Brandon Barker, freshly on as a second-half substitute, skipped past James Tavernier with relative ease and cut it back for Jamie MacLaren to bundle over the line and the 2017/2018 season finishes with a 5-5 draw and third place confirmed. If anything summed up our season, that was it. We were the top scorers in the league with 76 goals, three ahead of champions Celtic but conceded exactly double their goals against with 50 conceded resulting in the seventh best defensive record in the league over 38 games.
Going back to the move for the fifth goal, Tavernier had, what many would consider, a good game especially in an attacking sense but the late goal brought many levels of criticism. Personally I felt there were many factors; throughout the season Barker had caused many full backs issues with his direct play and exceptional quickness and he was brought on fresh as a substitute whilst the team overall were not fit enough last season or for many seasons if truth be told.
Gerrard had this to say on fitness levels – he had noticed when discussing Rangers 3-2 loss to Celtic at Ibrox last season where we lost with a man advantage:,
‘When you go into it in a bit more detail, if you're a man up with that amount of time on the clock then I'd expect my team to run all over the opposition physically.’
His words are backed up by early pre-season training in Spain where several members of the first team have talked about how this is the most intense first week of pre-season they’ve ever faced - though the lack of a team bus can’t have helped! When the likes of Scott Arfield are saying that, then it bodes well after his spell with a very hard working Burnley side.
Gerrard has discussed that he wants his Rangers side to be aggressive, tough and exciting and his words seem to suggest a strong pressing game which is the way to play Celtic for example and it's our fierce rivals he will be judged against. He had this to say':
'Out of possession I want my team to be aggressive, they have to be prepared to go where it hurts to defend the badge and the goal.'
Moving on to the summer acquisitions and almost every Rangers fan earmarked centre back as our most important priority. That meant two or three new signings in that area, especially with Bates moving on to Hamburg, the disastrous Russell Martin returning to his parent club, Fabio Cardoso underwhelming and with real question marks over whether Bruno Alves will remain past the transfer window.
The signing of Connor Goldson was slightly prolonged but with encouraging signs throughout, a £3 million deal with future add-ons was thrashed out. Goldson is interesting in that he only recovered from heart surgery in the not so distant past and possibly why Rangers sanctioned a more extensive medical.
He was a key player for Brighton however in the 2015/16 Championship season and was excellent on his Premier League debut last season against Watford, so much so that 'Match of the Day' did some analysis on him in the game where he was commanding in the air, positionally sound, good with the ball at his feet and showed an extensive range of passing.
His first team chances have been limited last season in particular by the excellent form of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk but you can tell from the Brighton fans talking about Goldson that they highly rate him for his ability and personality off the pitch and they feel we have a bargain.
Nikola Katic, on the other hand, was rumoured one day and signed the next it seemed. I personally can’t claim to know a lot about him but at £2 million it is a decent fee so is expected to start. He's just 21 years of age and a Croatian international having been capped once there are some encouraging signs but this is one where only time will tell.
Looking at some footage and looking at some of his numbers it would seem that Katic is a good reader of the game allowing him to be one of the top interceptors in the Croatian league, comfortable with the ball and doesn’t foul often but isn’t yet a dominant centre back despite his 6'4" size.
So with a reported outlay of £5 million on two centre backs, you’d expect them to line up together but there is an option to play a three at the back: (Katic has played in a three on several occasions) with two wing backs getting more freedom and it is something Gerrard used at times for his Liverpool u18 side with McCrorie or Alves able to play with them. In general though, I’d expect a 4-3-3 system to be deployed with an aggressive Kloppesque pressing game, which is why fitness is so important.
Allan McGregor also rejoined the club on a free. Hull had a poor season but he had a solid season, winning their Player of the Year award and fans were gutted to lose him. I’m a fan of the deal, even just his winning mentality will be a big plus to the squad and he knows the standards expected at Rangers. I personally hope to see Alnwick move on with McGregor and Foderingham fighting it out for the number one jersey as I don’t think it’s set who is number one with Gerrard recently confirming this.
Moving on, Arfield joined Rangers early in the off season and on the face of it seems to be a no-brainer. He has played almost 50 Premier League games for Burnley in the last two seasons but last season saw a reduction in available playing time. In the past, he has been utilised in the centre of midfield but Burnley seem to favour him as a wide midfielder who can score and assist but pressing and working hard is a more vital trait in that midfield unit.
It will be interesting to see if we use Arfield as a wide left midfielder using just one of Murphy or Candeias as a more traditional winger - or if we move Murphy in to a '10' role or if Arfield will be used more centrally. Suddenly we have so many midfield options and can easily switch systems without impacting the strength of the side but getting a Premier League quality midfielder on a free seems fantastic business.
Jamie Murphy finished the season with five goals and ten assists in just 19 appearances having only joined in January. I think he’s an exciting player and one of the few in the squad who can take the game by the scruff of the neck and win it for us but I’d like to see more consistency as he often drops out of games. When he gets running at defenders, however, he is a danger man and his close control even at pace really worries them, with this being no more apparent than his excellent solo Hearts goal where he rounds two Hearts defenders before sitting the Hearts keeper down before slotting home past two further Hearts men on the line. In my opinion, making his deal permanent makes perfect sense. Welcome home, Jamie!
We come to our first loan signing of the summer: despite so many links to other potential such deals where we’ve had Harry Wilson, Ben Woodburn and Ryan Kent amongst others linked, it is Ovie Ejaria who has signed on a season long loan. Ejaria comes in from Liverpool having had what many would consider a poor spell on loan with Sunderland last season but also features for the excellent England u20 side who won the World Cup last summer.
At 20 now he will want to push on and impress Klopp, is rated highly technically but the pressure to deliver in front of so many demanding fans and the more physical nature of the game in Scotland will be testing for him and given our strength in depth in midfield he will have his work cut out and could see him being an impact player, at least to begin with.
Finally, our last summer signing so far is Jon Flanagan. It’s an extremely controversial subject but from a personal view I’m not very comfortable with his arrival and would far have preferred we stayed away but it is also true that people do deserve second chances. I do though have serious issues with some of the comments on social media discussing that it doesn’t matter if he battered his girlfriend as long as he performs on the pitch. Morally, I have much higher standards and completely understand those who don’t back the signing.
If we do try to separate his footballing ability however he is a massive upgrade on Lee Hodson and provides strong competition on both flanks. I don’t see him as someone who replaces Tavernier given he was one of the three players Gerrard spoke to saying he likes them as players and wants them to stay. We have to add in how explosive and creative Tavernier is going forward but with all things it will be down to how each individual performs for the famous. Declan John's position on the left may be under greater threat.
In terms of rumours, Roma forward Umar Sadiq is linked heavily with a loan move apparently going as far as agreeing terms, Steven Davis has been linked from Sky Sports sources and Lassana Coulibaly of Angers in France also mentioned on social media today from credible observers. Regarding Davis, I’m always quite sceptical of Sky sources but it is one that has been linked in the last six months and one to watch.
Fans have to realise that Davis has had an injury for the last few months of the season but still has amassed over 50 Premier League appearances in the last two years. However, he would be required to take quite a heavy wage cut to join and at 33 it might go against the aggressive pressing game Gerrard wants but if he’s fit then his quality could well shine through in a creative sense.
In conclusion, I’m happy with our business in the most part so far. I would like to see Middleton promoted to offer more options wide and would then like to see one more forward along with Sadiq brought in to offer competition to the main man Morelos. Another wide man, possibly a late summer high quality loan such as Ben Woodburn would be agreeable to give us more wide options too, but I can see a more solid squad emerging, far stronger mentally with an absolute winner at the helm underpinned by one of the strongest backroom staff we’ve had for many years. It's looking good.
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