After the Dutch football authorities moved the Eredivisie game between Ruud van Nistelrooy’s team and FC Volendam from Saturday August 20 to August 31, eyes turned on the SPFL if they would do the same.
There has been no movement and of course, this is a thorny subject.
Rangers were unable to have their congested fixture commitments eased in the lead-up to their 2008 UEFA Cup Final with Zenit St Petersburg when McCoist was an Ibrox coach, though last season Motherwell shifted a match at Fir Park in April to accommodate Europa League semi-final preparations of van Bronckhorst’s team. One that they lost to RB Leipzig in Germany.
That should serve as warning – moving a game might be helpful, but it isn’t necessarily a solution and at this time of the season in particular, matches may be more beneficial than yet another day on the training ground. Additional rest shouldn’t be needed this early either.
Players often say their favoured schedule is matches, thick and fast – maybe not quite as quickly as what Rangers were demanded 15 years ago, co-incidentally the last time two Scottish teams were in the Champions League group stage – but games are what they look forward to and the best way to find fitness and sharpness.
Which is why St Johnstone on Saturday and Hibs next weekend can be key components of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s play-off plans with PSV.
The manager employs a large swathe of adaptability in his tactics and flexibility in his team selection – and that requires a fit squad poised, sharp and ready. Players are still furthering relationships and understanding on the pitch after seven new faces arrived, all learning the manager’s adaptable formations and mid-game tactical tweaks. He is still learning about his players too – can Malik Tillman play on the right or is he better through the centre? Likewise, Tom Lawrence on the left. Yilmaz or Barisic? Kamara high or holding in midfield?
It is still early days, and practical development on the pitch against St Johnstone and Hibs rather than more of the theory developed at Auchenhowie in pre-season brings serious benefit. He can try these systems. He can build momentum and consistency too. He can reduce John Lundstram’s workload before he’s tasked with following Joey Veerman around on Tuesday night without taking ‘the silky Scouser’ out of his stride. He can give returning Alfredo Morelos more time to find his range.
As Dundee United showed, at this stage of the season there can be a European hangover– in United’s case severe and thumping– from major midweek exertions. United followed their great win over AZ Alkmaar with a flat defeat to Livingston and then their Dutch disaster.
Rangers’ game on Tuesday was charged, initially fraught if ultimately comfortable. Now back in last season’s successful midweek-weekend routine, playing the two games and ticking over tactically, ensuring they are all on their toes with two tests in the SPFL isn’t such a shambles this time around. It could be ideal preparation for PSV, regardless of whether they’re rested up or rusty.