If there has been one, consistent thing about Rangers over the past two seasons it…
There’s been a lot of speculation surrounding Kenny Miller in recent weeks after Rangers announced that they wouldn’t be extending the striker’s contract. Almost half of the Premiership’s clubs have been linked with a move for the 38-year-old – including Aberdeen, Hibs and Motherwell – indicating the well-travelled forward is still in high demand, despite his age.
But should he be? Miller has came off the back of an underwhelming campaign at Ibrox. Under Pedro Caixinha, he didn’t get a look in. Even under Graeme Murty gametime was hard to come by. So is age finally catching up with the ex-Scotland international, or has he simply not been given a chance?
As a striker, Miller’s role first and foremost is to score goals. During the 2017/18 campaign, he only found the back of the net on five occasions; once against Progres Niederkorn, once in the League Cup and a paltry return of three goals in the league, with two of those coming in the same fixture against Hearts. Now, Miller hasn’t played nearly as often this season as he has in previous campaigns – more on that later – but it isn’t unreasonable to expect a greater return. After all, Rangers were the top scorers in the league last season. He might not have played as much, but he still started 15 Premiership fixtures.
The graph above shows Miller’s goals per 90 minutes in the league over the last four seasons. As we can see, last season was the lowest return the ex-Wolves striker has had since he returned to Scotland, averaging a mere 0.18 goals per 90 in the league. The 2015/16 campaign saw Miller’s most proficient season for Rangers, but then that was when Rangers were in the Championship.
We shouldn’t be too surprised at this – it’s common for strikers to score fewer and fewer goals as they approach the end of their career. Players aren’t as fit or mobile as they once were and chances are harder to come by. Their game changes – positioning becomes far more important, as does a clinical edge in front of goal. But Miller seems to be getting worse here too.
Expected goals (xG) tell us not just the number of chances a forward has, but also reveals the quality of the chance. If a striker is having an OK season, his xG and actual goals will be about the same. If the attacker is having a poor year, his xG will be higher than his actual goal return. So how do Miller’s xG and actual goals compare? In all competitions, Miller averaged 0.15 goals per 90, with an xG/90 of 0.33 – more than double his expected return. Put simply, he isn’t burying the chances he should be.
It isn’t just the goals that are drying up, however. Miller’s all-round play is waning, as the graph above demonstrates. The former Hibs player is creating fewer goals and assists than last season. He’s hitting fewer shots. He’s attempting fewer passes. He’s dribbling less. Across the board, Miller simply isn’t the player he was twelve months ago.
It’s also worth noting that Miller’s success rate at these aspects of his game is getting worse too. His shots are 10% less likely to go in and his passing accuracy has marginally decreased. That being said, his dribbling has actually significantly improved – up an impressive 20% – but in every other aspect, Miller is clearly deteriorating.
In a recent interview with the Scottish Sun, Miller said he felt he still had a few more years left in him as a player. This might prove to be the case, but the striker’s fitness is clearly an issue and his gametime will need to be carefully monitored. In the 2016/17 season, Miller averaged 77.06 minutes each game. Last season, that figure fell to 64.81. That’s a drop off of twelve minutes every time Miller takes to the pitch.
Miller’s fitness is equally questionable when we take a look at the number of times he’s been subbed off during a match. In 2016/17, Miller was brought off during 37.5% of matches that he started. Last season, he was substituted in two thirds of games he began – nearly twice as often.
This all points to an obvious conclusion: Miller isn’t the player he once was. Last season saw a hugely significant drop in standards for the 38-year-old who has made a career out of being remarkably consistent, even as the years stack up. It seems like 2017/18 was the tipping point for Miller and now the only way is down. Of course, there are qualities Miller brings to a club that can’t be quantified – his professionalism, experience and the respect he fosters from younger players are all excellent attributes that managers would love to have in their squads. But, on the pitch at least, Miller appears to be fading. Wherever he ends up, it’ll be a gamble – and one that’s unlikely to pay off.