Friday, August 5, 2016
2016-17 Premiership preview - Rangers
PREDICTED LEAGUE FINISH: SECOND
LAST SEASON: Championship winners
NOTABLE INS: Joe Dodoo (Leicester City, £250k), Jordan Rossiter (Liverpool, £250k), Matt Crooks (Accrington Stanley, £50k), Josh Windass (Accrington Stanley, £50k), Matt Gilks (Burnley), Joey Barton (Burnley), Clint Hill (Queen's Park Rangers), Lee Hodson (Milton Keynes Dons), Niko Kranjcar (New York Cosmos)
NOTABLE OUTS: Cammy Bell (Dundee United), Nicky Clark (Bury), Luca Gasparotto (Falkirk), Nicky Law (Bradford City), Ryan Hardie (St. Mirren, loan), Tom Walsh (St. Mirren, loan), Dominic Ball (Tottenham Hotspur, end of loan), Billy King (Heart of Midlothian, end of loan), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal, end of loan), Dean Shiels, David Templeton
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace, Halliday, Holt, Forrester, McKay, Miller, Waghorn
"Guess who's back, back again?"
"We need a little controversy, 'cause it feels so empty without me"
So Eminem postulates on the 2002 hit Without Me, lyrics which I reckon would resonate with Rangers fans. Whether the rest of us agree or not...
Anyway, whether us diddy fans like it or not, the biggest story of the new campaign is that Rangers are back in the top flight of Scottish football (no, this is not the time or place for a 'Sevco' debate). Personally, I think there's a lot more going on than that, but our football media have no time for anyone other than Glasgow's gruesome twosome and sadly the SPFL seem quite happy to encourage this. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
So let's get a home truth out of the way. Rangers are not going to win the league this year. Sorry Bluenoses, but it ain't happening. Celtic won't be nearly as crap as they were last season, and whilst Mark Warburton has put together a very capable (by Scottish Premiership standards) squad, his budget remains a fraction of the one that their rivals can muster. One impressive Scottish Cup semi-final performance does not make a summer.
That's why I'm surprised the club have bigged up expectations. In the short-term it probably boosts season ticket sales, but it means that an iffy result or two in August will put Warburton under unfair pressure early doors. And whilst the team breezed through the Championship last season and beat Dundee and Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup too, they will find playing top flight opposition every week to be a tougher proposition. A more realistic (and achievable) target is to finish above the battle-hardened Aberdeen and Hearts - despite the views of some 'journalists' out there, this is not a given by any stretch.
Last season, the quality going forward largely masked the weaknesses. And there was plenty of quality; up front, Martyn Waghorn was a flat-track bully with 28 goals, while Kenny Miller enjoyed a wee bit of an Indian summer. But the veteran turns 37 in December, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he finally lost the spring in his step in the coming months. Waghorn's support is more likely to come from Barrie McKay - a revelation last season coming in from one flank - and Michael O'Halloran, if he can rediscover his St. Johnstone form.
That front three will scare anybody in Scotland, even more so with Lee Wallace and James Tavernier flying down the flanks. Rangers' full-backs are excellent going forward, but last season's achilles heel was the lack of cover for them. Tavernier in particular is not that great a defender, but it wouldn't matter if there was a defensive midfielder screening the centre-backs and stepping wide if needed. I don't think they'll get away without one this season, which makes it all the more odd that they haven't acquired one.
Joey Barton is certainly box-office, at least by modern Scottish football standards, and adds class to the midfield. He is an upgrade on the very decent Andy Halliday, but both are playmakers who don't break up play all that well. I'm looking forward to seeing Jordan Rossiter in the middle of the park too. The ex-Liverpool trainee has an excellent pedigree and may well be this season's breakout star.
The likes of Matt Crooks, Josh Windass and Joe Dodoo have probably been signed as good value depth, which was badly needed. Dodoo in particular is a player of decent potential too. But Barton, Clint Hill and Niko Kranjcar will not have come on cheap wages, yet are in the twilight of their careers. They might be good for a year, but one can't help feeling that it would be counter-productive in the long term if they take gametime away from the likes of Halliday and Jason Holt.
I'm a bit bemused by Warburton's departure from his generally successful focus on bringing in young players from down south. The Englishman has achieved enough both at Ibrox and previously at Brentford to suggest that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. But he will need some patience from the home support; Rangers fans have a deserved reputation for getting frustrated awfully easily when their team isn't playing well, an attitude which can often lead players to retreat into their shells. If the club keeps their feet on the ground, they should finish a comfortable second, earn a Europa League place, and potentially look forward to a title push a year or two down the line. Expect too much too quickly, and it could all be a bit of an anticlimax.
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1995 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Wes Foderingham, Matt Gilks
Defenders: Matt Crooks, Clint Hill, Lee Hodson, Rob Kiernan, James Tavernier, Lee Wallace, Danny Wilson
Midfielders: Joey Barton, Liam Burt, Robbie Crawford, Harry Forrester, Andy Halliday, Jason Holt, Niko Kranjcar, Andy Murdoch, Jordan Rossiter, Jordan Thompson, Josh Windass
Forwards: Joe Dodoo, Barrie McKay, Kenny Miller, Michael O'Halloran, Martyn Waghorn
THE BEST XI?
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.