The Rangers transfer rumour mill continues to crank up a notch with every passing day.…
How do you solve a problem like Lee Wallace? The Rangers captain has endured a tumultuous time of late at Ibrox. He went under the knife for surgery and missed the majority of last season then received a suspension from the club after a bust-up with ex-manager Graeme Murty. However, that could all be in the past after new boss Steven Gerrard threw him a lifeline. But do Rangers actually miss him?
There’s no doubting that Rangers fans have an affinity for Wallace. After all, when the light blues were relegated to League Two in 2012 the likes of Steven Naismith and Allan McGregor jumped shipped, but Wallace didn’t. Instead, he stayed on and has been with the club ever since on their journey back up through the leagues. That said, it’s then perhaps easier for Rangers fans to view him with rose-tinted spectacles.
Since returning to the Premiership Wallace has hardly been a standout. He’s struggled with a number of injuries and has arguably been overshadowed by James Tavernier on the right flank. Moreover, Declan John has stepped in during Wallace’s absence and shown he’s at the very least a dependable replacement for his older teammate.
“I need a fit Lee Wallace,” said Gerrard. “At the moment he’s injured and he’s also got an off-the-field situation that needs resolving. When those two issues are resolved and I’ve got him fit then I’m a happy man.”
But does he need him? That’s the exact question we’ll answer in this article.
The best way to get an idea of Wallace’s performance level for Rangers is by digging into the numbers. Due to his severe lack of game time last season we’ve decided to focus on the 2016/17 campaign when analysing Wallace’s stats in the Scottish Premiership. Conversely, any data we use for John and Tavernier is from the 2017/18 season.
When we focus in on the defensive side of Wallace’s game it’s evident that he’s more solid than John across numerous metrics. The 30-year-old contested 6.55 defensive duels/90 compared to his younger counterparts 6.10. Similarly, Wallace also has a higher rate of success in these battles winning 18.28% of them; John’s rate is lower at 14.72. Similarly, Wallace completed more interceptions on average per game (3.63) than his teammate (2.99).
The final metric the graph shows is aerial duels. Whilst there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the number of duels both left-backs contest per match their success rates differ hugely. John’s aerial duels average out at 2.88 per match and his success rate is 40.26%. On the other hand, Wallace partakes in slightly more headed battles (2.92) and has a success rate of 56.63%. Simply put, when it comes to the defensive side of the game Wallace appears slightly more equipped than John.
Conversely, there are a few caveats. This was at a time before Wallace’s injury problems started, so there’s no guarantee this is a level he’ll reach again. Perhaps that’s a pessimistic approach to take, but it’s perfectly plausible. Furthermore, although he does trump John in these metrics it is not by much. The young Welshman is still raw and has huge potential for improvement. One more thing, you’ll notice we haven’t mentioned too much about Tavernier’s stats. Don’t worry, we’ll get to them later.
So what about going forward? Perhaps we can get a more clear-cut solution regarding who out of John and Wallace contributes more going forward from the left-hand side.
The graph above sheds some light on Wallace as an attacking outlet for Rangers. Let’s stick to comparing him directly to John for the time being. When it comes to goals and assists the Gers skipper comes out on top. He scored three goals and provided seven assists in 2016/17. On the contrary, John too found the back of the net three times last season but only provided three assists.
Furthermore, Wallace also trumps John when it comes to key passes. In case you didn’t know, a key pass is one which leads to a teammate having a shot on goal. In terms of overall passes of this nature, there isn’t much of a difference between the two players. Wallace played eight whilst John completed seven. It’s a similar story when we look at key passes/90, both Wallace (0.28) and John (0.26) have near identical numbers.
In the final metric, we focus on crosses. After all, every team would love to have full-backs which deliver dangerous balls into the box. However, it is again close between both players. The more experienced Wallace averages 2.43 crosses/90 which is marginally more than John’s 2.36. The captain’s crosses are also slightly more accurate than the 22-year-old Welshman’s. Simply put, Wallace and John appear to be pretty similar in terms of what they offer to Rangers going forward.
After digging through the numbers there are three conclusions you can draw. The first is that Wallace’s stats are slightly better than John’s, therefore, he might be the safer option at left-back. After all, he’s the club captain, has been with the club through the highs and lows and has significant experience. He’s undoubtedly going to be one of the most influential voices at the club and that alone surely counts for something.
Conversely, Gerrard saying he “needs a fit Lee Wallace” may not mean it’s because he’s the first choice left-back. He might need him to provide competition for places and to exude his influence on the squad. Perhaps the 30-year-old’s days as a guaranteed starter at Ibrox are over? After all, he’s not getting any younger and his injury record over the last two season doesn’t make for good reading.
With that in mind, the second conclusion that can be drawn is that it’s now John’s time to shine. He’s not far off Wallace’s performances level and has proven himself, at the very least, as a dependable replacement at left-back. Sure he might be a bit raw, but this is a young player who has been solid when called upon. He certainly has the potential to grow, especially now that Rangers seem to have a more settled structure at the club. Nobody is saying the 22-year-old is setting the world alight like Tavernier on the opposite flank, but he’s shown that he can already do a good job for the Ibrox club.
I lied, there are actually three conclusions we can take from the numbers. The final one is that Rangers shouldn’t be settling for Wallace or John but instead finding someone who is as effective as Tavernier to replace them. This is perhaps an idealistic viewpoint, but surely they can get someone who is more in the mould of Tavernier to play on the left?
Sure, Tavernier has the advantage of Daniel Candeias in front of him, but there’s nothing to say Jamie Murphy can’t be as effective on the left for Rangers next season. Furthermore, Tavernier came out on top in every metric we explored in this article. If Rangers are currently undergoing another rebuild then they could try and find someone who could perform at a higher level than Wallace and John.
Of course, these players don’t grow on trees and perhaps if Wallace had played in a more attacking line-up like Tavernier did this season he’d have better numbers. However, imagine how fearsome Gerrard’s Rangers would be if they had something even vaguely resembling Tavernier at left-back? Simply put, Wallace may be beneifical to Rangers as an influential squad player and will provide competition for places. Is he going to be a gamechanger and as effective as his right-sided counterpart? Absolutely not.