Five to Follow - Spartak Moscow

Hamilton
A game that seen Rangers cure our case of travel sickness with a 4-1 victory over a struggling Hamilton side.

In all truthfulness, the scoreline flattered us it was a game where we very much failed to live up to our recent high-performance levels, choosing instead to do what is now becoming something of a pattern of dragging ourselves to the level of the opposition, this was a game very similar to the one witnessed at Livingston just a few weeks ago.  

The manager himself expressed this feeling in his post-match interview, but a win is a win and titles and title races are built from this kind of game. The turning point in my mind was the substitution of Katic, the big man had a howler of a game, so much so you could visibly see his frustration when he was substituted, it was certainly a game to forget and with it went any hope of a starting place on Thursday I feel.  

It wasn't all negative, we just failed to really get going for long spells in the game, Ryan Kent showed how good a finisher he is taking a well-placed goal in the first half following a terrific through ball by Morelos, the chip was perfectly waited, leaving Hamilton keeper Woods with no chance. We certainly could have no complaints when Hamiltons well-taken equaliser did come, it was indicative of the type of day we were having, failing to close down and not winning our battles across the field.  

That along with the aforementioned substitution of Katic then sparked the team into life the last 10 minutes were completely unrecognisable from the previous 80, we were playing with urgency and a purpose, hitting early crosses into the box that have served us so well this season. The two penalty decisions were correct, at the game I felt the first one soft, only to see on second viewing that it was a deliberate attempt to stop the ball, the kind we seen be given against Russell Martin last year if you give them against us, you must give them for us. The second was a stonewaller, even on my initial viewing at the match it was clear Morelos was tripped. Up stepped our captain to slot home twice in quick succession before Morelos added a fourth, Alfie now has a hand in 9 of our last 10 goals. How good was it to see Jordan Rossiter in a Rangers starting eleven again.  


One further side note before moving onto Thursday nights massive Europa league game at Ibrox was the 28th-minute applause for Rangers fan Grant Armitage, the sun even coming out in an otherwise chilly day for the moment. Hamilton player Dougie Imrie stopped while over a set piece to join in and instructed many of his fellow pros to join in, a small gesture but one that should be noted, not all players of opposing sides would be so compassionate.

Spartak currently occupies the seventh position in the Russian Premier League, they have two wins in five, however only three defeats in eleven, following a weekend 3-2 home defeat to Arsenal Tula, a result that cost the manager his job. The man who just two season ago led them to the title.  


I don't pretend to know too much about our opponents, see Alex's show or Adam's tactical breakdown for that kind of thing, what I do know is that Russian sides don't travel well historically and a win would go a very long way in securing our passage into the next phase. Currently, the Russian side sit bottom of Group G with two points from two games a defeat here leaves the Moscow side all but out ahead of our visit in the return fixture.  

Names you might be familiar with include Roman Eremenko a former Udinese midfielder, and of course who's brother had a spell with Kilmarnock a few years back, along with former Shakhtar and A.C Milan striker Luiz Adriano.

Here are my 5 Storylines to follow on Thursday vs Spartak. 

1 - ALFIE'S FORM 

Its fair to say the form of the wee man has been quite staggering off late, having a hand in nearly every single one of our goals, he seems to enjoy the big Euro nights under the lights at Ibrox, so here is hoping it continues on Thursday. Finding himself suspended for Sundays League Cup semi means he will be able to play without fear of burnout, a rest and recovery period is just around the corner.  

Sunday was another example of just how vital a player he has become for us, I wouldn't say he had his best game in a Rangers jersey (although he was certainly not alone by any means), even so, he had a direct involvement in all of the goals, scoring one himself in the process, who can complain about that?. Thursday night will be a different game altogether that much is clear, for a start the opposition we face will be far superior in every way than what we lined up against on Sunday. Alfie might have to do a more work outside the box than he maybe would like, picking up lose balls or indeed dragging defenders into areas of the part they are just not comfortable in.
Chances will be less frequent the higher the level you play at, that's just common knowledge.  What he has, and us as a team have shown is outstanding growth on the big stage and if the wee man keeps up his form I fancy us to have another night to remember under the floodlights.  

2 - BETTER TEMPO 

Sunday was played at a walking pace at times, it was far too pedestrian for my or more importantly the managers liking, we were slow to react to things, lost far too many second balls and just never really got going at any sort of tempo until we conceded a goal. That might work Vs Hamilton with all due respect but it won't when we face better sides like the ones who visit Govan on Thursday. The amount of needless and additional touches we took on the ball when one or two were all that was needed was clear for all watching, lack of movement and a huge gaps in the positional sense was something else that caught my eye.  
We must start like we did against Hearts, get our crosses in early, play to our strengths. The difference it makes when we do this type of thing is night and day. Teams can't cope, ten minutes on Sunday was all you could argue we played and look at the results that brought us. As a side, we are best when working and pressing as a unit, not just chasing down balls like a dog chasing a car, no. What we do well by applying the press is stop the easy ball, make defenders think twice and panic, as Mike Tyson said "everybody has a plan until you punch them in the mouth", it doesn't have to be in the literal sense, we can do that by applying pressure on them, pure and simple.  

3 - JACK OR ROSSITER 

It was great to see Jordan Rossiter back in the starting eleven again, my gut feeling is two games in a short space of time may just prove beyond him at this stage in his recovery. Having a fit Rossiter creates another positive selection dilemma for the gaffer, one maybe a few of us were a tough sceptical of ever seeing due to the players terrible luck with a series of injuries.  
Ryan Jack or born again Andy Halliday may be more realistic options to partner Heart & Hand's very own Lass Coulibaly in the deeper two midfield places, as I suspect we will see Jon Flanagan come back in at left-back so Haliday could be pushed up if Ryan Jack is not considered match fit enough.  
Substitutions will be something to keep a close eye on, Gerrard is new and learning on the job, sometimes he has that air of caution over him rather than being proactive.  

4 - THE DANGERMAN ZE LUIS  

Ze Luis might not be the biggest of names in the opposition team, but he is their biggest threat. The Cape Verde frontman who joined in 2015 from Braga is Spartak's top goalscorer with five goals in two games so caution must be applied. Take away what they do best in order to give us our best chance to succeed. 
Playing either of the wing on the left or more centrally upfront he will look to drift and cut inside. He enters the game in fine form despite Spartak's struggles grabbing his sides two goals in the match with Arsenal Tula at the weekend, to compliment his two goals in two games in this Europa League competition.  
Keeping him quiet will be our sides toughest task. 

5 - EURO RECORD MAKERS?

A win or draw for that matter would see Steven Gerrard's side stretch the unbeaten European record to eleven matches, overtaking the great Walter Smiths side in season 92/93, now this team have a long way and some medals to get if they are to be held in the same breath as that team I understand that what I am saying is what an achievement that would be wouldn't it?.  
I have spoken and so have many other pods about the growth of the team and nowhere is it more evident than on the continental stage.  

Let's go. Get behind the team, make our voices heard and come away with three points and a place in the record books.

PREDICTION  - Rangers 2 - 0 Spartak Moscow

Steven Harrigan (@steven_harrigan) 

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