Rangers' balancing act - Ridvan Yilmaz, Alfredo Morelos and midfield options for Kilmarnock and Champions League games
Winning is paramount for a Rangers manager, and that comes first and foremost in the SPFL – but so is European progress one of the manager's key performance indicators. One eye will certainly be on Tuesday night’s make-or-break clash with the Belgians after the dismal display midweek, even now.
His task is to marry up the needs of Tuesday night – goals - and the three point task on Saturday without hindering either – and ideally preparing for the qualifier in the best possible shape.
One selection then, seems simple. Alfredo Morelos must be involved against Kilmarnock. The Colombian has not seen any match minutes since March, but is nearly over his thigh injury. If Rangers need goals, they more than likely need Morelos. Perhaps not from the start – Antonio Colak equally requires some more bedding in time with his new team and surroundings, but a cameo from the bench to sharpen El Bufalo’s senses is almost certain with a two-goal deficit to be overturned next week.
Kilmarnock will have to be dealt with first though, and Derek McInnes has, in Kyle Lafferty and Oli Shaw, potent threats up front and an industrious forward-minded midfield pairing with Kerr McInroy and Rory McKenzie. Playing several of the off-colour culprits of midweek back into form is not a luxury that can be afforded. Neither can being too defensive-minded at home to a newly-promoted side. With Ryan Jack off-colour in midweek a choice of James Sands – carrying a European booking already remember – or the well-rested Steven Davis could be utilised to let the handbrake off John Lundstram and stretch those legs box-to-box in the Europa League style of last season. Both hold the positional discipline and passing range to cut through Kilmarnock while protecting a defence which has had confidence shaken by the opening two games.
There does seem no lack of confidence in new signing Ridvan Yilmaz, though. While Borna Barisic, in his same position, has shown hesitancy and nerves, Yilmaz boldly predicted his team can still qualify for the group stage. He is almost certain to be involved against both Kilmarnock and USG – though Saturday will bring him up to speed quickly with Ryan Alebiosu’s tricky overlaps.
Ahead of him van Bronckhorst has another option – play Ryan Kent from the start, or move Tom Lawrence wide where he featured regularly for Derby County last season? Kent missed the Belgian trip – and was missed as Rangers’ most potent threat behind Morelos, vital to all things attacking. Injury recurrence can’t be risked, but neither can rustiness.
On the opposite flank it's a choice of Scott Wright or Rabbi Matondo. The Welsh winger was as disappointing midweek as he was exciting in pre-season, but van Bronckhorst favoured Wright in Europe last season. Sharing the duties ensures freshness and maximum options for the manager, and flexibility is what he likes.
Many are offering many different tips on team selection, but it is van Bronckhorst’s call to ensure this balancing act does not tip over and tumble into Europa League pre-qualification places for a second season.
Predicted line-up: McLaughlin, Tavernier, Goldson, Davies, Yilmaz, Davis, Lundstram, Wright, Lawrence, Kent, Colak. Subs used: Sands, Matondo, Tillman, Morelos, Jack.
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