For varying reasons over the last week or so I've been a wee bit more philosophical than usual. First of all, last Friday, despite pretty much dominating a stuffy Partick side down to ten men for the last quarter of the game, we were unable to get a match-winning third goal. Many bears were savage in their criticism as two important points were dropped.
Ironically enough, in the very next fixture against the same team, it was Partick that perhaps put us under pressure for the same period and they did manage to break us down for a late equaliser. Despite not being a religious man, as extra-time started on Tuesday night, I remember joining Jak Alnwick and Carlos Pena in looking for celestial guidance. And, strangely enough, it came in the form of two further light-blue goals which seemed altogether unlikely as the initial 90mins ended. Should I thank Eduardo Herrera or an omnipotent being for their intervention?
Sadly, all this sporting angst was perhaps put into perspective via the funeral of a family friend the following morning. Interestingly this was a Humanist service which seem more and more popular nowadays. The celebrant spoke well and their tribute of our friend was well appreciated as we all reflected on their life together. I'm sure some of those present also visited any religious faith they may have had but for what seemed the majority Gods and such-like weren't needed - just kind words and the humanity of a shoulder to cry on. Simple stuff really but fitting.
To use this in the context of a football match preview is perhaps rather crass but I couldn't shake off the subject of the divine when it came to Rangers yesterday. For whatever reason, despite our recent humbling over the last five or six years, some of our fans still seem to think we have some sort of God-given right to win every match. Yes, almost 150 years of domestic success has bred a mindset of understandable superiority but history also tells us empires can and will fall. As such, it continues to surprise me when Rangers supporters expect to win everything immediately without fail despite our own recent downfall. OK, our budget and our past triumphs may (or should) deliver confidence but arrogance is what caused so many of our contemporary tribulations. Are we to not learn from such fine lines? And, if we are, patience and respect may be just two virtues to take...
With that in mind, I think it's worth paying Partick Thistle some respect. Whilst not the best team we'll ever play, they're well organised, well-motivated and showed over two games they're no mugs to be brushed aside. This can be applied to most Premiership teams we'll play against this season. Quite simply if we take any result for granted then we'll have problems. We're not entitled to anything - far less within modern Scottish and European football.
In a similar vein, I also think our own players and manager deserve some credit. We're absolutely not the finished article but some strategic foibles aside, progress seems to be obvious enough. We're still not taking enough of our chances and we're still less than impressive defensively but given the squad turnover this summer, we're doing OK and, no matter this result this weekend, perhaps some more patience would be agreeable? That doesn't mean we should excuse bad performances or repetitive mistakes - just acknowledge we're a work in progress and starting again isn't always the best idea.
Nevertheless, this weekend's game will tell us a lot. We may have a vastly different first XI from which started the last Old Firm game but the manager is the same and some of our players retain experience of the fixture. Therefore, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect an improvement in our fortunes when it comes to these games this season - if not in three points on Saturday but in attitude, application and performance at least. Yes, we may also need to respect what Brendan Rodger's Celtic side have done over the last year or so but we should use their success to inspire us: in the same way Partick can match us for long spells (and indeed Celtic the other week) we should be capable of even more at home to our greatest rivals. Another 1-5 defeat just isn't unacceptable.
Clearly to achieve a positive outcome, team selection will be key. In defence, despite an excellent display from Jak Alnwick during the week, Wes Foderingham is a certainty to be recalled for this game. Furthermore, although they went off with knocks on Tuesday, I'd like to think both Declan John and Bruno Alves will make Saturday by hook or by crook. I don't expect nor fancy a back three or five so James Tavernier should complete our usual four at the back.
In midfield, I also don't envisage many changes in the way we set up against Partick - though I would expect us to be slightly more pragmatic in approach. Ryan Jack and Graham Dorrans will both sit that wee bit deeper with Daniel Candeias and Josh Windass in the wider positions - though likely to be more withdrawn than usual. Neither had great games at Firhill but both will be favoured ahead of Nemane or Dalcio.
Slightly further forward in the central role, I'd be surprised to see anyone other than Kenny Miller. Sure, I'd probably agree with the majority of fans in that Kenny's time as a first pick has now gone but he knows more about this game than any player in both sets of teams so that could be vital come Saturday - especially with only Fod, Tav and Windass of our usual first XI having faced Celtic before. We also cannot afford the game to pass someone like Pena by in such an important position. However, Miller will have to improve ten fold on his disappointing contribution so far this season.
That leaves us with a sole striker to deploy and that should be the impressive Alfredo Morelos. The young Columbian was clearly exhausted after 90mins on Tuesday so I was glad the manager replaced him with one eye on Saturday's game. The afore-mentioned Herrera's extra-time efforts won't have gone unnoticed though so should we need a change for whatever reason, we can go to him with confidence. All in all, the graphic below is the team I think we'll see.
That takes us to the manager. Pedro Caixinha has now been in charge for six months and that includes two Old Firm games in the dugout. Despite a variety of subsequent changes to his squad, the Celtic team hasn't altered much from the two defeats Pedro suffered against them last campaign. For a manager who enjoys in-depth tactical analysis of the sport, he has to show he can use that knowledge to break the pattern of recent Celtic dominance in the fixture. If the worst happens on Saturday then as much as I think the board will still show restraint as to his future, many Rangers fans will lose faith in the Portuguese's ability to return success back to Ibrox.
When such a loss of confidence happens, even the hand of God may not save a manager but, in any case, we need more tangible solutions to make Rangers great again. Yet, despite this scientific outlook, I'll be worshipping at the temple of Ibrox again this weekend. You never know...
Possible team (4-2-3-1):
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