Rangers' forward Steven Naismith vies with Manchester United's Ryan Giggs -Champions League action in pictures

A disappointing night at Ibrox tonight, both teams not learning from the mistakes of the first game. For me Sir Alex got his team selection wrong, no width where it mattered, Rangers didn’t attack enough when in possession. Everything that went wrong can be found in my STV article that depicted the first game http://bit.ly/huQyL6

It took Manchester United 176 minutes to break down the Rangers defence and Walter can take credit from that, but he needs to find a way of playing with this tight defensive system and letting the players break forward when they have the ball. Scottish teams aren’t good enough to play tiki-taka passing up the field and play round the opponents.

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Over the next 24 hours you will hear all the stereotypical clichés in football “form goes out the window” “it’s a battle of who wants it more” etc etc. This is a very arcyic view of modern day football, with the lush playing surfaces and players in peak physical condition it is no longer a “battle of the fittest” it’s a tactical battle played under extreme pressure, and no match in Britain if not the world comes close to the pressure of an Old Firm derby.

In a way you can throw form out the window as both teams have 100% records. Rangers have a slight edge in the goals scored column, but Celtic even that up with fewer goals conceded. This will be manager Neil Lennon’s second Old Firm in charge although last season’s meant very little as the title was already gone. Lennon is likely to pick seven players for their Old Firm debuts this could put a little advantage the way of Walter Smith’s side, all of Walter’s predicted starting line-up have played in an Old Firm game before and of course Walter himself has an amazing record in this fixture.

Rangers will most likely line up with five in the midfield 4-5-1 would possibly be Smith’s preferred formation for this fixture, leaving Kenny Miller to run the line on his own preferring to pack the midfield and hit Celtic on the counter attack. Celtic’s formation of late has been a fluid 4-4-2 with Antony Stokes playing wide right his instincts push him far forward leaving Wilson exposed at times down the Celtic right. This game will be won in midfield, it would be very surprising if Lennon picked Ki Sung-Yung and Joe Ledley in the centre of midfield putting them against McCulloch, Davis and Edu would be a very tough ask. More likely the Mexican Efrain Juarez will return to the centre and his stamina and hard working ethics combined with his ability on the ball would give the Celtic midfield more dig and bite and someone who can put their foot on the ball and control the play.

Samaras as he always does will drop back into the midfield looking for the ball, this will occupy McCulloch, leaving Maloney, Stokes and Hooper to take on the Rangers back four. Leaving Samaras time to create chances could be lethal for Rangers, although he is a very frustrating player to watch and many chances go to waste the Greek has unquestionable talent and eventually he will make you pay, it will be Lee McCulloch’s job to keep him under wraps.

In recent weeks Rangers have shown great ability to break forward at pace, Naismith, Miller and either Lafferty or Weiss will again look to capitalise on any loose balls Celtic may gift them and charge forward look to expose the weaknesses of Loovens and Mastrojovic at the back, the duo are untouchable in the air but can be susceptible against pace. Miller will play on the shoulder of the last defender looking for any sniff of a chance and how would he love to score a goal back at Celtic Park, giving the form he is in the odds will be short to see his name on the scoresheet.

Don’t let the tabloids fool you, tactics matter in every game, this match will be full of interesting battles at both ends of the pitch, the team that wins the majority of these battles will win the match.

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This is the article I wrote for STV Sport before the match between Rangers and Valencia

After the dust settled on Rangers 4-1 win over Motherwell on Saturday, thoughts would have turned to this week’s opponents and early La Liga pace setters Valencia. A few hours after the full time whistle at Ibrox, Valencia were in action with the small task of taking on Catalan giants Barcelona in the Nou Camp and any fans who tuned in to cast their eye over their midweek opponents would have witnessed what truly was a “game of two halves”.

In a first half that consisted of Los Che taking the game to Pep Guardiola’s star studded side, dominating the play and deserving their half-time lead, Unai Emery’s team could have easily been held more than the slim one goal advantage. The second half was a much different story.

Pep Guardiola’s team talk worked a treat, with Barcelona pinning Valencia back in their own half for much of the half. A superb team goal finished by Iniesta gave them their equaliser, mimicking the movements of Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith earlier that day. Xavi’s pass sliced through four defenders and Iniesta applied the finish, making it 1-1 and later Carles Puyol left his defensive post unguarded to crash a powerful header into the net and give Barca a crucial home win.

The heroics of Cesar Sanchez in the Valencia net kept this game close, denying Villa and Messi countless times, but the defeat dropped Valencia down to third in the league after a bright start to the league campaign. There was, however, enough in the first half to show any Rangers fans watching that this is a team to be respected.

For many observers, this was supposed to be the season where Valencia fell away, the pressure to sell key players finally telling and seeing Valencia living in reduced circumstances, with results to match. David Villa and David Silva were the most notable departures from the Mestalla but Valencia also said goodbye to Nikola Zigic, Carlos Marchena, Alexis and Ruben Baraja. All six were regular starters last season, forcing Emery to utilise his squad to cover the gaps.

Predicting Valencia’s line-ups this season have been a job impossible for even Mystic Meg. In the league alone an astonishing 22 players have been used. Having two players in each position is a situation most clubs dream of, and for Emery to go on and use each player is a method seldom used in football these days.

In La Liga the manager has set his team up for the majority of games in a 4-4-1-1 formation, deviating slightly to 4-2-3-1 against Barcelona. It seems very likely he will use one of these formations for the trip to Ibrox.

Cesar Sanchez has been the only ever present so far. After spells at Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza, and the ill fated time at Tottenham Hotspur, the goalkeeper moved back to Spain at the tender age of 38 to make the number one jersey his own. Still playing at a very high level his performances have boosted the performances of the back four.

With Portuguese international Miguel out injured, Bruno will start at right back. He’s a tough tackling no frills full back, more defensive minded than Miguel although he sometimes gets caught out of position.

In the centre should be the pairing of David Navarro and Ricardo Costa. Navarro is more famous for the seven month ban he received after the much documented fight against Inter Milan, but he remains a no-nonsense, solid defender who is very strong and good in the air. His partner Ricardo Costa is one of Emery’s six new signings.

He spent half of last season on loan at Lille in France where he played at centre back and left back and has the ability to play anywhere along the back four. This positional knowledge helps out the defence no end, able to fill gaps left by the full backs he then has the pace to track attackers down the wing.

The choice of left-back on Wednesday could help determine not only how Valencia attack, but also could show a weakness that Rangers could exploit. Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba have been fighting for the position so far this season. On Saturday against Barcelona both were picked to link up down the left hand side and though the original team sheet showed Mathieu at left back with Alba slightly further forward, throughout the game both swapped positions taking it in turns to defend and attack.

Emery’s decision to leave out Juan Mata made this selection possible but with Mata’s return on Wednesday almost guaranteed this leaves the kind of selection headache managers dream about.

Whether playing as a defender or a midfielder Mathieu is not scared to go forward and join the attack. Against Malaga and Bursaspor he was used in a defensive role but very often when the team on the attack it is no surprise to find him in line with Valencia’s forwards.

With only 11 minutes of the game gone against Barcelona, Mathieu (red) had already decided to break forward. Nearly on the shoulder of the last defender, with Alba (yellow) pushing up trying to release Mathieu down the wing, there is acres of space behind the full back which forwards and midfielders could easily use against them. In these situations the alertness of Ricardo Costa is hugely important.

Against Bursaspor, Mathieu did a fantastic job of controlling playmaker Volkan Sen though. Whenever the ball was played into his feet Mathieu was touch tight and he frustrated the Turkish international giving him very little time on the ball. When Valencia pushed forward looking for more goals though, Sen started to exploit the space Mathieu vacated.

A simple ball over the top caught Mathieu (red) out of position in one instance. Costa (yellow) had to come across quickly to close down Sen (blue) and stop the attack. In this situation Bursaspor didn’t do a good job in supporting the attack, as a darting run from any of the midfielders could have exploited the space left by Costa and easily have led to a great chance. Rangers’ midfielders will need to be alert when Costa covers Mathieu’s position, Steven Davis is wonderful at breaking from the midfield and as his thunderous shot against Motherwell proved he is also good enough to take advantage of any space given.

Unai Emery might decide to play Jordi Alba on Wednesday to keep things tight. Not picking Mathieu does however mean Valencia are without a player who has great aerial presence and is a very technically sound defender. The team would also miss his ability on the ball, his pacy breaks from the back and his aptitude for turning defence into attack very quickly.

Alba too has these abilities, although not to the extent of Mathieu. The young full back was extremely impressive while marking Lionel Messi on Saturday, showing he has the speed and the strength to keep up with one of the world’s best. His size could be his downfall though. Up against Lafferty, Broadfoot or Whittaker, Rangers would win the aerial battle giving them an effective out-ball. Mathieu at 6 foot 3 wouldn’t be as easily beaten.

Defensively, the full back area is one that Rangers could punish if worked properly, Valencia’s midfield worked very hard to close down Barcelona and win the ball back, with four midfielders (yellow) closely chasing the ball, and the defenders’ attention also trained on the ball.

This led to Bruno (pink), being caught in a central area, unaware of David Villa (red) pushing down the flank followed closely by Maxwell (blue). The majestic skills of Iniesta (green) beat the midfield and he was able to find Villa in acres of space supplying him with a chance to shoot on goal.

With Steven Naismith in good form recently, it is important he is wise to Bruno’s positioning and tries to use this to his and Rangers advantage. It is obvious Rangers don’t have the quality in midfield that Barcelona do, but the space is there to be exploited.

One of Valencia’s great strengths this season has been the pressure the midfield puts on the ball, turning this into countless fast break situations. Emery will likely play with a four in midfield, favouring a creative player to support the front man rather than playing forwards Aduriz and Soldado up front together. The latter, now fully fit after missing the start of the season will lead the line, the five players picked to play behind him will be the result of hours and hours of discussion and deliberation.

Nine players have occupied these positions so far this season, each bringing their own attributes to Valencia’s style and success on the counter attack. One of the first names on the team sheet will likely be Juan Mata, who was rested against Barca with the trip to Ibrox in mind.

Mata was let go by Real Madrid and signed for Valencia on a free in 2008 and for two years he has quietly been making a name for himself. Now out of the shadows of Villa and Silva this could be Mata’s breakout year. Undoubtedly talented on the ball, he has the ability to play off the front man in a creative role but seems to be more effective starting from the left and breaking into the box.

His excellent finishing abilities have led to 26 goals for the club so far and at only 22 it will not be long before the big club vultures are back at the Mestalla waving their chequebooks. Right now he is a Valencia player and one to be very wary of.

Whoever Emery picks to support Soldado and Mata, be it Pablo Hernandez, Manuel Fernandes, Ever Banega or Tino Costa, Rangers must not give the ball needlessly away in midfield or up front as many of Valencia’s goals this season have come from breathtaking fast breaks.

 

When Valencia go forward, regardless of their formation, there are always players in support. Against Malaga when it was 4-4-1-1 four players broke forward providing options left and right of the man in possession. Then, against Barcelona, while playing 4-2-3-1 a very similar break saw four players bombing forward giving the man on the ball choices and leading to the opening goal, Right midfielder Pablo (red) cut in from the right to get on the end of Mathieu’s cutback, Soldado’s run (blue) to the back post caught the attention of Puyol and Maxwell gave Pablo the space needed to apply the finish.

Another great example of Valencia’s strength in attack was the fourth goal against Bursaspor. With 14 minutes to go and already three goals to the good, Valencia won the ball back next to their own bye-line (red). Three passes and 10 seconds later, Soldado (yellow) found himself one on one with the goalkeeper and had an easy job to make it 4-0. It was a fine example of the counter-attacking style the Spanish team have shown so often this season.

Undoubtedly Wednesday night will be a very tough test for Walter Smith’s team, and if Rangers are to have a genuine hope of advancing from the Group Stage some kind of result will be needed. At home, the Rangers fans will want a victory and this pressure to go forward could fall straight into Valencia’s style and strengths. Rangers can’t afford to sit back and defend but caution must be taken when attacking in numbers.

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