To say Rangers have been busy in this transfer window would be like saying Mark…
The 5-1 thumping that Rangers handed out to St Johnstone on Sunday was not only a commanding performance against the backdrop of Celtic’s defeat to Kilmarnock, but it also served as a perfect, isolated example of how much this team has changed under Steven Gerrard.
With a level of cold-hearted intensity that has been missing from the Govan club for quite some time, Rangers looked like the team of old that made sides fear a trip to Glasgow. And at the heart of the performance was Alfredo Morelos, who has begun to show signs of developing into a slightly different player under the new manager.
The Colombian international joined Rangers as a classic No.9 and throughout his first season proved to be an exceptionally gifted poacher and consistent goalscorer. Yet this season we’ve seen Morelos develop into a more rounded forward who seems more willing to bring other players into the game.
On Sunday Morelos played Ryan Kent through for a one-on-one with the St Johnstone goalkeeper, played a smart one-two with James Tavernier for his goal, played the ball through to Scott Arfield in the build-up to Kyle Lafferty’s goal, only to then flick the ball through to the Canadian international once again before Daniel Candeias’ shot made it five on the day.
Aside from Tavernier’s goal from the free-kick, Morelos played a part in each and every goal Rangers scored on Sunday despite only getting on the scoresheet once. And when we look at his stats for this season they suggest it wasn’t a one-off occasion either.
At first glance Morelos’ stats aren’t too encouraging. His goals per 90 minutes has fallen slightly from 0.46 to 0.31 and his average assists over the same period have also dipped from 0.14 to 0.08, but when we dig below the surface we realise that that doesn’t paint a fair or accurate picture.
If we consider his expected assists (xA) instead of just his normal assists – which suggests how many assists he should have rather than what he does have due to teammates finishing chances – we see a rise from 0.14 to 0.16 per 90 minutes. And that tends to follow a trend among his other creative metrics.
Last season Morelos averaged 0.32 key passes per 90 minutes in a campaign almost entirely dominated by domestic competition. Yet, so far this season, the Colombian striker has averaged 0.4 key passes across eight Europa League, five Premiership and one League Cup game. Which, as one can imagine, is quite impressive.
The striker is also finding more passes deep inside the final third. As we saw on Sunday, Morelos is at his best in the box, but this season we’ve seen his deep completion passes (passes in to and around the six-yard box) per 90 jump up to 1.59. A welcomed increase from 1.25 last season.
Unlike last season’s system under Pedro Caixinha, Morelos now leads the line for a team that plays much further up the park and prioritises minimising space between defence, midfield and attack in the centre of the pitch. Rather than trying to get on to the end of a Candeias or Jamie Murphy cross as the only Rangers player in the opposing box last season, Morelos now has Arfield and Lassana Coulibaly making regular, late runs into the box and beyond him in attack. And that has naturally led to more link up play between the striker and his teammate.
The accuracy of Morelos’ passing is also increasing across the board. Last season the accuracy of the striker’s crossing stood at a rather uninspiring 32.7%, but this season that has risen to 45.3%. And as we can see from the graph above, the Colombian’s passes into the final third, into the opposing box and simple forward passes have all increased by 12.6%, 2% and 4% respectively.
Not only is the 22-year-old picking out his colleagues in attack more often this season, but he seems to be taking more care to provide accurate, composed passes when he does. Which, as any Rangers fan will surely attest to, is a far cry from the no.9 that was often found with his head down and with nothing on his mind besides getting a shot away last season.
Of course, these aren’t groundbreaking numbers. We’re not suggesting that Morelos has suddenly turned in to Andrea Pirlo overnight. But it does point to a slight but albeit notable shift in how the Rangers striker plays his game. And, ultimately, it may mean that Gerrard has a more complete player on his hands for the years ahead.