Going into the first major semi-final of his fledgling managerial career without both of his leading strikers can hardly be regarded as the most propitious set of circumstances for Steven Gerrard.
He is the first to admit that the absence of the suspended Alfredo Morelos and ineligible Kyle Lafferty constitute “big misses” for Rangers as they prepare to face Aberdeen at Hampden tomorrow for a place in the Betfred Cup final.
But Gerrard is a man determined to spot an opportunity in every difficulty which comes his way and is bullishly optimistic he still has the tools at his disposal to find a way to overcome the Dons.
He takes encouragement from his team’s 1-1 draw in the Premiership at Pittodrie earlier in the season when Aberdeen needed a stoppage-time equaliser to grab a point against Gerrard’s side who had played for 80 minutes with ten men after the early dismissal of Morelos.
Options at Gerrard’s disposal include the deployment of wide players such as Ryan Kent, Eros Grezda or Glenn Middleton in a more central attacking role. While he understandably wasn’t prepared to offer any clues to his opposite number Derek McInnes ahead of the intriguing tie, Gerrard insists he is unfazed by his selection conundrum.
“It doesn’t scare me,” he said. “It’s a challenge for me and an opportunity for someone else in the team.
“It might be an opportunity for us to try something different and I still have a confidence and belief that we will have enough to go and get the job done.
“In semi-finals you don’t necessarily need to score loads and loads of goals to reach the final. I hope we do score loads, but there are other ways to achieve it and I just hope we have enough because those two guys are going to be big misses.
“Against Aberdeen in the last game, we effectively were without a striker when Alfredo was sent off and I think we still caused them problems with our movement and speed. That’s what gives me confidence we can still get the job done. But there’s no getting away from it, Alfredo has been our talisman this season, I’ve only got good things to say about him. I’m a big fan of his and he will be missed, so will Kyle. They are two big players for us.
“Even though we have two good players missing it’s still eleven versus eleven. We’ve still got good players and threats in all areas of the pitch.
“Aberdeen don’t know what we are going to do and even we don’t know that yet. I will pick a team and we will have a plan. Who says we’re going to have to change the system?
“We play together everyday in training and it’s not always Alfredo who is the No 9 or Kyle for that matter.
“Players play in different positions everyday in training so we’re not just going to toss a team out that have never played together before. Nothing will be alien to them. The players will be comfortable with whatever we do.
“I’m not going to try something crazy or outside the box that we have never done on a daily basis. We have already spoken to the players about it, that started straight after the game against Spartak Moscow on Thursday night.
“We can’t wait, we are really looking forward to it. We are not feeling sorry for ourselves because we haven’t got our two strikers.”
Rangers are bidding to reach the club’s first League Cup final since 2010-11 when a 2-1 extra-time win over Celtic gave them their most recent piece of major silverware. While it represents Gerrard’s first opportunity to end that drought for the Ibrox support, he is determined not to get ahead of himself.
“It’s premature for us to be talking about trophies,” he said. “Before we worry about winning a trophy we need to focus on the semi-final.
“It’s not straightforward, Aberdeen finished above Rangers in the league last season. You saw from the first game of the season at Pittodrie that it was a tough game for us, especially after we lost a man.
“It was an up and down game which could have swung either way. Given the circumstances, I thought we were excellent on the day. If we can get that level of performance on Sunday, hopefully it can get us over that hurdle and into a final.” It will be a Hampden debut for Gerrard who never played at Scotland’s national stadium during his illustrious on-pitch career, making his England debut shortly after his country won the Euro 2000 play-off tie between the auld enemies.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he added. “I’ve been there on a couple of occasions to the offices for work permit hearings for players we’ve signed this season and I took the chance to have a walk around the place.
“But I’m only really aware of it from what I’ve seen watching Old Firm games and cup finals on TV. It’s a great challenge for my players and myself. It’s an exciting game, a big rivalry, so we can’t wait.”