Alfredo Morelos: Rangers need sparkle - shelf life and why Celtic comparisons with duo are unfair
There is no doubt that Rangers manager Steven Gerrard and his coaching staff have succeeded in making Alfredo Morelos a far more rounded player than the one they inherited when taking charge at Ibrox in the summer of 2018.
The next stage of the Colombian international striker’s development is to ensure that his predatory instinct inside the penalty area is not dulled by a focus on improvements to other aspects of his game.
Rangers’ urgent need to have Morelos firing on all cylinders was laid bare at Ibrox on Saturday. The 25-year-old’s link-up work was largely beyond reproach, illustrating again how he has become far more accomplished as a team player under Gerrard.
But it was his wastefulness in front of goal, passing up premium chances to put the game beyond Hearts, which contributed to the Scottish champions dropping two points as Craig Halkett plundered a dramatic 90th minute equaliser for the Gorgie side.
Morelos has scored just twice in his last 10 appearances for Rangers, a strike rate which Gerrard must hope can be quickly improved as his squad approaches a pivotal sequence of fixtures both in Europe and on the domestic front.
It’s certainly no coincidence that Rangers’ struggles to rediscover their optimum form collectively since the start of the campaign has come in tandem with Morelos not being at his best.
If he is seeking the perfect stage to kick start his season, then it is surely at Ibrox on Thursday when Rangers face a must-win showdown with Danish champions Brondby on matchday three of their Europa League Group A campaign.
Pointless after losing 2-0 at home to top seeds Lyon and 1-0 away to Sparta Prague in the previous two rounds of fixtures, Rangers have left themselves with little margin for error if they hope to qualify for the knockout phase of the tournament for a third consecutive year.
Morelos has been the key figure in the admirable progress Rangers have made in Europe under Gerrard, a talismanic presence in leading the line on some memorable nights.
He has scored 25 goals in 50 appearances so far, eclipsing Ally McCoist as Rangers’ all-time leading scorer in Europe. Only Henrik Larsson, with 35 goals in 56 games for Celtic, has scored more times for a Scottish club in European competition.
It would be fitting if the Europa League provided the backdrop for Morelos to reach a landmark moment in his Rangers career which currently sees him just one goal short of hitting the century mark in all competitions.
In the first two seasons of Gerrard’s tenure, there was an over-reliance on Morelos. He was top scorer with 30 and 29 goals respectively in 2018-19 and 2019-20 but despite those prolific numbers, Rangers were unable to sustain a title challenge.
As Morelos’ own game evolved, Gerrard brought greater depth and variety to the goalscoring capabilities of his team as they romped their way to the Premiership crown last season. While his contribution to the title success was still significant, Morelos’ tally of 17 goals saw him third in the scorers’ list behind James Tavernier (19) and Kemar Roofe (18).
The recruitment of Roofe and Cedric Itten at the start of last season was carried out to lift some of the burden off Morelos and provide Gerrard with greater options in attack. While Roofe has been a clear success, Swiss international striker Itten was unable to command regular game time and has been loaned out to Greuther Furth in Germany this season.
Zambian striker Fashion Sakala, signed from Belgian club Oostende in the summer, has shown hints of real promise but without yet staking a serious claim for a regular starting spot, while veteran player-coach Jermain Defoe has been a peripheral figure with just one substitute appearance so far.
It is Morelos who is still very much the main man up front for Rangers in what is now his fifth season at the club since his £1 million move from HJK Helsinki.
For most foreign recruits, there is a shelf life as a top performer with either of the Old Firm clubs and it is not unreasonable to ponder whether Morelos is reaching the end of his. Comparisons with Moussa Dembele and Odsonne Edouard, who served Celtic effectively for two and four seasons respectively before getting their desired moves to pastures new are easy to make.
Yet while Morelos has clearly had unsettled spells in Glasgow when his form dipped as a consequences of transfer speculation and moves which did not materialise, most notably at the start of last season when Rangers turned down a bid of £16 million from Lille, there is currently no sense he is either lacking in commitment or is no longer fully engaged by the challenge of playing for the Ibrox side.
Under contract until 2023, time is still on Morelos’ side as he waits to fulfil his ultimate ambition of playing in the English Premier League.
But his prospects of doing so – along with his hopes of regular involvement at international level with Colombia – will be diminished unless he can consistently recapture the kind of form which has made him such a totemic figure in the eyes of the Rangers supporters over the past few years.
Thursday night under the glare of the floodlights at Ibrox offers Morelos the opportunity to sparkle once again.
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