Pedro Caixinha’s Rangers debut couldn’t have gone much better as we batted Hamilton Accies for the second time in a fortnight. Goals from Emerson Hyndman, Clint Hill, Martyn Waghorn and Lee Wallace sealed the 4-0 victory for the Portuguese coach on his maiden Ibrox appearance.
However, I will look at five of the key differences in his style and philosophy that caught the eye.
1. Change of formation
The Warburton 4-3-3 looks like it’s now a thing of the past. Caixinha used something like a 4-2-3-1 that seamlessly changed to a 4-2-4 when we were attacking; Miller would go from his wide-right position and go and join Waghorn through the middle, while Hyndman would go out to the right-hand side and take up that position to become the right attacker. The fluidity and the movement of the front four made it difficult for Hamilton to handle, and it made our play far less predictable than it has been this season.
2. High pressing
There is there nothing that I enjoy more than watching one football team press another to death. I watched Monaco’s first-half performance against Manchester City and this was something of a similar ilk. Obviously, not in terms of quality, but the midfield two and the front two pressed Hamilton so much that when the clock hit 60 minutes they were out on their feet. It’s not rocket science to know that if you win the ball high up the park, it gives you a better chance of scoring and the Rangers team certainly did this side of the game to a very high level – and it certainly got the crowd going from the beginning of the match.
3. Forward movement/getting in behind Hamilton
It was clear from the opening minutes of this game that Caixinha is not a coach who wants to win the possession World Cup. Right from the off, when one of the full-backs or the midfield two got on the ball their first reaction was to play the ball quickly in behind Hamilton’s defence. It was a delight watching Kenny Miller run in behind a defence rather than coming deep to start attacks, but it wasn’t only him, it was Waghorn, Hyndman and McKay who got in behind Hamilton’s defence and they got the ball across the box on several occasions, and we had three or four players loading the box to get on the end of the crosses. It certainly worked as that was where our first goal came from. Miller went in behind, combined with James Tavernier, he crossed to the front post and Hyndman got across the defender to fire the ball home. If he wouldn’t have put it in the net, Martyn Waghorn was waiting just behind him.
The movement of Hyndman and McKay in the wide areas also opened up many spaces for Wallace and Tavernier to get high up the park and hurt Hamilton. They were picked out by Jon Toral and Jason Holt from the middle of the park with great regularity.
4. Set-pieces – attacking and defensive
The set-piece plays greatly improved. Not only did Clint Hill score from Jon Toral’s wonderful free-kick towards the end of the first half, but it was the only time this season that I have not dreaded an opponents free-kick or corner coming into our box. It appears that there has been much focus on defensive set-plays during this week in training. Like the instance for pressing, it’s nothing revolutionary but it appears Caixinha had identified it as a clear weakness in this team and actually worked on it.
I have been a major critic of our thrown-ins. Usually, in the attacking areas, they are terrible, but we took a few long throw-ins and sent both centre-halves into the box. We are not a side who are big scorers from set-pieces but hopefully this will change under Caixinha. It was pleasing to see them being mixed up and that kept Hamilton guessing throughout the 90 minutes.
5. Defensive shape
One of the most noticeable changes. Under Warburton, having a defensive shape was treated like an alien concept. However, under Graeme Murty and under Caixinha it seems to have been given due attention. When we had the ball in an attacking sense, Toral would come deep to start the play, and Wallace and Tavernier would bomb on down the wings. When we lost the ball it would become something like a back four. Toral, Holt and Hyndman would bust a gut to get back into shape to press Hamilton so the centre-backs would not be left exposed. It worked really well and the players really seemed to enjoy doing the dirty side of the game. Their defensive work restricted Hamilton to a mere one chance, which Ali Crawford failed to convert, with the scoreline at 1-0.
It was a satisfying performance and a breath of fresh air to see us play in such a concise, direct, ruthless manner. However, we have to be grounded because, on the day, it was against a god awful Hamilton side, but, on the other hand, it was great to see the team actually function properly and see a clear plan come together. Hopefully the international break will allow Caixinha and the players to further understand what they need from each other – but the early signs for Caixinha are good. If things continue in this manner, watching Rangers will not be boring, that’s for sure.