The big Rangers decisions facing Steven Gerrard ahead of most significant period of his tenure

For Steven Gerrard, the Rangers squad he has put together over the past three years was built with times like these in mind.

Rangers forward Kemar Roofe, currently serving a four-match Uefa suspension, will return to action in Saturday's Premiership fixture at Dundee United. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

In the midst of arguably the most significant mini-period of his managerial tenure so far, getting his selection decisions right has never been more crucial for Gerrard.

It’s why the starting line-up he fields against Dundee United at Tannadice on Saturday afternoon might just contain one or two surprises.

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While the bread and butter of defending their Premiership title can never be sniffed at by Rangers, it’s the champagne and caviar of Champions League group stage qualification which has to be at the top of their menu this August.

As he prepares to try and overturn that 2-1 deficit against Malmo in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie at Ibrox on Tuesday night, Gerrard has to try to rotate his personnel to maximum effect.

It’s why some of those likely to be key figures against the Swedish champions might have a rare day off this weekend.

Goalkeeper Allan McGregor was left out of last Saturday’s Premiership opener against Livingston with the first leg in Malmo in mind and his more than able deputy Jon McLaughlin could be called upon again against United.

Rangers captain James Tavernier is loath to miss any action but the emergence of the outstanding Nathan Patterson means the right-back role can be shared this season without any drop off in quality.

Filip Helander, Rangers’ top performing defender against Malmo, could also be rested with Leon Balogun available again after serving his one-match Uefa ban in midweek.

It amplifies the importance of Steven Davis for the second leg against Malmo and while the 36-year-old scorer of that potentially crucial stoppage time goal in Sweden remains outstandingly durable, perhaps Tannadice could be a stage for Stephen Kelly to step in as his understudy.

The 21-year-old enjoyed some impressive pre-season displays for Rangers and looks more than capable of handling domestic assignments like this.

Up front, Kemar Roofe is likely to start against United with the potent English forward ruled out of all of Rangers’ European qualifiers by suspension. Alfredo Morelos, back in the squad for the first time since returning from international duty, could be handed some game time - most likely from the bench - to get him primed for a crucial role against Malmo.

It’s a testing and pivotal period for Gerrard who wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That’s how we want it,” he said. “We should be excited by those challenges that we have to face and try to get over.

“I couldn’t really tap into my squad as much as I would have liked to on Tuesday night. We had to name certain players in the squad who we knew weren’t going to be available to us.

“That’s the way it was. But I didn’t really have the experience and the options on the bench that I would have liked. Hopefully, that will change as of tomorrow and then it will improve again on Tuesday night. Hopefully, we’ve got better options to handle the next week.”

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