How Rangers replace Alfredo Morelos for three games - with no clear candidate to do so

Giovanni van Bronckhorst will appreciate that he could have been dealt a far tougher hand by the vagaries of a round of international fixtures which clashes with a key phase of Rangers’ Premiership title defence.

The imminent return of influential midfielder Joe Aribo to Glasgow, after Nigeria’s surprise last 16 exit from the Africa Cup of Nations finals at the hands of Tunisia on Sunday, is clearly a hugely significant boost for the Ibrox club.

With the respective omissions of midfielder James Sands and forward Kemar Roofe from the USA and Jamaica squads for their imminent World Cup qualifiers, it means the only definite absentee from van Bronckhorst’s plans for Rangers’ next three league games is Alfredo Morelos.

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But while there will be an element of relief for the Rangers manager that he has not suffered greater disruption, it is also the case that perhaps no individual is more difficult to replace in his starting line-up than Morelos.

With six goals in nine games since van Bronckhorst replaced Steven Gerrard in November, the 25-year-old striker deserves his recall to the Colombia squad.

As Morelos prepares for the Qatar 2022 qualifiers against Peru in Barranquilla on Friday night and away to Argentina in Cordoba the following Tuesday, van Bronckhorst must assess who is best equipped to fill the void he leaves.

Rangers welcome Livingston to Ibrox on Wednesday night before hitting the road to face Ross County in Dingwall on Saturday ahead of next midweek’s potentially pivotal Old Firm clash at Celtic Park.

Van Bronckhorst has three international forwards to call upon as Rangers try to either preserve or extend their current four point lead over Celtic in the title race. The Dutch coach is about to discover if any of them can mitigate the unavailability of Morelos.

Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos is hoping to add to his 11 caps for Colombia when his country face Peru and Argentina in their upcoming World Cup qualifiers. (Photo by Mauricio Dueñas-Pool/Getty Images)

Kemar Roofe

If it came down to experience and pedigree, then Roofe would be the obvious choice to lead the line for Rangers over the next three games.

The 29-year-old has an impressive strike rate of 28 goals in 57 appearances for the Scottish champions since joining them from Anderlecht in the summer of 2020.

But Roofe’s contributions have been punctuated by spells on the sidelines as he has suffered calf and thigh issues.

Cedric Itten, recalled from his loan spell at German club Greuther Furth, scored in Rangers' 4-0 Scottish Cup win over Stirling Albion at Ibrox. (Photo by RUSSELL CHEYNE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

He has only started one match under van Bronckhorst and made his return to action after his latest injury absence as a second half substitute in last Friday night’s Scottish Cup fourth round victory over Stirling Albion at Ibrox.

Jamaica head coach Paul Hall agreed to leave Roofe out of his squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica in order to allow him to try and regain full match fitness with Rangers.

In the circumstances, Roofe’s game time may be rationed over the next three fixtures. But he may be the favourite to start in the main striking role at Celtic Park, giving him the chance to add to the two goals he scored in Old Firm combat last season.

Cedric Itten

Kemar Roofe made his return from injury for Rangers as a second half substitute in their Scottish Cup win over Stirling Albion at Ibrox last Friday. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Van Bronckhorst has already made it clear he did not recall Itten from his loan spell at Greuther Furth, where he was latterly restricted to a substitute role, simply to have him also sitting on the bench for Rangers.

The Swiss international marked his return to the starting line-up with the third goal in Rangers’ 4-0 win over Stirling Albion and perhaps a lack of match sharpness can be attributed to his failure to snap up a couple of other premium chances in the routine victory over League 2 opposition.

In all, Itten has started just 11 games for Rangers since his £2.7 million move from St Gallen in August 2020. He has shown glimpses of real quality, scoring seven times, but without ever making a compelling case for more regular game time.

Itten, probably the most naturally equipped of Rangers’ front men for the traditional number nine position, has to seize this opportunity to prove himself to van Bronckhorst.

While his time at Bundesliga strugglers Greuther Furth was ultimately frustrating, his initial form there was impressive enough to earn him a recall to the Switzerland squad and saw him score in the 4-0 win over Bulgaria in November which clinched their place in this year’s World Cup Finals.

Fashion Sakala

Zambian international striker Fashion Sakala has scored six goals for Rangers since joining the Ibrox club from Oostende last summer. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The Zambian international’s hopes of hitting the ground running as a Rangers player following his move from Belgian side Oostende last summer were dashed by a groin injury which saw his involvement limited at the start of this season.

Sakala showed flashes of the pace and directness which marked him out as an obvious threat to opposition defences, then at the end of October appeared to seriously announce himself in Scottish football with a hat-trick in the 6-1 win over Motherwell at Fir Park.

The 24-year-old hasn’t quite kicked on as much as he or Rangers might have hoped since then, although his return of six goals is decent enough given he has made just nine starting appearances so far.

Sakala’s willingness to take on opponents in one-on-one situations in wide areas makes him a good fit for the style of play van Bronckhorst has sought to implement since taking charge of the Ibrox squad.

He was rewarded for a typically energetic display against Stirling Albion when he scored Rangers’ fourth goal on Friday night and will certainly lack nothing in either commitment or enthusiasm as he tries to nail down a regular starting place in the second half of the season.

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