For managers, pre-season is a time to prepare and practice in an environment as close to competitive action as possible.

Michael Beale branded his side’s first game of the 2023/24 season against Newcastle “a real game from start to finish”.

“That game gives us a lot of feedback. I think it will make training real because now you've played against a real team,” he said after the game.

“There's no point playing the lesser opponents, so we've tried to pick really strong competitive opponents throughout pre-season to make the games real to help us prepare. We're still a month away from the kickoff.”

‘Don’t read into pre-season' is a fair if not totally true statement. These games can demonstrate some of the ideas Rangers will showcase this season if not exactly how successful they’ll be. From formation changes to Nicolas Raskin’s introduction and a first sighting of the new boys, here's what stood out to the Rangers Review.

Shape and structure

Formations can prove a hindrance when analysing teams in possession, because of the rotations and movement evident in a side like Beale’s. Off the ball, however, with teams sliding in shape and not moving to create openings, formations provide a helpful barometer.

Rangers started in a 4-3-3 off the ball last night and struggled to get close to the visitors, often falling too deep or being easily outplayed on either side.

Before the break they were susceptible to switches of play, meaning even when the hosts outnumbered Newcastle around the ball by one of the flanks, their lack of intensity allowed Eddie Howe’s men to quickly switch play into dangerous open space.

The whole idea of this overloading tactic Rangers utilise out of possession is to trap teams by the touchline, forcing them backwards or regaining possession. Too often, the visitors managed to quickly switch play and exploit the open space on the far side of the pitch.

Notice below before Miguel Almiron’s opener how Newcastle quickly played from left to right, despite Rangers initially boasting superior numbers around the ball. 

What’s more, on some occasions it was evident that new players were learning roles or understanding when to press. This is what pre-season is for, after all, fine-tuning small details.

What changed? Rangers’ move to a 4-3-1-2 from around the half-hour mark, the shape we’ll see them use often this season, enabled them better lateral coverage of the pitch and a foothold in the game. Something demonstrated by Sam Lammers’ leveller.

Newcastle weren’t able to attack freely down the sides or escape with their full-backs because Rangers’ structure enabled them to get closer to the flanks faster.

READ MORE: Michael Beale's Rangers striker evolution amid transfer fit

In the lead-up to the equaliser, Howe’s men attempted to play down the left but saw Cantwell and Sakala quickly spring out to stop them…

Then, they switched to the right but found themselves forced back to their goalkeeper Karl Darlow…

Who attempted a pass into Bruno Guimaraes that Lammers could intercept to score, from that very obvious 4-3-1-2 pressing shape that allowed Rangers to match Newcastle’s centre-backs and defensive midfielder man-for-man…

An interesting note from this goal is the way Lammers presses with his left foot. Guimaraes does check his shoulder but perhaps anticipates pressure arriving from the right side, which would’ve allowed him to turn out of pressure. 

Raskin’s engine-room improvement

Again, with the disclaimer that this was a pre-season fixture loudly blaring, Nicolas Raskin’s introduction changed the midfield dynamic for Rangers.

The Belgian isn’t only a No.6, and often played slightly higher for Beale last season. What’s indisputable is the whole team's improved flow of play when he lines up at the base of midfield, against a side that’s planning to press the ball.

Raskin’s a pressure valve, he can receive the ball in these types of areas, with the opposition looking to squeeze forward and carry it beyond two opponents before releasing Ridvan on the left.

It’s this combination of passing and carrying that makes him such a tricky opponent, and such a useful option for Beale, when operating at the base of midfield. Raskin is going to be one of Rangers’ most vital players this season and if his quality shows throughout, he might not be here long beyond next summer.

New boys

This was a tricky game to judge new arrivals given plenty of it was spent without the ball. Lammers, who spoke on his arrival about thriving in a possession-dominant team, knitted together a couple of nice attacks in the first half before moving deeper after the break. The Dutch forward improved the side with his pressing as a No.10, able to latch onto Guimaraes at the base of midfield.

Similarly, Abdallah Sima’s attacking input into the match was muted. Although it’s easy to suggest after the match that Rangers were simply hitting it long to the on-loan forward, Sima’s ability to run beyond from deep is more intentional. He still occupied a strong defensive partnership well over the course of the game, with Beale’s side looking to go over the busy area of the middle of the park and stretch the game with his powerful running. Keep an eye out for his role at set-pieces over this season. Last night, he was a strong defender in the box at defensive corners.

Jack Butland had little to do before he conceded a late Newcastle winner, although looked comfortable on either foot and was quick off his line to deal with a couple of balls played behind the defence. Kieran Dowell was bright during a 45-minute cameo, demonstrating good vision in the midfield. If he can bring a little more guile to the midfield three, with his left-footed option a bonus, Dowell's arrival could prove shrewd.