“We haven’t found our best team yet in terms of combinations.”
This quote from Mark Warburton following the last minute win over Motherwell may have come as a surprise to many. As a manager, he is well known for being assured and confident in his team selections therefore it may be strange to hear him talk in such a way. To be honest, it was actually pleasing to hear him say this. It lets the fans know that we are still working towards a strongest XI.
Warburton has always said he likes tight group of players and has proved having a small squad can be successful in his previous three seasons in management. This is the first time he has managed a squad with such depth and talent so it’s no surprise that he’s going to face some problems in this regard. We currently have 8 players fighting for 3 midfield places. If you polled the Rangers support on their preferred three, you’d get an unlimited amount of combinations.
We saw the benefits of a settled midfield last season. Our two best performances were the 4-0 win over Dundee and the Semi Final Old Firm win. The main factor in both these games (especially Dundee) was the attacking runs and energy made by the midfield. It was the same midfield of Ball, Halliday and Holt which played both these games.
The system Warburton plays works best when there is a holding midfielder behind two attack minded players. In the system we currently play, there isn’t room for both Rossiter and Barton. Although he looks like a supreme talent, Rossiter is sill raw and will need games to settle in fully. Once Barton fully grasps the Scottish league, we’ll see the best of him.
Andy Halliday can play in the central midfield (non holding) area but is still looking for a compatible partner after spending the full of last season with Jason Holt. The wee man is back soon, possibly in time for the Old Firm, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll play against them, given lack of match time.
Although he had a poor end to the season, we definitely miss his late runs into the box and dynamism in the middle of the park. There is also the introduction of Josh Windass to come. He and Holt will offer the box to box legs we need in the centre of the park.
Matt Crooks is a somewhat unknown quantity in terms of his quality and what position he’ll play. It could be a few months yet before we see him introduced properly.
Niko Kranjcar has shown glimpses of his quality. He came off the bench to effectively win us the game against Motherwell, with 2 moments of magic – the first a fantastic ball over the top for Kenny Miller on the left, the second a turn and cross, eventually finding its way to Miller for the winner. The Croatian was strangely singled out for the draw against Hamilton. Yes he could have done better for their goal, but there were plenty who didn’t perform. I think as athe season goes on he’ll become a very important player for us.
Arguably our best all round player this season has been Harry Forrester. Not only has he been an attacking threat, he’s not afraid to put the boot in when required. He is showing great passion but also quality going forward. Not everything he does comes off but he’ll never hide in a game. There are signs of a Nacho Novo type player emerging. He has played out wide and trough the middle. He can do a job in both positions although he is more heavily involved in the middle.
With all of these options considered, the manager has a couple of options. One is to change formation and play Rossiter and Barton together in deeper positions with a Forrester/Windass/Holt/Niko behind the striker. Is it worth adapting a previously successful system just to accommodate two high profile players?
The other option is simply to drop either Rossiter or Barton. I think it’s very unlikely he’ll drop Joey Barton. It was our marquee signing and our highest paid player, although that shouldn’t necessarily guarantee a starting place.
We have a great pool of midfielders to choose from and it is frustrating that we haven’t found a trio to click yet but in time it will come.