Rangers' SPFL kick-off: Three key decisions facing Giovanni van Bronckhorst ahead of Livingston clash
Giovanni van Bronckhorst has completed his first pre-season at Rangers and a common core was evident through friendlies against Spurs and West Ham last week. Now the competitive season begins in earnest at Livingston on Saturday lunchtime, quickly followed by a Champions League qualifier in Belgium on Tuesday.
With only one fit striker – Antonio Colak – the Croatian seems a stick-on to kick-off in West Lothian alongside captain James Tavernier and ever-present Connor Goldson, but elsewhere, the manager still has decisions to make.
Dilemma number one
Jon McLaughlin’s ascension may not be the formality expected in May. Allan McGregor’s one-year extension and sterling show against Spurs suggests he won’t be giving up his first-team place easily.
Asked if he’d made up his mind, Van Bronckhorst was coy: "Not yet, we gave all the goalkeepers time to be physically ready for the season, but this week the games begin so we have one week to decide.”
McLaughlin has been reliable, impressive even, through various cup appearances and – in claiming crosses – adds elements that reactionary shot-stopper McGregor does not. He also has favourable recency bias after the veteran’s uncharacteristic mistakes cost points at Ross County and beyond last season. That said, McGregor’s career over two spells at Ibrox is difficult to dispute and ranks among the club’s greats.
Both fared well against English Premier League opposition in the past week and neither had much chance with the three goals conceded.
Verdict: Too close to call
Left out of centre
After Bassey's £20m Ajax move, John Souttar partnered ever-present Goldson for both friendlies, right-footed James Sands also slotted in from the bench but Ben Davies is the natural fit – though he missed the Spurs game altogether.
The condition of the Welsh recruit from Liverpool is unknown and, while it may be unfair to drop Davies straight in on a tricky surface, it seems likely van Bronckhorst will, for the moment, stick with his relatively settled defence.
Souttar could see a lot of domestic duty, utilising his ball-carrying from the back with more time as teams sit deeper, but the surface and forthcoming qualifier will also be a consideration.
Verdict: Souttar to start, but Sands involved
That defence also assumes Rangers will continue with a four – there are options including Davies and Souttar to play three or five – but 4-2-3-1 was favoured this week when both Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara partnered John Lundstram. Livingston are no Tottenham though and van Bronckhorst may favour a more attacking set-up, with only one providing defensive cover. His recent injury history, the pitch and impending Belgium trip could sit Jack out of a team not far from that which started against Spurs and which also allow options in advanced areas.
Kamara played high against West Ham while Malik Tillman impressed off the bench on Saturday. Tom Lawrence, Rabbi Matondo and Ryan Kent have each done enough to warrant a start. Only protection for the trio could see Scott Wright or Arfield enter the reckoning behind Colak – one of the almost-certainties in Rangers’ first line-up.
Verdict: Open to alternatives, but Kamara and Tillman to start.
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