In the third part of Ibrox Noise’s four-part series, we will take a look at another badly-neglected area of Rangers’ XI over recent years; defensive midfield.
Ever since Mark Warburton decided to ruin two years of Andy Halliday’s career by shoving him in defensive midfield for reasons known only to himself when other options were available, that area of the pitch has been a real weakness at Ibrox.
Last summer we got tricked into believing Joey Barton, Jordan Rossiter, Matt Crooks et al had been signed to fill that vacancy, but early on into Rangers’ return to the SPL it became evidence Warburton’s obsession with shoehorning Halliday in there was showing no sign of abating, and until Caixinha took over earlier this year, Halliday remained wasted in a position he simply could not fill.
But for all the criticism of Pedro, one thing he has definitely got right was critical prioritisation of that slot and made Ryan Jack his first summer recruit. The Aberdeen captain had a massive season at Pittodrie last year and has looked at ease in the Rangers shirt.
But who else are options for that area, and what formation is likely to be the outcome?
Well, the two main choices we appear to have there are Ryan Jack and Jordan Rossiter with Matt Crooks appearing surplus and on his way to Northampton and Jason Holt only being used there sparingly.
So far Pedro has mostly elected with a bank of two in front of the defence. We saw it on his debut v Hamilton with Jon Toral and Jason Holt in partnership, but that match remains the best Rangers have played under Caixinha, and the Portuguese has struggled to recapture that form.
And it must be said, while it is early days, the Rossiter and Jack partnership against Niederkorn did not seem to fully blend. On paper two strong talented young tacklers enforcing the midfield seems the dream answer, but on the pitch it did not play out quite as effectively as that.
In Rossiter’s defence the second leg was his first competitive start since August last year so it may well take a little time for him to get up to full speed, and frankly that would probably be Pedro’s first choice; a continued double pivot of Jack and Rossiter. It is also ours – we rate both of these two very highly indeed – they are players we would trust, and if both can remain fit, part of the future of the club.
However, if a bank of two is not Pedro’s preference, it can only be the obvious alternative of one. And if Rangers are to play with just one in front of defence, the sheer endeavours Caixinha went to to capture Jack’s signature would surely propel him to first choice. And sadly against Rossiter his injury history will always count against him.
It is a pity though that Matt Crooks has been cast away without a second thought. Clearly the giant anchor does not appeal to Ped, and that is his call, but we cannot help feeling he would be more of an asset if given a bit of a chance. Especially if we even decided to go for a bank of three. But, it is down to the manager.
If Rangers are to play a bank of two, it selects itself. While Holt has still fleetingly been selected there, and was v Niederkorn at Ibrox, he is unlikely to feature there again, unless for cover. It would be Rossiter and Jack. But if only one player is to feature we cannot see past it being Jack, and a bank of three seems extremely remote.