Revealed! What can Rangers expect from new boy Bongani Zungu?

They’ve had to be patient, but Rangers fans finally got to see new signing Bongani Zungu in the famous Light Blue jersey on Wednesday.

Bongani Zungu (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP) (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images)
Bongani Zungu (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP) (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images)

The South Africa international completed a move to Ibrox from Amiens SC in the late stages of the transfer window, but has yet to feature for Steven Gerrard's side.

The midfielder had his first day with the Glasgow club yesterday, however – posing for photographs, meeting the press, and taking part in his first training session.

But after such a lengthy wait to see him in action, and with a healthy amount of competition in the centre of midfield at Ibrox this term, what can Rangers fans expect Zungu to bring to the table?

Zungu's heat map, 2019/20. (Wyscout)

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Versatility

There are few managers who have as much first hand experience of what it takes to be an effective box-to-box midfielder as Steven Gerrard.

The ex-Liverpool legend covered just about every blade of grass at Anfield on a weekly basis during the peak of his career, and his recruitment since arriving in Scotland – whether it be the signing of Glen Kamara or Steven Davis – has shown that he still holds a great deal of value in players who can fulfil a variety of midfield roles, just as he used to.

Zungu looks to be no different.

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Zungu pass map v Angers SCO, October 2019 (Wyscout)

Although largely deployed in a holding position last season, he does have good experience of playing as one of the more advanced players in single-pivot midfield trio, or even in a pairing at the heart of a more traditional four-man unit.

On international duty, he has even played as an out-and-out attacking midfielder in a three behind a lone striker.

That less restricted role seems to suit the 28-year-old as well, with Zungu completing 92% of his passes in his last outing as an attacking midfielder, as well as registering a total action success rate of 77%, as per Wyscout.

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Those figures are 5.9% and 12.1% higher, respectively, than his season averages from last term.

Defensive work

Primarily, however, you would assume that Zungu has been brought in to provide cover and competition for Ryan Jack at the base of Gerrard’s preferred three-man midfield system.

The former Vitoria Guimaraes man is most commonly regarded as a defensive talent, and a look at his heat map from last season shows that he tends to spend the vast majority of his time operating in the pocket of space just in front of his own back four.

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Given the wealth of attacking options Gerrard has at his disposal this season – in his midfield ranks alone he boasts Joe Aribo, Scott Arfield, and Ianis Hagi – having a player who can hold the fort and act as ballast while those around him push on is important.

It's why Jack has become such a key player for the Gers over the past couple of seasons, and Zungu offers many of the same qualities.

The South African contested 1.05 defensive duels more per game last season than Jack has so far this term, as well as making 0.34 more interceptions, and 0.68 more clearances.

Interestingly, the Ibrox new boy also tends to make a greater percentage of his ball recoveries in the opposition half, suggesting that he’s not averse to stepping onto the front foot and nipping danger in the bud when and where possible.

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Distribution

A key factor of Rangers’ identity under Gerrard is their ability to retain possession and wear teams down with sharp, incisive interplay.

We’ve seen that a lot already this season, with the Gers averaging 16.42% more possession than their opponents, as well as making, on average, over 187 more passes.

A key component in that style of play is, of course, Jack, who is already averaging a pass completion rate of 90.1% this term.

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And the stats would suggest that Zungu should be able to emulate, and potentially even diversify, his new teammate’s ability to shift the ball on.

The midfielder’s own pass completion rate was just 4% lower than Jack’s last term, and he also offers an impressive amount of vision and range in his distribution.

Zungu found his man with 5.4% more of his long passes last term than Jack has this time around, as well as 7% more of his through balls.

A closer look at his pass map from the Coupe de la Ligue victory over Angers SCO last October, for instance, shows a player who deals in short, effective passing, as Jack does, but also one who is unafraid to get his head up and look further afield for options too.

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That certainly appears to be something that Gerrard is trying to instil into his side more readily this season, and James Tavernier’s sublime ball over the top to assist Jermain Defoe against Livingston on Sunday was a prime illustration of how effective a sudden switch of range can be in unlocking a defence.

Zungu should bring the ability needed to play that kind of pass in abundance, and if he can combine that distribution with the more disruptive defensive traits that he has shown throughout his career to date, the hope will be that he can be a real asset for the Gers in their title push this season.

Gerrard is fortunate enough to have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in the centre of the park, but we’ve seen time and time again how important strength in depth can be over the course of season – Zungu should help to provide plenty of it.