaranteed way to win the league with the challenge we currently face.
In terms of fitness, I was both surprised and delighted by how the team fared. Lyon and Nice have been back in pre-season training a little longer and had played more games, yet we more than matched them in that regard. I got home early enough to watch the first of the games on the Thursday between Nice and Celtic, and I felt Celtic looked leggy after 25 minutes. I don’t say this as a “we’re so far ahead of that lot” comment, as things will even out by the time it really counts, but with so long since the teams played, I expected that from our team as well. It was good to see clear evidence of what the club have been telling us – the players have worked hard during this enforced break and are ahead of where we could reasonably expect them to be.
PLAYERS AND PERFORMANCES
We all know the results of friendlies are largely meaningless. It’s also completely fair to say that of the four teams involved, Rangers played the games with a bit more focus on their strongest team than the others. All of that considered, we can still be pretty happy with two clean sheets and two wins. Both Lyon and Nice ended the games with strong teams on the pitch, yet we were the side creating better chances. As mentioned, our front three in the first game all looked sharp. Kamara and Aribo played well, especially the latter, and Jack and Davis put in decent performances considering they didn’t get any time on the pitch against Hamilton before this trip. There were loose moments on the ball, things we could have done better, good saves required by the goalkeepers, but all of that was to be expected. We played two very decent sides, one of which we were a man down against for over 50 minutes, and done well.
The use of the players was interesting. Ross McCrorie was heavily involved in the Lyon game, despite some speculation about his future among the support. Brandon Barker impressed with his pace and direct running against Lyon, but as has been all too regular in his career, he went off injured. Jamie Murphy got some time on the pitch, as did Greg Docherty. All four of those mentioned wouldn’t have been foremost in the minds of the support as players we would see a lot of in the coming season. Goldson and Tavernier played the most minutes over the two games, and seem to be almost machine-like in that regard.
What was most encouraging was that all the players looked very eager to impress, even those who didn’t get an awful lot of time on the pitch. We have friendlies against Motherwell and Coventry to come, with other closed doors games rumoured such as one against Dundee United on Wednesday afternoon. Hopefully everyone will get a chance to get a good run out somewhere and continue in that fashion.
AND EVERYTHING ELSE…
I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that part of the after-match comments by Gerrard from the Nice game were aimed at Kai Kennedy. There’s been reports of him being difficult with regards signing a new contract, and he’s been linked with a number of clubs in the past. The fact he wasn’t involved in the trip to France in any way was rather telling given he’d been training with the first team squad when everyone returned. I don’t know how true the reports are, or what the situation is at all, but if Gerrard felt the need to say something in that manner, it’s obviously with the intent of trying to provoke some sort of change. It’s worth letting this play out before we make any judgement.
With regards the racist abuse received by Morelos or the players taking the knee, those are issues which are bigger than the club or football itself. There’s plenty I’d want to say on the subjects, but nothing that I feel I have to. Today, the club released an excellent statement and I don’t feel I have anything to add to that personally.
We’re less than two weeks away from the season starting. All the inevitable highs, lows, arguments, anguish and joy is to come, and we’ll quickly forget what it was like going so long without being able to watch Rangers. For what little it’s worth, I’ll be glad to get back to debating the merits of Ryan Jack or why Hagi isn’t wasted where he’s playing.
It’s what we all enjoy, after all.