Rangers have completed the signing of left-back Borna Barisic from NK Osijek. Joel Sked gives the lowdown on the new recruit.
James Tavernier knows all about him
In the first-leg of Rangers’ Europa League qualifying clash with Osijek James Tavernier was given a torrid time by Barisic. Tavernier could be forgiven for thinking he was looking in a mirror as the opposition full-back continued to gallop at him, time and time again.
The left-back was the home side’s best player as they exerted pressure throughout the tie. He delivered some tantalising crosses whether it was first time on the run or with a more static approach.
His posed such a threat that in the return-leg it was unsurprising to see Rangers boss Steven Gerrard bring Daniel Candeias into the team to act as a more defensive winger with Tavernier left somewhat exposed by Jamie Murphy in Croatia.
Rangers fans got to witness his forays down the wing up close but he wasn’t as influential in creating chances at Ibrox but he did dispatch the equaliser excellently.
Similarities to Lee Wallace
While Tavernier may have been envious at the way Osijek allowed Barasic to attack in both legs, the 25-year-old offered similarities to Lee Wallace who is still frozen out at Rangers.
Both players have the same languid build and move with and without the ball in a very similar way. Even their technique and the way they pass the ball is comparable.
Like Wallace, Barisic is always on the front foot, looking to play the ball up the line or into a midfielder first time before setting off on a charging run and ask a question of the opposition winger. Both take long strides to eat up the ground.
The Croatian is always looking to take the ball and is able to protect it well with his strength and long legs which helps when playing from the back.
Barisic should take little time to adapt to Scottish football. Over 180 minutes he provided a snapshot of being able to deal with the physical side of the game.
The hairnet/bandage combination also suggested that he is happy to put his head in where it hurts and never shirked a defensive duel.
In the draw with Aberdeen it was noticeable that the Rangers back four were more dominant in the air than last season. Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic headed everything they could, while Jon Flanagan is more than able in the air despite his size.
However Rangers could field a back four of Goldson, Katic, Tavernier and Barisic. A formidable defence when playing against more direct and physical teams such as Motherwell. Last season his aerial duel success rate in the Croatian league was 64.71 per cent. Only Bruno Alves bettered that for Rangers last campaign.
With Lee Wallace frozen out and Declan John reportedly set for a loan move it would leave Barisic and Flanagan, who can also operate at right-back, fighting it out for the left-back slot. The former Liverpool player has performed admirably since arriving even if his proclivity to shift the ball onto his right foot at every moment is distinctive.
Barisic would give Gerrard a natural attacking full-back for certain situations as well as someone who would be more suited to a wing-back role if the manager was to dabble with a back three.
Plus, if Rangers were to progress in Europe, or for certain moments against Celtic, Barisic playing in front of Flanagan could be useful. He can provide a key threat from wide but more importantly protect Flanagan against any rampaging full-backs or double up against dangerous wide men.
Highly regarded in Croatia
If things had turned out differently Barisic could have been participating in the World Cup final this summer. The defender earned the first cap of three for Croatia in 2017 and was involved in one of the squads during qualification for the tournament.
His form in the Croatian league was such that he made the original 32-man squad for the World Cup but failed to make the cut alongside Napoli’s Marko Rog and then Chelsea midfielder Mario Pasalic.
Croatia’s current left-backs Ivan Strinic and Josip Pivaric are 31 and 29 respectively which offer Barisic hope that he could be the player to take over in the position if he performs well at Ibrox.
He loves Ibrox
Despite losing out to Rangers 2-1 on aggregate following a 1-1 draw at Ibrox, the player took to Instagram to praise the atmosphere, posting a trio of pictures with the caption: “Great atmosphere and great game”.
At the weekend he reiterated his enjoyment of the Ibrox experience, hinting that a move to Rangers was in the offing.
He said: “The atmosphere was incredible and I was hugely impressed. I think when you watch it on TV, it doesn’t prepare you for what the noise is actually like. Who would not like to play every week in such an atmosphere? I’d love to play at Ibrox in every game.”
His wish has been granted.