After our treble triumph last season with the league going to the last day we knew Champions League football would return to Ibrox, pitting ourselves against the best in Europe was an appealing thought. However firstly we would have to get past 3 qualifying rounds due to Scottish football co-efficient being so poor.
To give a good account of ourselves we would need to invest in the squad, we were given £750k. By adjusting the wage budget I was able to get this to £2.4 million with a quite healthy wage budget so not bad but a tough ask to really invest and improve for Europe with our reputation also not being great at this stage.
So first of all Steven Farqhuar, Barry Barr and Jonny Mitchell are youth signings who will slot in to the under 20 side and you may remember them from the previous update, Barr looks by far the best prospect and quite excited about him. I was only too happy to secure Reece Oxford on another loan deal for the season, great talent.
I’m sure fellow blogger FM Samo, incidentally a Morton fan will be happy with our signing of Jai Quitongo and he came with high potential but so far he has failed to deliver on that undoubted potential but young so we’ll see how it goes with Jai.
I’m potentially trying to avoid this but we signed a former Celtic player, unstaunch you say? Frankly I don’t care and Patrick Roberts is a fine addition on a season long loan and should provide from the right wing, flair and dribbling at 16 and strong technique and vision is vital. We also signed Jon Toral on a free from Arsenal and he’s one who has good attributes but I’ve struggled to get that to translate to performances.
I knew I needed a few central midfielders and Zelalem with a 4 star potential and on a free on £7.5k per week made sense, he also knows the club well. Connor Hourihane had a great season with Barnsley with 5 goals and 16 assists and we snapped him up for £10.5k per week ahead of Premier League interest.
Finally and I appreciate it’s been long was our purchases of World cup and Champions League winner Fernando Torres, a deal was struck at £20.5k per week and I was unsure on the deal given we want to be youth based and his personality was just balanced but he’s been decent. On the last day of the window we were able to secure James Tarkowski in a cut price £1.2 million deal which I’m pleased with and gives us 3 strong centre backs.
I’m a strong believer in if a youth player has no potential to make it with us then we will release them, I could develop them into Championship level players and sell for a small profit but I don’t do that. To this end we let go of 18 youth players including Tom Walsh, Ross Lyon and Ryan Sinnamon.
Kenny Miller and Clint Hill retired so our best wishes go to them, Michael O’Halloran left for £100k to Dundee despite what some Rangers fans think of him, for me he is a poundland Jesus Navas with no end product.
Andy Halliday left for £60k to Hearts, Fraser Aird went for £50k to St Johnstone, Niko Kranjcar for free to Austrian side SV Reid, Joe Garner for £75k to Reading and we allowed several talented youth players to go and develop on loan to a range of clubs.
There hasn’t been too much change in our tactical set up due to the success we have had and the attractive attacking football, I didn’t feel we were pressing enough so moved that from more to much more which has yielded some level of success. We’re winning the ball quicker and higher up the pitch but sometimes we get caught from quick transitions.
I also thought it would be a good idea to see how we line up with our new signings, on another note I am looking to set up a 3-4-3 tactic after speaking to Joe aka @timmssports who is using that system with his Grasshopper save (it’s a great read, you should follow it!).
We would start our European journey against Icelandic minnows FH Hafnarfjorour and almost had an embarrassing exit, only going through on away goals. We were 2-0 up away on the night and 3-0 up on aggregate before they hit 3 without reply to give us a big scare. Rosenberg would be the next challengers and we would win 4-0 on aggregate, very comfortable before we faced Greek side PAOK going through 4-3 on aggregate with Mckay scoring a brace at home and Torres with the brace away.
Our Champions League group stage draw was tough with Bayern Munich and Tottenham sure to give us problems but Basel being the 3rd seeded team gave me some optimism that we could sneak into 3rd place. We set up in a 4-4-1-1 in the away games and our usual 4-2-3-1 at home and started the group with a point against Bayern and then took 3 points against Basel at home with Barrie Mckay scoring from a delightful Rossiter cross as you can find below.
We then went on to lose our next 3 games, Tottenham were the outstanding side in the group and battered us. Basel took 4 points from Bayern in the double header which was a joke for us, going into Bayern game we could have finished 2nd if we won and then beat Basel but we would go down 2-1 before playing out an incredible 3-3 draw with Basel.
Annoyingly we were 3-1 up v Basel with 15 minutes spare but we went through to the Europa knockout rounds, very pleased with that. Copenhagen in the last 32 was welcomed by me with us missing out the likes of Inter, Chelsea, PSG, A.C and Sevilla.
We went into the league with the expectation to retain our title, I felt that although Celtic had pushed us close last season that we had improved our squad and they had weakened theirs. They sold Moussa Dembele to Stoke (£7.25m possibly rising to £12.5m), Kieran Tierney to Man City (£6.75m possibly rising to £9m), Kristoffer Ajer to Porto (£3.9m possibly rising to £6.75m) and Erik Sviatchenko to Dynamo Kiev (£2,5m possibly rising to £3.5m).
We battered Aberdeen but couldn’t get the breakthrough before going on a run of 8 consecutive wins conceding just 4 goals in that time, before Celtic battered us at Parkhead running away 4-1 winners despite us taking the lead at half time.
In that run of 8 wins in a row, we required a last minute winner from Fernando Torres to beat Motherwell and it was a great finish.
There were a couple of slip ups in terms of draws but we were scoring freely especially as we were coming to Christmas time and we haven’t lost since in the league, after 21 games we have 50 points and are 10 points ahead of surprise 2nd place Hibs and 11 points ahead of 3rd place Celtic. 48 goals scored after 21 games represents a decent return as well and getting to 90 goals is a target for this season.
Barrie Mckay with 14 goals and 7 assists, James Tavernier with 9 assists, Martyn Waghorn with 14 goals and finally Patrick Roberts with 11 goals and 10 assists have been the players impressing me.
This goal against Hibs in the 2-2 draw from Conor Hourihane was a great finish from outside of the box.
We had a fairly easy run to the final strangely beating 3 sides with the same score of 3-1 albeit it took until extra time to put Ayr United to the sword, we did play a lot of young players in this game such as Matthew Knox who scored.
The final against Celtic should have been a cracking final of attacking football however this wasn’t the case and we only could come up with 3 shots on target. Dismal and although Celtic were poor too, a moment of magic from Leigh Griffiths won them the cup.
Although we haven’t properly introduced many from our youth academy to the first team, season 3 will be when this process gradually happens but we have either brought in talented young talent from other clubs or via our youth intake. I think a few of these boys could go on to break in to the first team very shortly.
Barry Barr, Owen Miller and Jack Thomson will all be promoted to the first team squad in the summer with Thomson the closest to breaking in and looks a very decent prospect, if he comes in we could move on Diego Poyet if there is serious interest.
That will bring this update to a close, the next update will hopefully drop in 10 days but may be slightly longer as I’m heading to London for a long weekend next weekend.
What did you think of our signings? Is signing a former Celt a sin? How far do you think we can go in europe?
Thank you for reading, it is really appreciated. If you also want to discuss anything you can ask me anything on my twitter which is below, speak on slack or on the comments section here.
Twitter – @JohnMcIntosh19