There’s no doubt that Rangers have improved under Graeme Murty. The issue is that many of his most ardent supporters seem to assume that this improvement is entirely down to his managerial qualities, ignoring the fact that we underwent some serious squad surgery in January, almost all of it for the better.
Rangers have been playing their best football since the unpleasantness in recent months. However, we also have by far our best squad since 2012 in that period. On Sunday, injuries forced Murty to rely on the shoddy centre-back pairing of Fabio Cardoso and Bruno Alves, and the old ways returned. Neither player has been particularly good up here, and the blame certainly lies squarely on them - but it’s clear evidence that defensive improvements are down to Russell Martin and David Bates rather than any work on the training ground.
The extent to which players have improved under Murty or not is also difficult to determine. Josh Windass has certainly improved to a ridiculous degree moved into a central counter-attacking role, where his direct running from deep and finishing can be utilised at its best and his poor touch, decision making and erratic passing are minimised - all of which were exacerbated when Pedro Caixinha played him on the left.
Yet other star performers such as James Tavernier, Daniel Candeias and Alfredo Morelos were playing excellently under Caixinha too. Caixinha’s team wasn’t a complete trainwreck that embarrassed itself in every area - it was a team with huge, gaping flaws, and many of those have been addressed by January signings as well as Murty’s changes (such as changing Windass’ role and favouring David Bates in defence.)
As noted above, the deployment of Josh Windass in a different role has worked wonders. Playing without a defined defensive midfielder has also not been the disaster one might’ve thought, as Sean Goss and Greg Docherty have been excellent for the majority of their matches (really, Celtic was the only blip, and they were shielding a much dodgier defence there.)
The diamond formation was also a fairly efficient option earlier on in the season. Murty has still been unable to fit all of his most effective players into the same team, but this appears to be a consequence of our squad makeup than any weakness on Murty’s part. The problem is that such a squad demands rotation of formations and personnel - something that we haven’t yet seen enough of from Murty.
This is more Mark Allen’s department, but Murty will have a role in both agreeing on targets and also making it known what type of players he needs. The fact that we got through a hectic January and left without any obvious weaknesses is an excellent sign. While this isn’t the most important factor for a manager in a setup involving a Director of Football, it’s very hard to fault Murty at all here.
Here, we have a few problems. Murty hates to break up a winning team, which is fine, but unfortunately he seems to stick to that even when the team is playing poorly and the circumstances of the game have changed. True, in the defeat to Celtic, Murty had little to bring off the bench. But the situation had become favourable to prioritise players like Jason Cummings and not those such as Windass, who are pretty hopeless against deep, packed defences. So far, we’ve seen a worrying lack of flexibility and ideas and a reluctant to make big calls in big moments.
Not too much to complain about - Murty sometimes comes across as what he is, a man who has been overpromoted and didn’t expect to be in the role. However, allowing for that being the case, he’s made no significant blunders and has pretty much always done what’s expected of him. He could’ve been more forceful in defending the club at times, but he’s made no mistakes - which is quite hard to do at a club of this size.