Rabbi Matondo exhilarates as West Ham win shows Rangers in fine fettle on and off the park
There has been a palpable sense of renewal and realignment in Rangers’ off-field activities across pre-season.
Yet, there was a familiar feel about the main takeaways from a hugely impressive 3-1 friendly victory over West Ham. With the sales of Calvin Bassey to Ajax - the £19m up-front deal yet to be confirmed - and Joe Aribo to Southampton, the Ibrox club lost two of their integral players from last season’s Europa League final push. But the gains must outweigh any concerns over these departures. On that front, it helps that Rabbi Matondo - essentially a replacement for Aribo following the Wesh winger’s £2.5m move from Schalke - proved so exhilarating on his Ibrox bow.
The 21-year-old’s half-time introduction along with Tom Lawrence, which instantly led to his tearing down the flank and teeing up his fellow summer arrival to neatly side-foot in the opener before Matondo lashed in from 10 yards to make it 3-0 just before the hour mark, allowed Rangers to do what Rangers did in coming within a penalty shoot-out of claiming a European trophy a mere two months ago. That is, they not only proved capable of being robust when confronted by a leading side from one of the big five leagues but able to give such an opponent a bloody nose. Even as the long-term injury absence of Alfredo Morelos was felt - as in the latter stages of the Seville run - with new central striking addition Antonio Colak giving the impression he will need time to find his feet.
The Croatian doesn’t have that with the Champions League third round qualifier first leg away to Union Saint-Gilloise little under a fortnight away. But Giovanni van Bronckhorst won’t be reliant on Colak for goals in that tie, on the evidence of the West Ham filleting. As Ryan Kent suggested in battering the ball past Lukasz Fabianksi from an angle on the left to quickly double the advantage Lawrence had given the home side.
Friendlies can be a notoriously unreliable barometer - Celtic were taken apart 6-2 by David Moyes men last summer before going on to win the cinch Premiership - but the Rangers manager will be content with assurance shown by John Souttar alongside Connor Goldson on the day Ben Davies’ £4m move from Liverpool was confirmed. Indeed, the Londoners 70th minute consolation counter bundled in by Tomas Soucek came subsequent to Souttar giving way to James Sands.
Rangers may be desposed champions, but conversely have rarely appeared in better shape overall. And rarely have their support appeared as bullish over their team’s prospects as title runners-up. There is genuine promise in the astute-looking acquisitions of Matondo, Lawrence, Davies and Souttar, in particular, but also in the Bassey and Aribo deals. That they could net Rangers £34m represents stupendous asset management for two players signed for under £600,000 combined. These allow a giant tick to be placed in the “sound business model” column that previously tended to remain blank. And that could be a swoosh giving the Ibrox club further crucial revitalising potential in the remainder of the window.
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