In the event of Rangers winning the Championship, which takes them to Greenock tomorrow night, any challenge to Celtic isn’t realistic unless Mark Warburton performs some miraculous alchemy on the Ibrox playing squad. The 53-year-old Englishman was recruited because of the emphasis he places on developing players. His methods for doing that include requirements for players to do screen-time homework.
“They all have their own personal website set up by the department that they can go into and look at all of their performances, touches, future opponents, their strengths and weaknesses,” the Rangers manager said. “It’s all part of preparing for the next game so every player has access to that.”
And every player must access that. “These are the standards you set as a group. Not just the players, it’s the staff as well. Normally, if we finish on a Saturday, we watch the game that evening and watch it again first thing Sunday morning. The analysis is prepared by Sunday lunchtime to deliver to the players, so you expect that staff do that as well.
“The players have been first class, they are embracing it, they are hungry and they want success. They know what the club has to do and they have bought into that. You can’t give enough credit.”
The “attacking philosophy” that has yielded 61 league goals – the highest figure in senior British football – and brought 19 goals in four games is subject to the same analysis “every day for ten to 15 minutes at a time”. Warburton added: “One day it will be defenders and goalkeepers with David [Weir] and Jim [Stewart, goalkeeping coach] going through aspects of play. On other days, we’ll talk about final third, what we can do to be better. When teams will sit men behind the ball, how we break them down and what works well.
“People said we had a blip, but that was us trying to find solutions to eight, nine, ten men behind the ball and hopefully we did a lot of work on the grass. The players have been first class, with a lot of analysis work, and the last four performances have been really pleasing.”
Warburton says there is no figure for chances created in games, but that their analysis sessions attempt to figure out how to create them.
“We talk about getting to the right areas. The right side we tend to cross from a deeper area, left side we get right to the byeline, it’s getting to the key areas. It’s forward runners, so if our centre-forward comes short, we want to get runners on beyond, not be static in key areas. If we can get that right, then the chances naturally follow.
“For us, it’s all about the quality of chance. I don’t mean the 35-yard speculative shot that hits Row X but the quality of chance you create, I think dictates the quality of the team.”
The Rangers manager is keen to stress that while the quality of chances may dictate the quality of a team, he does not dictate to his side that they must apply playing principles in regimented fashion.
Before Christmas the Ibrox side’s pass-and-probe approach began to look a little mechanical but Warburton maintains there is room for the off-the-cuff performer – even if trickster Nathan Oduwa’s loan spell didn’t work out.
“We are not saying ‘you will do this’. We are saying ‘these are the problems we encounter’,” he said. “You can’t ask players to be robots but you can turn around and say when we played against them last time they tend to favour going up the right side or favour playing to the centre-half or kicking long to the wide full-back. Our job is to counter it and then hurt them.”