Alfredo Morelos: Is the striker Rangers' most important player?

A picture of Alfredo Morelos on crutches at Glasgow airport last week following international duty with Colombia was as welcome to Rangers fans as a friendly against Celtic in Sydney.

Some turned into detectives trying to discover the validity of the image, imploring the club to reveal there was no issue and he wasn’t on his way to see a specialist about a thigh issue.

The news supporters were dreading arrived on Friday, two days before the crucial 2-1 loss to rivals Celtic at Ibrox. Giovanni van Bronckhorst confirmed the Colombian striker would be out for the next couple of weeks, before it was confirmed on Tuesday that he will miss the rest of the season due to thigh injury.

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“Following an injury sustained whilst on international duty with Colombia, Alfredo Morelos has undergone surgery to his thigh,” Rangers communicated on their website.

Alfredo Morelos has been a huge player for Rangers since joining from Helsinki. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

“Our medical team are pleased with the outcome of the operation and his rehabilitation programme is underway.

“He will return to training with the first team squad during pre season. We wish him well during his rehabilitation.”

The injury couldn’t have happened to a more important player at a worse time. Not only was his absence felt on Sunday, Rangers will play the Europa league quarter-final against Braga without their talisman, as well as the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic, a game which takes on more significance with no Scottish Cup win in 12 years.

A natural reaction after the defeat to Celtic was to assume they missed Morelos’ presence as the focal point of attack. But just how important is the 25-year-old? When you look at games he has missed, whether it be through injury, suspension, international duty or remaining on the bench across his five seasons at the club, Rangers have shown their capability at handling his absence.

Morelos has a one in two ratio for Rangers. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Out of the 33 league and European games he has missed, Rangers have won 21 and only lost four. One of those victories arrived in Braga.

Yet, two of the four losses have arrived this campaign, both in defeats to Celtic in the league. He may have put in plenty of effort across those two games but Kemar Roofe isn’t Morelos and Rangers in turn suffered in attack.

The Colombian, who has been doubted and castigated in equal measure during his time in Scotland, gives Rangers a concoction of attacking qualities no other striker in the country can. Goals, personality, link-up play, presence and physicality. He is the ultimate out ball.

Quite rightly, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt were praised for their role in Celtic’s weekend win. But it is hard to imagine they would have had quite as comfortable a time if Morelos was leading the line.

Alfredo Morelos celebrates his second goal for Rangers during the 4-2 win over Borussia Dortmund in Germany. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

And, aside from his ratio of a goal every other game, that's what makes him so successful, the level of discomfort he exerts on defences. An ability to occupy defenders, create space and drop deep which can bring out the best of Joe Aribo moving forward from midfield or Ryan Kent driving in menacingly from the left.

It now means Van Bronckhorst’s side have got themselves into quite the pickle. How do they replace Morelos? Especially on the European stage where the sound of the Europa League anthem acts like a Bat signal and he becomes a different, even more dangerous beast with 32 goals in 51 appearances for Rangers and Helsinki.

It’s the big question the Dutchman needs to answer.

Across five seasons, Morelos has been the man for Rangers, even when he's not been at his very best. His mere presence can elevate the team. In the biggest two weeks of the season so far they are without their talisman and the early signs are far from positive.

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