With massive doubts over Russell Martin’s fitness for Sunday, albeit not that the on-loan Norwich stopper would be a huge miss in any case on current form, the door of opportunity is now firmly open for Bruno Alves to finally prove his credentials as a borderline world class defender.
The 36-year old Portuguese titan came to Ibrox in something of a huge coup last summer, an 80+ current Portuguese international fresh from winning the European Championships with his country and a CV the envy of many of his peers.
Even your chums at Ibrox Noise got very excited, as we knew much of this player, having watched him many times, and could not quite believe Pedro Caixinha had successfully persuaded him to give up a cushy gig in Italy with Cagliari for the rain of Govan.
However, as we know, it simply has not gone according to plan for the ex-Porto man in Glasgow.
Underwhelming displays (which we called out fairly early on) never really improved, and while he had the occasionally decent showing at the back, Bruno Alves simply did not really dominate at the rear or defend to the level we expected of him.
In short, he had impressed way more for his country and for Cagliari in the matches we had seen, and whether it was the speed, physical strength, or climate of the SPL, something was not clicking and fan favour, which had been generous towards him, slowly melted away.
The final straw was the admittedly unfair abuse he took on injury at the last Old Firm, something many supporters perceived as him wimping out of the match; his photos from Portugal in crutches only wound some fans up more as they reckoned he had just run home rather than getting treatment in Glasgow.
This all sounds scathing, and believe us, given the expectations we had for him, it sounds it to us – but should he start on Sunday, and reports are that he will (Martin’s fitness or otherwise), Celtic’s visit is Bruno’s big chance to finally, belatedly, prove to Rangers fans (and indeed management) that he still has it and remains a world class stopper for club and country.
Two of Bruno’s key assets are positional sense and aerial domination – the guy reads the game brilliantly and uses all his knowledge and experience to anticipate moves ahead, while rarely to never losing an aerial tussle.
The problem he has had with the first one is his legs are not exactly what they were, so while he is reading the game well, he is relying on his partner for pace, and David Bates might not be the quickest stopper the game has ever seen. And the SPL must be one of the quickest leagues around – remembering how lost all the Hispanic players looked against Motherwell at Fir Park on the opening day of the season was a sure sign Caixinha had mostly prepared badly for this league.
But against Celtic a dominator at the back like Bruno is just the ticket. Celtic will use Roberts and Tierney, plus potentially Forest, to get balls into the box to test the defence, and Alves has the perfect chance to soak the lot up and bestride the back four like a colossus.
Admittedly signs were not sparkling when he lined up with Bates v Falkirk, but the hope is these kinks will be ironed out by the time the infinitely superior challenge of Celtic comes to town.
The fact is Rangers fans have waited six months+ for the real Bruno Alves to show up. We sure as heck have.
Sunday is the perfect chance for him to finally live up to his reputation.