Rangers rejigs under Michael Beale bring fluency and flair as Malik Tillman, Ryan Kent and Alex Lowry find new freedom
Alright, so the standard health warnings must be applied to a 3-0 friendly defeat over a Bayer Leverkusen that looked to be going through the motions as the sub-zero temperatures in Govan gripped. And yet, Beale’s positional changes and system tweaks with his deployment of the struggling personnel he inherited on succeeding Giovanni van Bronckhorst appeared to produce a final-third fluency that largely deserted Rangers during the Dutchman’s closing six weeks.
Beale, on his return to Ibrox 13 months after he departed with his confrere Steven Gerrard for Aston Villa, had said he wanted his team to play with the handbrake off. With his reconfiguring, certainly the stuttering of late was banished. Operating with a 4-2-3-1 that could open up to a 4-3-3 with dashing double-scorer Malik Tillman flitting between the lines, there just seemed a rhythm to Rangers’ play redolent of the smooth functioning periods in Gerrard’s tenure. It was notable on that front Ryan Kent was deployed centrally, directly behind Antonio Colak, but that Rabbi Matondo and Tillman either side of him seemed to have free roles. Notable too that Glan Kamara and Ryan Jack dovetailed effortlessly in performing the anchor roles.
The dividends were pretty immediate as Tillman seemed a man possessed - the 20-year-old Bayern Munich loanee provided extra motivation through facing a German opponent, according to Beale afterwards. Whatever was floating his boat, the effect was to see him row his team into a 15th minute lead with a superb first-time finish. It ensued from him ghosting into the box to meet a James Tavernier angled cross from the right. Within six minutes he had doubled his tally, producing a thumping header from a curling corner by his captain. A hat-trick appeared on the cards but his manager’s desire to give as many players as possible run-outs - Adam Devine showing up well as a left-back starter - led to him switching his front six at the interval.
Rangers lost a little of their intensity following the overhaul, but regained that when Alex Lowry replaced Fashion Sakala in the 70th minute. The youngster’s vision seemed to be feasted on by Alfredo Morelos in particular. In the 80th minute, a defence-splitting pass released the Colombian in the box, only for him to be shoved off the ball for a penalty that Tavernier drilled against the inside of the post. Lowry produced another ball allowing Morelos to run in behind four minutes later, and after the striker held it up smartly, he was able to lay it off from fellow substitute Scott Arfield to produce an emphatic finish.
A fine afternoon’s work, Beale was quick to point to the fact that the 15th placed Bundesliga opposition are five weeks’ away from their return to competitive action. Hibs won’t face that handicap when they travel west on Thursday champing at the bit. However, with the clarity of direction given by the new Rangers manager to those now under his charge - which they seemed to embrace with gusto - then Beale could be on the path to removing obstacles of his own as he seeks to be a reviver of fortunes at Ibrox.
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