The team decisions Steven Gerrard must make ahead of Livingston Premiership kick-off
With a squad deep enough to start two separate teams against Brighton and Real Madrid – with a few in reserve for good measure – the manager faces a selection decision at home and abroad now competitive action is underway.
Livingston begin the cinch Premiership season at Ibrox on Saturday before Gerrard’s squad head to the victors of tonight’s second leg Champions League qualifier between Malmo and HJK Helsinki next week. A strong start in both competitions is important but there’s fierce competition in the Rangers squad too and European suspensions for Kemar Roofe and Glen Kamara are also cause for additional consideration.
Tavernier or Patterson?
How Gerrard affords Nathan Patterson enough game-time to continue his flourishing finish to his breakthrough season, while also respecting James Tavernier’s consistency, threat and position as club captain is a real dilemma.
Attempts to play both in the same team have been tried, but remain a work in progress and unconvincing in these early stages of experimentation.
Who partners Connor Goldson is another question to be answered. Leon Balogun is a more than able deputy but Filip Helander’s outstanding Rangers record continued with his only pre-season outing to date against Real Madrid and while the competition is so fierce it’s also a matter of what Gerrard is looking for in each game – Balogun ball-carrying or Helander defending. The pair look likely to split the minutes and perhaps one will be used more in Europe to the other’s domestic duties.
With Alfredo Morelos yet to be seen around Ibrox since his Copa America duties with Colombia ended, Steven Gerrard will have to look elsewhere for his striking options, at least initially, over the next two games.
Throw in Kemar Roofe’s suspension in Europe and Gerrard has some juggling to do – but still enough firepower to see off Livingston and make a dent in the European first leg.
How he balances it is the question. Ryan Kent is a sure starter. Scott Wright is another in real contention for the wider area.
Fashion Sakala could play there too, and has hit the ground running, but is raw and still not quite up to speed with the Rangers way. Through the middle could also be an option, but Cedric Itten is in-form with three goals this summer, and has patiently waited for his chance – now is the ideal time to take it.
Men in the middle
The most interesting selection quandary may come in midfield. It’s hard to envisage a scenario where John Lundstram wouldn’t be taking his powerful strides into the Champions League qualifiers, nor Steven Davis’ give-and-goes. However Glen Kamara’s suspension means there’s a spot free midweek and Gerrard must decide between consistent selection Saturday-to-Tuesday or keeping at least one midfielder fresh for Scandinavia and playing Kamara in the kick-off. Joe Aribo, Ianis Hagi, Scott Arfield, or even a potential Tavernier shift could all come into consideration.
And that’s without the heavily linked Joey Veerman. If the Dutchman arrives too, then it’s a real head-scratcher for the manager, but the headache every coach likes to have.
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