James Tavernier's Rangers return goes under microscope - and a new contract is on cards

For teams in the ascendancy on the domestic scene, international breaks are often unwelcome. For Rangers, the current one couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

Rangers captain James Tavernier celebrates outside the club's training ground after his team formally clinched the Premiership title on March 7. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

After a momentous and emotionally draining culmination of their title quest, followed by the unsavoury circumstances of their Europa League exit, the chance to reflect and reset will have been welcomed by the Ibrox club.

Ahead of the remaining two months of the season, Steven Gerrard’s squad are also poised to be bolstered by the return of their influential captain James Tavernier

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While many of his team-mates have been away on international duty, the right-back has been stepping up his recovery programme as he closes in on a return to action.

James Tavernier looks on from the Celtic Park stand along with fellow injury absentee Ryan Jack during the 1-1 draw in the Old Firm match last weekend. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Tavernier has missed Rangers’ last seven matches since limping out of the first leg of the Europa League round of 32 tie against Royal Antwerp in Belgium on February 18 with a painful knee injury.

It remains to be seen whether next Sunday’s Scottish Cup third round tie against League 1 title contenders Cove Rangers at Ibrox will be too soon for Tavernier’s comeback.

Plenty still to play for

Gerrard was hopeful of being able to report good news on his right-back and on-field lieutenant whose exceptional form in the first half of the season set the tone for such a dominant and consistent league campaign.

Nathan Patterson, pictured being hugged by James Tavernier after Rangers' 3-0 win over St Mirren at Ibrox on March 6, is waiting to learn his punishment from the Scottish FA for a coronavirus protocol breach. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images).

Tavernier will have felt frustration at being sidelined when the Premiership crown was secured earlier this month, although that didn’t dilute his delight as he played an enthusiastic part in the celebrations.

The 29-year-old has more to look forward to and will be relishing his red letter day at Ibrox on May 15 when he will step forward to lift the Premiership trophy after Rangers’ final league fixture of the season against Aberdeen.

But there are no shortage of other incentives which will be driving Tavernier as he intensifies his work in the gym and on the training pitch.

Scottish Cup tribulations

He has already secured a notable place in his club’s history as the captain who led the way to a first title in a decade. The opportunity is now there to enhance that status by helping Rangers also win the Scottish Cup for the first time since 2009.

Tavernier has experienced no shortage of personal disappointment in the tournament. Since losing to Hibs in the 2016 final in his first season as a Rangers player, he has subsequently suffered two semi-final defeats against Celtic and then quarter-final eliminations at the hands of Aberdeen and Hearts.

Having finally loosened Celtic’s stranglehold on the league title, the next challenge for Tavernier and his team-mates is to become consistent gatherers of major silverware. That’s why manager Gerrard has made it clear he will prioritise a Scottish Cup triumph over the bid to complete an unbeaten Premiership campaign over the next few weeks.

The prospect of achieving both will certainly be helped if Tavernier can make a seamless return to action.

Ideal timing

With his unquestionably able 19-year-old deputy Nathan Patterson facing a Scottish FA suspension for his part in a breach of coronavirus protocols – the disciplinary judgement is set to be issued on Monday – the timing of Tavernier’s availability could be crucial.

Leon Balogun has shown a willingness to fill in at right-back but the Nigerian international central defender does not provide the instinctive attacking abilities which Tavernier brings to the role.

He remains at the top of the Rangers scoring charts this season with 17 goals, although striker Alfredo Morelos has closed in on him fast during his recent absence. The Colombian international is now just one behind his skipper.

But Tavernier’s remarkable numbers also boast 15 assists, underlining why he is still a leading contender for this season’s Player of the Year honours in Scotland. His form has certainly reignited interest from potential suitors in the Premier League who will also be monitoring his return from injury ahead of the summer transfer window.

New contract likely

Tavernier has just one more season remaining on his current contract with Rangers and Gerrard will be keen to ensure that is extended. With a tilt at the Champions League on the horizon, there is no reason to suspect Tavernier will be tempted to head back to England.

He has found a footballing home at Rangers and appears completely settled in Glasgow. When he signed his last contract, in September 2018, he expressed his gratitude for the stability Rangers had brought him after he had served no less than seven spells as a loan player during his time with Newcastle United and Wigan before his £250,000 move to Ibrox.

"Rangers have always been great for me for giving me the foundation to start playing again and to start my career over again, and I will always hold that closely," he said then. If anything, that sentiment will be even stronger now.

Tavernier made his 200th league appearance for Rangers in his last Premiership game before being injured, while he is just 16 games short of the 300 mark in all competitions. With his first major winners’ medal now secured, Tavernier should have a hunger to add to it as quickly as possible as Rangers look to establish a period of dominance in Scottish football after such a painfully long spell in the doldrums.

Having been party to some of those hard times, Tavernier can appreciate just how much this season’s success means to the club’s supporters. His relationship with them has grown strong and would be further reinforced if they witness him lifting the Scottish Cup at Hampden on May 22.

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