Why Steven Gerrard is anxious with threadbare Rangers defensive options ahead of Lyon
Rangers were not at their best in the 2-1 victory over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, which was earned via a Kemar Roofe penalty and a fine individual strike James Tavernier after Michael O’Halloran had put the hosts in front, but they dug out the win. However, there was some concern afterwards over the fitness of Swedish defender Filip Helander, who was taken off on a stretcher with just over ten minutes remaining with a suspected knee injury.
The 28-year-old centre-back will have scan results back in the next 24 hours, but manager Steven Gerrard is already braced for being without Helander for a period of time.
“I’m concerned,” Gerrard said after the match. “He’s with the doctors now. He’s got ice on it and is bandaged up. It doesn’t look good.
“But until we scan it and assess it, we’re not too sure.
“Fingers crossed he’ll pull through, but we’ve got other defenders who’ll need to step up if he’s out for the short, medium or long term.”
Helander had an uncomfortable afternoon prior to his injury as O’Halloran’s pace and movement caused him problems throughout. He was without his usual partner in the centre of defence as Connor Goldson was following isolation protocols for Covid-19. It was the first match in 82 that Goldson missed, and his absence was felt.
Rangers are unsure whether Goldson will be available for the visit of Lyon on Thursday in the Europa League and with Helander almost certainly out, Gerrard may only be able to call upon Leon Balogun as his senior centre-half. That is because Jack Simpson, who came on for Helander against St Johnstone, is not registered in Rangers’ European squad.
With Croatian centre-half Nikola Katic on loan at Hajduk Split in his homeland, Gerrard must be wincing at the prospect of playing the French cracks – who have former Celtic forward Moussa Dembele leading their line – with such a diminished defence. “I'm hoping Connor will be available for Thursday,” Gerrard said, with there being some doubt over his availability.
Gerrard is able to use Scottish players in his youth ranks, so Leon King, a highly-rated 17-year-old who has been monitored by Chelsea, Liverpool and RB Leipzig, could be an option. He played the last few minutes of a 4-0 win over Falkirk in the League Cup last season, and at least would be a natural fit for the position as there are no midfielders able to make the step back into central defence.
On the St Johnstone game, Gerrard was pleased with the way his team showed character to battle back from a goal down.
“We were up against a well organised team so we knew we'd have to show moments of quality at the right time to get the points,” said the manager.
“In the first half we didn't do too much wrong but we didn't have that bit of magic or quality in the final third.
“In the second, we went a goal down and it became more complicated.
“But that's what champions do, they find ways and they find answers. That's what my team has done today so credit to the players.”
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