Whatever has been said and not said about Steven Gerrard’s start at Ibrox, one thing is surely agreed on by all fans – the XI is not quite ready yet.
We have done some excellent work in the window, with defence especially benefiting from a stunning 100% record so far in terms of impact made by the new recruits. Jon Flanagan, Nikola Katic, Connor Goldson and Allan McGregor have all enhanced the XI immensely, clearly upgrading the standard of the backline from the absolute atrocity it has been for over half a decade.
Of course, tougher challenges than Bury and Shkupi lie in wait but that’s three matches and three clean sheets – so whoever your opponent, we have to be happy with that start.
It is in front of defence where the issues begin a touch – defensive midfield has seemed frail, with Ross McCrorie not quite ready to ‘Patrick Viera’ his way alone through matches. And midfield has slightly misfired – Windass and Candeias out of position hasn’t helped, and neither has Arfield’s injury – and up front Alfredo Morelos is having a torrid time on a range of fronts.
However, a pair of significant new additions could well take a tonne of the heat off the front six, with two on-loan signings almost ready to make their way into the team.
Umar Sadiq and Lassan Coulibaly are said to be a couple of weeks shy of complete readiness, but while they were hardly household names before Gerrard clinched their signatures, what we know of both players bodes very promisingly indeed and could truly help to settle the nervy midfield and attack.
Sadiq is a tall, lanky lad who has five in 13 as a fringe player for Dutch cracks Breda, while managing a couple in Serie A as well. The 21-year old is known for his surprising composure for his frame, his aerial prowess, and his ability to adapt – realising his physical style was struggling in the more tactical Italian top flight, he worked on reading the game better and using his body more intelligently. Both of these styles (physical and intelligence) can stand him in good stead in the SPL.
Meanwhile Coulibaly has been openly labelled a ‘destroyer’ – a big tough ‘Scott Brown’ type enforcer for the middle of the park. While Rangers already have four defensive midfielders in Jack, Rossiter, Docherty and McCrorie, Gerrard seems to be using Jack more advanced, while Rossiter sadly sits out injured for the time being. This leaves only Docherty and McCrorie, and for now, McCrorie is the man with the shirt. But none of these guys are the midfield general Rangers seek – Gerrard appears to be hinting that Coulibaly could well be. Naturally we’ll see how effectively the Angers man is in that role in the SPL, but Gerrard’s words are promising.
In short, these two guys, if they deliver on the promises in the way the likes of McGregor and Flanagan at the back appear to be doing, could well be massive fillips for the XI and two huge missing pieces of the jigsaw.
With Morelos misfiring and attack generally looking a bit disjointed, while defensive midfield struggles to impose itself, Rangers could be a fortnight away from having some of the final pieces of the puzzle.