PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: Second
LAST SEASON: 3rd, 67pts
NOTABLE INS: Bruno Alves (Cagliari), Daniel Candeias (Benfica), Fabio Cardoso (Vitoria Setubal), Graham Dorrans (Norwich City), Eduardo Herrera (Punas UNAM), Ryan Jack (Aberdeen), Alfredo Morelos (HJK Helsinki), Carlos Pena (Guadalajara), Dalcio (Benfica, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Matt Crooks (Northampton Town), Joe Garner (Ipswich Town), Barrie McKay (Nottingham Forest), Kyle Bradley (Clyde, loan), Andy Halliday (Gabala, loan), Michael O'Halloran (St. Johnstone, loan), Emmerson Hyndman (Bournemouth, end of loan), Jon Toral (Arsenal, end of loan), Clint Hill, Philippe Senderos
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Foderingham, Tavernier,
For all the #goingfor55 rubbish, no-one with two brain cells to rub together - insert joke about Rangers fans here - expected a title challenge last year. 2016/17 was supposed to be the season when Rangers re-established themselves as Scotland's second strongest team, and put themselves in position to try to knock Celtic off their perch in 2017/18.
It hasn't exactly worked out like that. A distant third last time around, the club have managed to spend around £10million on new players this summer and yet will start the league season with at least as much uncertainty surrounding the team as there was in May. Humiliation at the hands of Luxembourger part-timers Progres Niederkorn has caused a lot of damage; for one thing, critical revenue from European football has been cut off; even more crucially, it has left Pedro Caixinha under pressure already.
Caixinha certainly talks the talk, but mediocre performances and questionable tactics have increased the suspicion that the Portuguese coach is less Mourinho Mark Two and more a snake-oil salesman selling bottles labelled as tiki-taka but which actually contain hot air. Lack of conditioning and lack of time to integrate several new faces are reasonable excuses for the catastrophe on the continent, but don't explain the lack of attacking nous nor the enormous holes in midfield.
And yet Rangers have gone all in on Caixinha. There have been nine new signings already, seven of whom are either Portuguese or from Latin America and therefore are presumably players demanded by the manager. Several of last term's core have departed - or forced out, as in the curious case of Barrie Mckay - and Rob Kiernan, Harry Forrester, Joe Dodoo (none of whom were given squad numbers) plus a few more will follow them if they can be convinced to leave.
The newbies should, in theory, be suited to the style that Caixinha wants the team to play. The lack of a true defensive midfielder or of natural touchline-hugging wingers made it difficult to implement in the Spring, but Ryan Jack and the now-fit Jordan Rossiter solve the first problem and Portuguese duo Daniel Candeias and Dalcio may provide much-needed width. He has also tackled the dreadful weakness in central defence by bringing in two more countrymen in Fabio Cardoso and supposed marquee signing Bruno Alves. Alves could be a great signing, as he is incredibly physical whilst still very comfortable in possession. But he is 36 in November. At his peak he wouldn't have touched Ibrox with a barge pole.
Up front there is change too, as the club try to reduce their dependence on Kenny Miller's 37 year old legs. Mexican Eduardo Herrera and Colombian Alfredo Morelos will battle it out to be centre-forward; neither impressed in the Europa League games though Morelos did score for fun in Finland last year. If neither hit the ground running then there will be a problem.
In midfield there is at least an embarrassment of options; Jack and/or Rossiter in front of the centre-backs, then one or two of returnees Jason Holt, Niko Kranjcar and Josh Windass (who with his tireless running so often outperforms more technically gifted and higher profile teammates) and summer signings Graham Dorrans and Carlos Pena. Dorrans is the closest to a sure thing amongst the new guys, and his history as a local boy and supporter of the club may have played a factor in getting him to join. He might yet be Caixinha's trump card.
And boy does the coach need one. The first derby with Celtic is on 23 September, the seventh league match; any slip-ups between now and then and he might not even reach it.
The bottom line remains that Rangers are miles and miles and miles behind their rivals. They also have resources that other Premiership clubs can only dream of. Like the rest they have no chance of finishing ahead of Celtic, but at the very least they should be closer to them and well ahead of third. Over the whole season that should tell - whether Caixinha is still there in nine months or not - but then we thought the same last summer too, didn't we?
THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1996 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Jak Alnwick, Wes Foderingham
Defenders: Bruno Alves, David Bates, Myles Beerman, Fabio Cardoso, Lee Hodson, Rob Kiernan, James Tavernier, Lee Wallace, Aidan Wilson, Danny Wilson
Midfielders: Jamie Barjonas, Liam Burt, Daniel Candeias, Dalcio, Graham Dorrans, Harry Forrester, Jason Holt, Ryan Jack, Niko Kranjcar, Carlos Pena, Jordan Rossiter, Jordan Thompson, Josh Windass
Forwards: Joe Dodoo, Ryan Hardie, Eduardo Herrera, Kenny Miller, Alfredo Morelos, 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.