Pedro Caixinha’s start to life at Rangers has not been easy. Now well into his first full campaign as manager, the Portuguese has struggled to get consistent performances from his players. The latest result, a 2-0 defeat to Motherwell in the League Cup semi-finals, was particularly damaging.
Winning that game last weekend would have guaranteed progress to a final, where a meeting with old rivals Celtic would have provided excitement in a season where a credible title challenge looks increasingly unlikely. But, having failed to progress, the next few matches are critical.
Caixinha plainly cannot afford many more negative results. His team are already six points off of top spot and second place; indeed, at present, they are closer to seventh-placed Hibernian. With that in mind, Kilmarnock at home on Wednesday night represents as much risk as it does opportunity.
The supporters need hope and the manager needs a win. The atmosphere around the club has to improve and Rangers can begin the healing process with a comfortable win. However, the three points will need to be earned.
Here we look at the changes Caixinha could make to bring positivity back to Ibrox for their clash with Kilmarnock on Wednesday and beyond.
CHANGE THE SHAPE TO SECURE DEFENCE
Caixinha has persisted with a basic 4-4-1-1 shape in recent weeks. This system has involved Carlos Peña supporting the lone striker, Alfredo Morelos, but now may be the time for a change. The manager has suggested such change would not be forthcoming, however, saying:
“I’ve told the players, ‘You are embarrassing me, you are embarrassing our club, you are embarrassing our fans’. Now it is time for you to react and I’m glad we’re playing on Wednesday.”
An injury to Fábio Cardoso aside, Rangers could well line up exactly as they did in defeat to Motherwell when they take on Kilmarnock. But if Caixinha wants to show himself to be proactive, and more importantly mitigate the threat the opposition may pose, he would be wise to reconsider.
Killie recently appointed former West Bromwich Albion boss Steve Clarke as their new manager. They also won last weekend away from home. Their spirits will be high and they’ll smell a shock three points against a wounded opponent.
Caixinha must prioritise the defence and aim to secure a clean sheet first and foremost. He could do this by changing to a back three and dropping Peña for Jason Holt’s energy and work ethic in a three-man central midfield.
Making these changes could make for a duller, less open game, but stifling a motivated Kilmarnock must be the first aim of the game. From there, Rangers can take control and look to grind out three crucial points.
GIVE MORELOS SUPPORT
Morelos has not scored since 15 September, when he netted in the 2-2 league draw with Partick Thistle. The Colombian still has an excellent record and provides more than goals to the team – he also works incessantly and links play well – but he now needs some support.
Peña has been experimented with in a No.10 role, but hasn’t convinced despite finding the net himself. Were Caixinha to bring in Holt and switch to a back three, he could opt for a 3-5-2 system that could pair his top scorer with a strike partner.
This change wouldn’t just spread the burden of goals and release some of the pressure on Morelos, it would also present Kilmarnock with an unexpected twin strike threat. Eduardo Herrera is the obvious option, and his poaching style could help force Rangers’ opposition deep, helping the team control the match.
In addition, within the 3-5-2, Graham Dorrans could be tasked with pushing forward to support from midfield. The experienced midfielder has been the team’s leader on the pitch with some big individual displays. His drive and class in a more advanced role could help the strikers out.
CONSIDER ADDING YOUTHFUL AMBITION
Caixinha may have faith in his team as is, but he must consider dropping those who are underperforming. Peña is one candidate, but Josh Windass has also struggled in recent times. The question then is who comes in to replace them, and the answer could lie in the club’s academy.
Rangers have a history of producing their own talent. In recent times, the likes of Allan McGregor, Allan Hutton and Charlie Adam have gone on to star in the English Premier League, while Barrie McKay is now aiming to follow in their footsteps with Nottingham Forest.
If Caixinha has qualms about the quality of personnel available to him, he should look into the youngsters on his books.
Previously he has looked to this outlet in times of injury crisis – this is what led to the debuts of 18-year-old left-back Myles Beerman and 19-year-old centre-back Ross McCrorie – and he has been rewarded with some promising performances.
Should the Rangers boss want energy or technique in midfield, he could bring in one of the highly rated 18-year-olds, Liam Burt or Jamie Barjonas. And, should he want an alternative to Herrera as Morelos’ strike partner, 20-year-old Ryan Hardie has impressed at youth level for club and country.
Placing faith in youth is a risky decision, especially when Caixinha’s job is potentially on the line. But, should he make the call, he would undoubtedly be commended for his bravery and long-term thinking.