So that was a battering – 5-1 is a heavy defeat for any club but in an Old Firm it was shambolic and the worst part isn't the result as hard as that is to believe, it is the manner of the defeat and a culmination of our start to the league season. It is the same schoolboy mistakes being punished every game, a continued inability to defend set pieces, failure to press aggressively as a team, failings to track your man or as a centre back partnership knowing which one will press and which one will cover the runner.
I have raved about the change in style Mark Warburton has brought to Rangers so I feel it is fair after 5 league games to criticise and detest the blind faith some have for his every decision, where is the vibrancy, fluid movement, high pressing that we excelled with last season?
It is gone and has been replaced with a slow tempo where we attempt to dominate the ball still, however we are laboured in doing so allowing the opposition the time to re-group as we are waiting on openings through short passing without moving it quick enough so no chance to overload an area, we also have a very soft defence and little midfield protection, only Wilson and Tavernier can say they have done their duty defensively this season and the lack of positional sense, pace and energy in the middle of the park is worrying as we are counter attacked at will.
We have improved our squad in terms of depth but in doing so we have lost our playing and pressing identity that many teams couldn't handle last season albeit the poor standard, in general. The addition of Joey Barton was hailed and given his inclusion in the English Championship team of the year last season I can see why; he should be more than good enough for this level but he looks well off the pace and it's worrying.
Niko Kranjcar was always a risk and he has had some brief moments. However, he is not close to being fit enough and he takes away from what we should be about and the less said of his performance on Saturday the better. I am astounded that Warburton saw fit to select that midfield three: Josh Windass was by far our best player and showed promising signs as a direct runner but we needed more energy in there with him. Hindsight is a great thing but we probably should have went more conservative as well given the type of game it was and our recent form. Andy Halliday should have been one of the first names on the team sheet for this fixture.
So let's talk about our recruitment policy this summer. We secured “one of the best” in Frank McParland yet our policy this summer seemed to be all over the place. Warburton often discussed our aim to sign young, hungry players who can improve yet it ended up being a running joke at our over 30s signing policy. Our average age of signings in Warburton's first year was 21 and this summer it was 27, a clear change in direction and quite surprising. This brings our squad average age to approaching 27 years old and for a team that is about high energy pressing, short passing at a high tempo and strong will to attack teams, this seems to go against everything we want to base our game on.
On the other hand, we had to replace a large amount of our squad this summer and it may be that they need time to get it right and we are operating under tight constraints that is indisputable, the “Going for 55” tag whilst a good marketing tool may be a step too far in this year of our rebuilding. However, I think it is perfectly reasonable to question our recruitment policy and expect at least a title challenge which looks well off but these are early days.
Centre back is our weakest area and it's very well known to anyone who has watched us over the last 15 months. Yet it has not been addressed, signing Clint Hill at 37 years old was baffling and has proved most fans right so far sadly and signing Phillipe Senderos was akin to being in a nightclub at 3am and the pool of talent reducing every minute and going for the most desperate girl. We did try in June to sign two centre backs in Eitan Tibi and Bernardo Espinosa who I'd expect would have been very solid signings but we couldn't secure those deals with Tibi staying at Tel Aviv and Espinosa signing for Middlesborough.
Both players showed our ambition and that we could scout outside of the most expensive market in world football, I get it we have wage structures that we can't and shouldn't break however where was our plan for a centre back after these two were missed out on in June? I really do question what happened here, also our deals for Senderos and Hill probably gazump any financial offer tabled for either of those targets we lost out on.
To conclude, this may be a depressing read. However, I do feel we have the squad to turn it around. Having said that, it requires Warburton to make big and bold decisions and probably drop players that don't fit his style of football right now. When back fit Rossiter should replace Barton, Forrester/Holt in for Niko and play Windass as the number 10 and that would be a far better midfield balance.
I am afraid that we are going to have to deal with centre-back until January at best. It's not a popular opinion but Danny Wilson is by far the best option we have and I don't get the hate for him - he must start. Rob Kiernan is so positionally awful that it may be better to try with Senderos for the time being. However, I wouldn't be against David Bates – he is highly rated and what is the point of a loan if he rarely plays?
Rockets should go up the backsides of Lee Wallace and Barrie McKay, who are not showing anything like the form of last season. Barrie is a player I love and he can do much more but I would try to persevere with him given his ability and that his style suits us. Joe Garner seems to be a starter given the £1.5 million paid for him which does seem an expensive deal. However, he will add quality and give us another dimension furthermore is Waghorn really a right winger? Miller isn't a winger either; we really must get the best squad to fit our formation not squeeze players in for the sake of it.
Mark Warburton has done a great job in transforming us and has done enough to gain trust and patience from supporters. However, he must make big decisions to re-discover our playing/pressing identity and fix glaring issues in defending in general and especially when we are defending set pieces – he can't help players losing their man. However, questions can be asked over how much we focus on defending set pieces as Harlee Dean alluded to and the seemingly half zonal half man marking set up we currently have to endure. Also does he as a fairly inexperienced manager have it in him to drop high earners and big egos who currently don't suit us and are hindering us?
Big questions will be asked of our team and Warburton in particular and it could well define our season whether he has it in him to make those big bold decisions. A last point would be that whilst constructive criticism is fair and deserved, don't start abusing the players and manager at games or directly on social media - this does nothing for anyone.
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