Given the Ibrox men take on PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands on Wednesday, the second leg of a supremely important Champions League play-off tie poised at 2-2, Morelos would have anticipated a start at Easter Road. With Van Bronckhorst keen to keep his best players fresh for PSV, this looked the perfect opportunity to unleash the Colombian from the start instead of Antonio Colak.
Morelos likes playing against Hibs. He’s scored 9 goals in 17 games against them in his career – second only to Kilmarnock – and has always been a thorn in the side of Ryan Porteous. Freshening up the attack, affording a hungry Morelos the platform to shine, was expected.
Colak, however, was once again given the nod. The Croat, a summer signing from PAOK, has netted four times already this season. Van Bronckhorst really likes Colak. But Morelos was the Dutch coach’s talisman last season and sorely missed when he injured his thigh in late March, requiring surgery. He spent the rest of the campaign on the sidelines and his absence coincided with the concession of the Premiership title.
It feels like something has changed with Van Bronckhorst and Morelos. A telling moment came last week, after the first leg of the PSV tie at Ibrox, when Van Bronckhorst was asked by BT Sport’s Emma Dodds why Morelos was not called upon. The Rangers manager, to paraphrase, said he wasn’t needed, as Colak was doing so well in the game.
Some pundits have questioned the conditioning of Morelos, who has always been a heavy-set type of striker. He barrels his way through defences, not giving them a moment’s peace. Recovering from thigh surgery is tricky and he needs time, but more importantly, minutes on the pitch to get back into shape.
Which is why it was so disappointing for everyone of a Rangers persuasion to see Morelos, introduced on 62 minutes, get red-carded (for the seventh time in a Rangers shirt) for a needless elbow on Marijan Cabraja 13 minutes later. It left his team down to nine men following John Lundstram’s earlier dismissal. Morelos is the perfect striker to have when you are playing with ten men as he will hold the ball up, be an outlet. Rangers went on to concede in stoppage time, drawing 2-2.
Van Bronckhorst does not suffer fools gladly. There has been a reliance on Morelos for many years at Rangers but Colak’s arrival means they now have another striker who can carry out his duties. Morelos looked a little disinterested, almost moody, when he appeared in Leith, and the manager will not tolerate such stroppiness and recklessness.
He is also very unlikely to play Colak and Morelos as a pair, given he much prefers a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. With Malik Tillman and Tom Lawrence chipping in with goals to supplement Colak, there seems little need to alter the system.
This is grim reading for Morelos, suspended domestically now and set to stay on the bench in Eindhoven. Rangers are still in talks to renew his contract, which expires next summer, but he needs to work harder than ever to restore himself as Rangers’ No 9.