By Bill Brown | Guest Contributor
There’s no getting away from it – the start to the season under Pedro Caixinha at Rangers has been far from ideal. But talk of ditching the Portuguese coach this early is premature.
After such positive vibes in the early summer for the Rangers support with a raft of new signings and considerable millions invested in the squad, it all went up in smoke on that early July evening in Luxembourg.
With that black mark on his record already, Caixinha was always going to be judged quite vigorously on his start to the league campaign. You can analyse each game so far, break them down individually and so on and so forth. But sitting eight points behind Celtic after seven games is not good enough regardless of any extenuating circumstances.
Four points have been simply chucked away down the pan. Rangers should’ve been able to find a way through a Hearts team who set up very defensively and were organised well but are ultimately not very good. And the two goals conceded at Partick Thistle in the 2-2 draw were the stuff of nightmares.
Had Rangers done what they should have in those games, the gap to Celtic would be halved and the deficit to Aberdeen just two points. We could go over the Hibs loss at Ibrox too but we would be here all day. It’s ifs and buts, granted. There are worrying aspects about this start, absolutely. The pressure is well and truly on. But all is not lost in late September, for Rangers’ aspirations domestically and indeed, Caixinha’s tenure.
A level-headed supporter would have honestly said at the start of the campaign that a strong second-placed finish ahead of Aberdeen, alongside a Scottish Cup/League Cup triumph and significantly closing the 39-point gap to Celtic, were the main objectives for Caixinha’s first full season in charge.
Despite trailing Aberdeen by six points, it doesn’t mean all is lost. They have done well to remain unbeaten so far but that will not last. We are not even into October yet and have four league meetings with Derek McInnes’ side to come. The team are 90 minutes away from the League Cup final and have a Scottish Cup campaign to follow in the New Year. It’s early days indeed.
As the Rangers Observer exclusively revealed last night, Caixinha held a team meeting at the start of this week and told the squad in no uncertain terms that they simply have to improve. Despite the Daily Record and Keith Jackson’s portrayal of the meeting, it had a positive outcome and the group are pulling together in the same direction. English-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, Spanish-speaking – all.
The summer transfer window dealings have improved the squad pretty significantly on Mark Warburton’s lot. Bruno Alves, a European champion in the centre of defence. In Alfredo Morelos, a striker that will surely get 20 goals and above in this campaign at the age of 21. A steal at £1 million from HJK Helsinki. You can go round each position and see the upgrades in quality. Players were signed to fit a specific role or position within his team. There was a robust player plan there.
Did Rangers get everything they needed before the window slammed shut? No. They missed out on Jamie Walker who would have added something a bit different in any of the three attacking midfield roles. There was no left-sided wide player – that wasn’t a full-back – or an additional forward. But all in all, it was impressive business given the amount of deadwood that was shifted from the wage bill.
Has the squad gelled completely to Caixinha’s liking? Well, obviously not given some of the content of his team meeting, but that doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for him at Ibrox. In Rangers’ next seven competitive fixtures, if Caixinha can get his side to bounce back from Saturday’s defeat, serious momentum can be built.
Starting with Hamilton away in the Premiership on Friday night, Rangers then face St Johnstone (A), Motherwell in the League Cup semi-final, Kilmarnock (H), Hearts (A), Partick Thistle (H) and then Hamilton again (H). The toughest games in that bunch look like the away league trips to St Johnstone and Hearts as well as the last-four Betfred Cup tie at Hampden against Motherwell.
But they are all winnable games and games that this Rangers team are capable of winning. At the end of that sequence – assuming Motherwell are defeated – Caixinha’s side will have a League Cup final to look forward to before a home and away league double against Aberdeen.
These are not games that you want to be going into on poor or inconsistent form, so it really is vital that Rangers go on a winning run. Caixinha will know this and will no doubt have emphasised the importance of getting back to winning ways on Friday and continuing that trend into October and November.
Caixinha gets the club. He gets the fans. And he gets the expectations. He’s made several references recently to the struggles that the club experienced and the journey the club still has to finish in getting back to a level where it should be.
Of course, simply getting Rangers does not make you a successful Rangers manager. But he has shown with the majority of his recruitment that he knew what was required and he has shown he is not stubborn in implementing a style like Warburton so famously was.
Any fair-minded Rangers fan will say these players have quality and it could just be as simple as finding that formula to create a winning run – be that a formation tweak or a specific set of instructions to individuals on the park. One change could be integrating 19-year-old Ross McCrorie into a back three to give more defensive protection and allow Graham Dorrans more freedom to move forward in midfield rather than sit in a deeper role with Ryan Jack.
Whatever it is, it needs to happen soon. It needs to click. It would be flippant of the board to invest so much money in Caixinha’s player needs to then dismiss him as early as seven games in. After this upcoming run of matches, plus the double-header against Aberdeen and a trip to Hibs, we should be better equipped to judge if the Caixinha project is working.