Steven Gerrard has demanded more of his players this season, and the development of the manager has definitely had a greater impact on the squad than we’re used to in previous campaigns.
The big thing we’re seeing from him is a newfound ruthlessness, where players who don’t perform or make errors get axed.
Now, we know Connor Goldson and James Tavernier are immune to this, so let’s overlook that because they operate to unique rules furnished them by the manager. Accept it.
But for everyone else, they’re one foul up, one bad display, one mistake away from losing their place.
We looked at how Jon McLaughlin is a major victim of this – nearly flawless till Hibs, and one error of getting nutmegged which cost a goal also cost him his place, and it’s McGregor back in.
Well, another victim has to be Ianis Hagi. He’s not been stellar this season, we admit that. We’re big fans of the Romania international, but his performances have mostly been insufficient to justify his place, in general, and he found himself benched in favour of Jordan Jones yesterday.
Jones has been out in the cold for a year, with rumour after rumour of his departure, but the NI international has been given a big big reprieve, and took the ex-Genk man’s place at Fir Park, certainly making the most of it.
Hagi has been unable to deliver a majority of good performances – while he has never hidden, and his attitude has been excellent, he’s just not quite been able to play as well as he’s capable of.
His stats are generally fairly good, and he’s rarely doing anything wrong, but if we compare the impact Scott Arfield is having since his return, it’s night and day.
Is it ‘won the contract’ syndrome from Hagi? We saw how good he was last season, when he was trying to win one, but now he’s playing more like the player Genk sold, the bit-part player who couldn’t quite hold down a place.
We know he lacks pace, it’s been well-documented, and regular readers know he’s a big favourite of this site, so we’re by no means hating on the kid.
But there’s been a notable step back this season from Hagi, from the player we had in February. Which is not to say he’s been poor, he’s just not shone as much.
When we compare the impact from the likes of Ryan Kent, Scott Arfield as mentioned and indeed Jones’ own display yesterday with the contribution from Hagi, it’s definitely the case the attacker needs to be reminded there’s major competition now.
And being dropped for the trip to Motherwell is exactly the ruthless axe he needed to spur him on.
He’s a great player, and he’s from an amazing football stable, but he’s not going to play on that alone.
Hopefully that rest yesterday will get his blood pumping and we’ll see again the Hagi we signed.