It's the most wonderful time of the year. No not Christmas, the time of year…
Remember the 2017/18 Scottish football season? Gosh that feels like such a long time ago. It seems like only yesterday that we were watching Celtic win the Scottish Cup and we were slowly turning our attention to the coming World Cup and some respite from the domestic game.
It was indeed only 10 days ago. However, the world of modern football never really stops and this week we’ll see as much activity at Ibrox as we have at any period over the past season. The new manager arrives on Friday and once he steps in the door there won’t be a moment to lose.
Steven Gerrard would have undoubtedly done his due diligence and alongside Mark Allen identified areas of the squad that either need to be improved upon with transfers or sketched up a few tactical plans with assistant Gary McAllister to shuffle the pack and prepare Rangers for the new season. Let’s see if we can address those very issues today.
Gerrard & Co. have seemingly already decided that Wes Foderingham won’t be the club’s primary goalkeeper going forward, with the re-signing of Allan McGregor. Although the 36-year-old shot-stopper isn’t exactly a sprightly, exciting prospect he does bring a degree of experience to a disrupted squad and a player of the year award from Hull City upon his departure from the Championship club suggests he’s still a solid goalkeeper.
James Tavernier may still have his critics among the Ibrox faithful, but over the past two seasons he has proven himself as not only a competent fullback at Scottish Premiership level but one that can routinely win games on the right flank for Rangers. Unless a super bid comes in for him over the summer one would expect the recently-appointed captain to stick around.
However, things then get a little murky for Rangers’ defence. Recent rumours linking Brighton defender Connor Goldson to the club makes sense within the context of Gerrard having just two central defenders in his squad at the moment – Bruno Alves and Fabio Cardoso – after Russell Martin’s loan deal expired and David Bates moved to Hamburg.
The incoming manager does of course have Ross McCrorie, but the 20-year-old has looked far more assured in midfield. And even if McCrorie can settle in at the centre of defence he’ll most likely need someone aside from Alves or Cardoso alongside him if Rangers hope to push on in Europe or get closer to Celtic. And that means a smart signing.
Similar issues face Gerrard on the left side of defence. Declan John has been, well, fine. But he isn’t nearly as defensively astute as a Rangers fullback should be and his attacking stats – the better side of this game – are far from superb. The 22-year-old averaged 2.68 crosses per game last season, which is a far cry from what Tavernier (4.86) or other stand-out full backs like Kieran Tierney (4.64), Elliot Frear (7.61) or Stephen O’Donnell (3.07) averaged. Although a fully fit Lee Wallace may be enough for the time being.
Rangers have a lot of central midfielders. Even if we exclude McCrorie because he may be played in defence and Carlos Pena because nobody really knows what’s going on there, Gerrard still has seven players to pick from next season.
My colleague Niall Murray wrote a wonderful article arguing that new signing Scott Arfield may be better suited to the middle of the pitch and if we follow that logic then that leaves six players for one or two positions.
In terms of defensive-minded players Ryan Jack was a solid signing last summer and has quietly (well, aside from the odd red card) settled in as a consistent performer. He, alongside McCrorie, is really the only player in the Rangers team that Gerrard can rely upon to break up opposing attacks and win the ball back in the middle of the park. Yes, that means Andy Halliday certainly isn’t good enough.
In attack – assuming Arfield is chosen as a central midfielder – we have Graham Dorrans, Greg Docherty, Jason Holt and Jordan Rossiter. The first two still have some way to go before they’ve matched the expectations laid upon them when they arrived at the club and may face further criticism if Arfield hits the ground running. Holt has impressed in stints over the past season but he’ll surely remain a backup if he isn’t moved on this summer.
Interestingly, Rossiter, a box-to-box midfielder by trade, could prove an exciting project for Gerrard and McAllister. If the 21-year-old can stay fit then he certainly has a chance of thriving under the former Liverpool captain, but the overcrowding in this position could prove troublesome to his progress. And leave the incoming manager with more questions than answers.
Essentially, Gerrard needs to figure out who his defensive midfielders are and who’ll be pulling the strings in the middle of the park. There’s enough talent and potential there to keep Rangers ticking over, but at the moment it’s all over the place. Once the new manager knows what and who he wants then he can tell Allen to sell the rest.
In attack Rangers are relatively well-stocked at first glance. Alfredo Morelos is a perfectly capable striker for Gerrard to rely upon and if given enough time and patience to grow, he should continue scoring goals for the Ibrox club.
However, if we can assume Jason Cummings won’t be returning to Rangers this summer then that leaves little cover for the Colombian striker aside from the relatively unused and somewhat underwhelming Eduardo Herrera. Which won’t be enough if Gerrard hopes to challenge in a number of competitions next season.
Similarly, Daniel Candeias has proved a fine find by Rangers and has settled into Scottish football superbly but if he were to pick up a major injury then there would be little cover for him aside from Michael O’Halloran – and it’s unlikely that he’ll be playing much football at Rangers next season.
On the left, Gerrard will most likely rely on the recently-signed Jamie Murphy but also has Arfield and Josh Windass should he need an alternative to the former Motherwell and Brighton forward. Windass can and perhaps should be played through the middle as a no.10 or a secondary striker, but then that relinquishes a midfield spot from a very crowded list of players.
If Windass can be utilised as a right winger or even a no.9 – two positions he hasn’t really played in for Rangers – then he could be rotated among the front three, but then that would force one of the club’s better players out of position on a weekly basis.
Essentially, Gerrard has two or three good left wingers, a solid striker and a very good right winger. One of those left wingers may play in midfield and the other can be pulled into the centre of the pitch, but he’ll need to find depth elsewhere.