It’s been a while since we have been able to speak like this. I hope you have been keeping well, I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy. That is by far and away the most important thing through what has been a weird start to this new decade. It is, however, fantastic to be able to talk about our side playing competitive football once again. Off the back of a very encouraging pre season where we would score 10 goals without reply, we headed into our first game of the 2020-21 season with a high level of confidence. Pittodrie was the familiar venue, familiar in the sense that it did not look all that different to what it normally does with a crowd present, and we would be facing a team who would be missing a very key component of the way they like to set up, particularly against ourselves, an imposing presence up front.
There were initial signs that the preparation work was going to pay dividends, with an early lead secured through some nice, quick attacking play. But we could not find a way to enhance that advantage, and for spells in the second half a number of us were having real déjà vu with these kinds of games. Our defence saw us through and, in reality, we had the better chances to score additional goals in this tie. A deserved victory, but not for the want of red flags (or in Aberdeen’s case, red cards) particularly with the shape of our midfield when up against a team so rigid and stubborn. That, and a lack of want to change things. A win is a win of course, a good way to start a crucial season for our club, and we saw some good individual displays, particularly from someone making their first run out in a Rangers jersey, a very fine second kit at that.
Allan McGregor – 6.6 (6)
It’s difficult to grade a goalkeeper who, in reality, didn’t have a shot on target to face the entire game. This is so often the case for our first-choice stoppers, but they must always be alert to the once chance a team may get, but this has always been a strong point of Allan McGregor’s for all the years he has been our number 1. He did need to be on his toes for the goal mouth scramble that took place in the second half. His position is, in my opinion, more under threat this season with the arrival of Jon McLaughlin, so if we are to see McGregor constantly between the sticks this season, it will be a massive credit to the level of keeper he is.
James Tavernier – 6.3 (6)
Leading out the team for this new and unique season, our captain has in more recent times taken less of the spotlight when it comes to the on-field action. Our crosses are coming in a lot more from the left, so much so that Tav himself got his head on the end of one of those crosses, only for the ball to go wide. Let’s be fair, he was part of the team keeping a clean sheet, but when he is being protected as much as he is by the midfield in front of him (oh, we’ll get to that) I do not think it is unfair of us to ask for maybe a little bit more attacking invention from him. It is, after all, what he is renowned for as a full back. Or, to play Devil’s Dick Advocaat, is this all part of a transition for him and in fact we will see a lot less attacking intent from him? Especially if we plan to have a more attacking set up in the middle for the future.
Connor Goldson – 7.0 (6)
I’m wondering if I was being harsh on Goldson given what everyone else has overall viewed his performance like (the lifting of pressure to have the decisive vote for these ratings is a blessing by the way). This assurance owes a lot to his new defensive partner of course, but Goldson did play his part, despite not having a huge amount to do. Had Goldson been up against either a Sam Cosgrove or a Curtis Main, we could be discussing a very different type of performance as Goldson would need to show a lot more physical dominance. But credit should be given to Connor for the way he talked Balogun through the game. Goldson is our senior defender, nothing could be clearer, so it is important that he can strike good partnerships with those beside him. Could this combination be the one that sticks?
Leon Balogun – 8.3 (8) – Man of the Match
A superb debut from the Nigerian international, whose inclusion was a surprise to many, with the online discussion focussing on how he must have impressed Gerrard and co in training in the build up for him to usurp George Edmundson, who was a constant starter at the back alongside Goldson. It’s easy to see why the coaching staff were so enamoured, both in training and whilst scouting. The comparisons to Bougherra are obvious, the athletic defender who can drive forward with the ball to cause a headache for opposition defences. This should not detract from the fact he looked really settled in terms of the passes he would play to Barisic, straight forward, nothing fancy, as well as the fact he is a unit. Winning aerial duals is clearly no issue for him, and it will take a heavy knock to keep this fellow down, just ask the Pittodrie post. The defining moment that settled it for me for Leon to be given the first MOTM of the season was a point in the second half where their striker had a long ball to chase down which he looked close to winning, but (to use a wrestling parlance) from out of nowhere Leon casually strolls up and collects the ball from Anderson’s toes. There was nothing dramatic about it, it was as easy as you like from him, and that is something that I love about the best central defenders, they make their job feel so…normal. A brilliant start and the likes of Helander and Edmundson will have their work cut out to keep a regular spot if this is what we are to expect regularly from Balogun.
Borna Barisic – 6.6 (6)
The big man had so little to worry about in the way of defending, he was up against a 9-man defence who had two players placed slightly further up, so the big focus of his game would be on what he did offensively. A habit that the team under Stevie G can find itself fall into is this “automatic mode” of the full backs whipping balls in for one of the attacking trio to get on the end of, no matter who the front man is. When it’s Alfredo up top it makes more sense of course, but this safe option can be frustrating when you are playing defences who, from the age of 6, have been taught how to deal with crossed balls. We didn’t see enough of the drive to the by-line and cut back which has been successful many a time before. That for me is a great way to unlock defences, and is something that Barisic can do well. He needs to do that a lot more in my opinion, maybe even make that the norm.
Glen Kamara – 6.2 (5)
Glen Kamara is a talented footballer. You don’t play for your country, that has qualified for the European Championships, without a level of ability that can be utilised by your club. The problem is, and has been for a while now, that ability is not being used properly. We are expecting our right sided midfielder to offer a similar role to the left sided one, break forward with the ball, dribble past some defenders and either have a crack or find a man. Glen Kamara’s go to role is to sit and offer protection to those who want to boost forward, in this case James Tavernier. Joe Aribo has to offer similar protection to Borna Barisic but the difference with Aribo is he is able to balance that with looking to take ownership. Kamara just feels…meek. He doesn’t ever seem like the kind of player who will do those kinds of dribbles, which is even more frustrating when you realise, he has done this a number of times for Finland. The reality is we are in need of an upgrade on him now, we have needed this for a while. Can he still do a job for the squad? I believe so. But not in that role, it may well be the case that for this season he needs to just be an option for the holding midfield player.
Ryan Jack – 6.5 (6)
When Ryan Jack arrived, he was seen as the ideal player for the right sided defensive midfield type in a typical 4231 set up. Last season we saw some unbelievable performances from him playing on the right side of the middle trio, so much so that enough fans saw fit to award him with the Player of the Season for last campaign. He has also been used as the holding midfielder, and is the go-to option for that role when Steven Davis is not available, a la this game. It is undeniable that by placing him here you lose some of that drive that won him so many admirers last season, and I also firmly believe that the best Ryan Jack performances come when he has the experienced Steven Davis by his side. When Jacko needs to become the senior man of the midfield, and do a lot more talking, we lose that extra “oomph” from his game. I would sooner see him be given the freedom to push on rather than feel the need to sit so deep that we look like a back three.
Joe Aribo – 7.3 (7)
Without question the stand out player from our four pre season games, a lot of fans are hugely excited by what we could well get from Aribo this season. We saw this very potential again in this game, although only in two very specific spells, in the first 15 minutes and the last 10 minutes. The meat in that sandwich feels very vague when you consider Aribo, it may well be that he just wasn’t getting the rub of the green that some players need to have the best games. But when he had those good spells, the dribbling masterclass on display was a joy. It’s not a matter of speed that gets him into these advanced positions, it’s his close control and his rather remarkable ability to enjoy possession right under his feet as opposed to just in front of him. Was unlucky not to have goal late on when his shot was well blocked by the Aberdeen defender, but the signs of his improvement from last season are very clear. We just need to see that more consistently now.
Ianis Hagi – 6.0 (6)
This wasn’t a good game for Hagi, and I hate saying that because I want to lavish him with adoring praise and tell him he is wonderful all the time! But we cannot hide the fact that it was a tough shift for him and he was rightly subbed off as the ball just wasn’t falling for him. I think the only good piece of attacking play he provided was the shot from distance that went just wide. This was in contrast to the shot he attempted when we had just won the ball and could have gone on a break that could have been very dangerous indeed. He looked frustrated from surprisingly early, and although he did very well a number of times to win the ball back when possession was lost, it was he who had lost possession in the first place. A game to be put down as “never to be spoken of again”.
Alfredo Morelos – 6.7 (7)
A huge amount of chat in the build up was about Morelos and whether he would actually play with the ongoing speculation around his future. This is also a venue that has been controversial for him in the past, therefore the easy thing to do for any tabloids was to speak constantly about him, both before and after the game. This game was so much more than just “what did Alfredo do” but what he did do was provide the crucial assist with an excellent pass for the on-rushing Kent. Morelos is absolutely an example of your modern-day striker, someone who does a lot more work than simply wait in the box for the ball to fall to him. He takes initiative and will come deep to influence the play. This should not be something that people should criticise him for, it’s just what more modern strikers tend to do, especially a lone striker. I thought he had a decent game (not brilliant, decent) and the suggestion that he is playing like a man who wants away is frankly ridiculous. He is a brilliant forward for the way we play and if he is going to leave, whenever that may be, we need to make sure we fill that void with players who offer similar.
Ryan Kent – 7.8 (7)
First goal of the season accolade and it was a very cool finish from the talisman. This is a very exciting season for him, I think. From the evidence of pre-season (other than a harsh red card) he has looked far more comfortable with the tag of “key player” and I think you can point to the finish on Saturday as evidence of this. Sometimes, when you are through on goal, having that much time can be a hindrance as your mind can become your worst enemy. From the second Ryan was through on goal, I knew he was scoring, because he carried himself as a guy who didn’t look afraid with picking his moment, slotting the ball home, and guiding our side to victory. His pace will be massive for us this season, coming in off the left (or sometimes right) like that will have defenders floundering, and the days of “tearing apart” look to be coming back again.
Scott Arfield – 5.3 (6)
The only substitute used in this game, which says a lot about Steven Gerrard’s attitude toward in game changes in general, and I think this is a role we are going to see a lot of from Arf this season. His versatility is brilliant to have because he can slot into a number of roles in a game that requires extra energy. But I think we are passed the point of him regularly starting games now. He was lucky not to be seriously hurt by the ridiculous Considine challenge, but other than that his introduction was not early enough to have a huge influence on proceedings. Maybe I’m wrong regarding Arfield and maybe he has a role to play from the start this season, but given how our midfield is looking at this stage, if he is unable to get into the starting 11 at the moment, that should speak volumes.