While there are plenty players to choose from, the sieve-like nature of the rearguard has given a great cause for concern that it isn’t ready to face the rigours of the Scottish Premiership, and that captain James Tavernier is a particular vulnerability at right back.
So Ibrox Noise wanted to try to spin this more positively, because we, shockingly, might not be as pessimistic as the majority about this.
We start with Tavernier. Yes, he’s mince. We’re not going to beat around the bush there – he’s an appalling defender who’s caught out repeatedly at the rear and isn’t focused enough. With no Ryan Jack covering his backside as the Scotland international used to, Tavernier’s inadequacy as RB has been exposed, even if his biggest backers refuse to acknowledge it.
But hang on a minute.
Who’s this? It’s Dujon Sterling, who Ibrox Noise derided as chafe, as lower-league fodder at barely £1M. And yet, while it was just a 20-minute cameo in Germany, the English right back showed infinitely more rigidity, positional sense and solidity than Tavernier, all with a modicum of flair. The defence instantly looked more solid with his addition to the match in place of his captain.
And there’s another twist too – Leon Balogun is also MORE than capable at RB, we saw that v Celtic.
Now, what does this mean?
It means there IS a defence there, but it relies on Michael Beale dropping Tavernier in that slot. Simple as that.
He’s bought strikers and creative midfielders a-plenty for goals, we do NOT need our right back doing it. If the new additions don’t score, that’s on Beale for signing failures and he will pay for it with his job. It is NOT for the captain to do the attack’s work for it and leave us desperately exposed at the back. So let us also forget the Tavernier as right-winger that so many want to see – Beale doesn’t play with them anyway.
But there’s more to this than just Tav.
There’s Goldson too. He’s mince as well. He’s utterly overrated by far too many fans who think the defence ‘is better when he’s in it’ and then disregard the multitude of errors, of mistakes, of ‘ducks’ he’s sinned with, and who point at ‘how much worse we were when he got injured’ also disregarding the fact it was Leon King replacing him v Liverpool and not John Souttar.
Leon King and James Sands?! And 18-year-old rookie and a midfielder?! Ben Davies? A truly pitiful defender and weak! Great barometer of substandard fare to praise a defender against.
So this all sounds a bit grumpy doesn’t it?
But wait. Hang on. Who’s this? We mentioned them already.
It’s John Souttar and Leon Balogun.
These are the best two defenders in Rangers’ rearguard since Carlos Cuellar left. Make no mistake, we’ve had absolute mince at the back pretty much since 2012, albeit Walter knew a stopper and did bring in Magic Madjid.
But Souttar and Balogun are a class apart. One is an experienced Scottish international who has tonnes of SPL experience too and is regarded as the best pure Scottish defender playing the game, while the other is an experienced Nigerian international with plenty of Bundesliga experience.
So… ‘experience’ then. Balogun is quick, powerful, aware, intelligent – he’s big, he’s strong, and he’s great in the air. He’s everything Goldson and Davies aren’t. He’s also quite capable at RB.
Souttar? Much better on the deck than many fans realised, he’s more cultured than you think, but he’s strong, intelligent, and he impressed everyone last season when he was finally fit.
And therein is the big catch – which we’ll get to.
Lastly, we have Ridvan. While his preseason was patchy (he was playing next a 20-year-old rookie in Yfeko in all honesty) he is a classy LB who showed his credentials last season when he was fit.
He was the only Rangers player aside Scott Arfield to come out of the doomed Champions League campaign with an iota of credit – his appearance in Italy was excellent and showed what he was capable of. Pity he got injured right after it.
We saw that again at the tail end of the campaign – he is a worthy successor to the-now past it Borna Barisic, and it’s time for the Turk.
So…. this tells us what?
It tells us with Sterling, Souttar, Balogun and Ridvan all is far from lost. But it requires a tonne of conditions to be met.
1: Michael Beale has to permanently axe Tavernier and Goldson. Keep them in and we have no chance. It’s that simple. Neither are up to the standard we need.
2: Dujon Sterling must play at RB. He’s the only player we have (aside Balogun himself) capable of filling in there and keeping defensive shape. True, we’d have rather had a RB with a better CV (such as the Nigerian), but Sterling still better than Tav at defending and we need Balogun in the middle.
3: Sterling central and Balogun RB? Or vice versa? Both can play both positions…
4: Bye bye Barisic too. He’s just not at it any more – his fails are lower-profile than Tavernier’s, but he’s equally as culpable. He’s too weak now. Squad, no more, it’s time for Ridvan.
5: This one is HUGE – can Souttar and Balogun stay fit? If healthy they’re the best we have and probably match or even exceed Celtic’s rearguard, but the fitness issue is massive and we’re not sure we trust them to be available.
All five of these must be achieved, otherwise the defence will be a shambles again.
Will Michael Beale cave and fix this, or will he just hilariously select Tav, Goldson, Davies and Barisic on Saturday?
Who actually knows…