Gary (PenaCartel) is back to look over this squad and what is required this window
Heading into the transfer window one of the major questions many of us had was; How are we going to replace Connor Goldson? A constant over the last 4 years, consistent in performance and even more so in availability.
He’s been a rock.
Thankfully, that question is no longer relevant. A somewhat surprising announcement confirming a 4 year extension, on the day many expected him to be saying goodbye, kicked the transfer window open in very positive fashion.
Add in the arrival of John Souttar and the £1.5m sale of Cedric Itten, we had ourselves a good first day of business.
It also raises a bigger question: with a top level CB replacement no longer the pressing issue, what do we require most from this window to improve the team?
Having discussed that very question with other supporters and getting pretty varied answers, it’s pretty clear that ultimately the main concern for most is improving the goal threat.
Now that can sound simplistic, but when you look at the actual numbers it is obvious why it needs to be addressed.
Rangers had a total of two players last season who hit double figures in the league: Morelos with 11 and Roofe with 10. That simply isn’t enough goals from your strikers unless you have big contributions from midfield and wide areas, last season we did not get that.
Only three other players in the squad managed more than 4 league goals.
Joe Aribo was the highest scoring midfielder with 8, then only Arfield hit as many as 4.
As for the wide options, Fashion Sakala’s 9 goals were the same amount as Ryan Kent, Amad and Scott Wright combined.
To put things in perspective, that is 22 goals in 47 games from the strikers, 18 goals in 85 games from the wide players and 19 goals in 161 games from the midfielders.
That wasn’t helped with only James Tavernier and Ryan Kent hitting double figures for assists.
Across the board, those are fairly low returns for a team who dominate the vast majority of games in domestic football.
Now, with the return of Ianis Hagi and a more prominent role for Alex Lowry next season we will have two more players who will undoubtedly produce goals and assists which is a big boost.
Before thinking of additions however, we do also have to account for potential losses. Huge interest in the brilliant Calvin Bassey, rumoured Premier League links to Aribo, plus expiring contracts for Morelos and Kent mean it is highly likely that we will see at least a few players moving on.
If that is indeed the case, of course the requirements change depending on who goes.
So, with that in mind while also considering the run to the Europa League final provided the club with an estimated £32-35m, plus the sale of Patterson and the compensation for the coaching staff, the club should be on a solid footing. Any potential sales in this window should see a relatively solid budget to strengthen the squad.
I don’t think it would be unfair to say there’s a fair bit of pressure on Ross Wilson and the recruitment team to make this window a successful one. The squad has been lacking in certain key areas for 5 or 6 windows without being addressed.
As it currently stands, the defensive options are Tavernier, Goldson, Souttar, Bassey, King, Helander, Katic, Barisic and Zukowski.
There are of course injury concerns with Helander and Souttar and doubts about the future of Katic but the decision to let go of Balogun suggests there is real belief in Leon King to step into that role. Generally speaking, when available that is a pretty solid group that will allow most of the focus to be on other areas.
Does GK need addressed? I personally think McLaughlin is up to the job, but understand why others would like a new number one. The thing with McLaughlin is he is a keeper who suits our style very well, he maintains a high starting position to aid our higher defensive line, he is very comfortable building play from the back as well as dealing with crosses into our box.
The numbers back it up: McLaughlin’s starting position sees him make 4x as many interceptions per game as McGregor, contest 5x as many aerial duels and complete 7 more passes. McGregor is still the better shot stopper, but McLaughlin’s front foot style sees us face less shots and ultimately concede less goals.
Of course, if there is a long term upgrade available at a good price (Kovacevic has been linked in the media), I don’t think many would argue.
Now turning our attention to the midfield and forward areas, this is where things get more necessary as has been the case for some time.
We have plenty of players who can dictate a game, control tempo and win the ball back. Of the regulars, Lundstram, Jack, Davis and Kamara all fit pretty well into that category. As does Charlie McCann. Depth in that area is very solid.
However, what CM is capable of regularly creating goals or scoring them? Joe Aribo has spells of it, but he is the only regular CM who fits that description, his output being more than 3x higher than any other midfielder indicates just that. Beyond Aribo the only player who seems capable is Alex Lowry (Hagi would also fit that description, but he is still more often deployed on the right).
Keeping the rumoured Palace links to Aribo in mind along with his contract situation, it’s not ideal to have him as the only midfielder regularly contributing to goals.
Last year we were heavily linked to Mirko Ivanic who has registered 43 goals and 26 assists in the previous 2 seasons from midfield, is there another player of that profile on the recruitment teams radar?
Finding players with that level of contribution within our budget is certainly a difficult task, but a consistent goalscorer from midfield is something we haven’t had since Gerrard began rebuilding the squad.
The same can be said of the right sided forward / right wing position. Over the last 2 seasons it’s a position that has again been occupied by committee.
Hagi, Aribo, Wright, Sakala, Roofe… All have played on the right. In that time Hagi has been the most successful, playing 40 games from the right side and providing 16 goals/assists. Solid numbers, but it’s very obvious his skillset is better suited to central areas, which is also backed up statistically.
Sakala has been very effective from wide areas domestically, but his goal/assist numbers are significantly better from the left side and again, playing on the right doesn’t look a natural fit.
Finding a starting quality player for that right sided forward would be a huge boost to the team after years of rotating players, it would add an additional goal threat, prevent Kent being the primary defensive focus and also allow the likes of Hagi more time in their preferred positions.
There’s also the matter of a striker who can be a capable option to Morelos. There is no doubt Kemar Roofe is that player from a quality standpoint, but the regular injury issues make it an option that is often unavailable, 40 league games played in 2 seasons. A repeat of having to play a midfielder up front in a European final is not something you’d like to think about.
These, of course, aren’t new concerns. Over the last 3 years most have pointed to those very same positions as the weak points of the squad.
Strong links to Ivanic, Veerman and Skov Olsen in the last year suggest the club has certainly been looking to improve those areas, perhaps just not previously having the budget to get them over the line.
This window will hopefully be a different story. Extra income and potential sales will hopefully see the club in a position to add some real quality in the required areas if they can identify the targets.
Finding those players allows you to thrive with a much more team oriented approach to goals. Without them you are relying more on your forwards to carry the load, 17 combined league goals from the most selected front 3 isn’t a high enough return in those circumstances.
Gio seemed to really get to grips with a more aggressive style over the last 6 weeks of the season, it’s now about having a strong transfer window for the first time in a couple of seasons to allow him to kick on into another next gear.