Rangers completed the loan signing of Declan John from Cardiff City on Thursday. Craig Fowler looks at how the player fits into the current Ibrox squad.
Since his signing in the summer of 2016, Lee Hodson has largely been the only cover for full-back spots, which can be a precarious situation with injury, suspension and loss of form a constant threat to any position.
Myles Beerman stepped into the side following Pedro Caixinha’s arrival and, save for one absolute horrorshow against Celtic in the 5-1 defeat at Ibrox, equipped himself very well for an 18-year-old. Although, having initially appeared eager to utilise the club’s academy products, Caixinha now seems to be leaning on experience more with the pressure intensifying on the Portuguese manager. Beerman hasn’t been seen in a Rangers jersey so far this season and that looks unlikely to change following John’s arrival.
With all due respect to Hodson, that’s all he is: cover. He’s a dependable enough deputy but he’s not shown much in his appearances in a Rangers shirt to date to suggest he’ll ever force his way into the starting XI. At a club like Rangers - or at least where Rangers want to be - back-up players should have the required quality to seriously push the starting player for his spot.
Having made 20 appearances in the English Premier League as an 18-year-old, which lead to him getting capped by Wales, John should have the ability to threaten Wallace’s place in the side, which is maybe what the Rangers captain needs at present. He’s had his moments this season, especially in an attacking sense against Motherwell and Ross County, but the paying audience has yet to see peak Wallace.
John talked of wanting to kick-start his career at Ibrox. However, from the player’s point of view, this is a curious loan move. He plays a position currently occupied by the Rangers captain. Traditionally, that’s the worst player in a squad to try and overthrow. You have to wonder if he’s been given assurances that he’ll definitely have the chance to play himself into a regular starting spot.
If so, it could mean a change of formation for Caixinha and Rangers. Bruno Alves and Fabio Cardoso aren’t going anywhere as the starting centre-back duo, but there could be room for another player to slide in alongside them, creating a back three. Wallace has filled in at the position for Rangers before, while there was a brief period earlier in his career where he excelled as an emergency centre-back for Hearts. His ability to drive forward with the ball from the left centre-back spot, with John starting at wing-back, could give this Rangers side an extra dimension.
Caixinha is still trying to find out his best XI and you have to wonder if the 4-4-2 he’s been using in the league so far is the long-term solution. The aforementioned centre-back partnership, which is strong, is continually exposed by the attacking nature of the full-backs. Usually the defensive midfielders would tuck in to protect, but Ryan Jack and Graham Dorrans are asked to be No.8s contributing to both attack and defence, and the work load is too much for them to constantly cover for Tavernier and Wallace. Then there’s the Niko Kranjcar question, as it’s clear the languid playmaker cannot operate in a four-man midfield, where energy and work rate are vital factors.
A 3-5-2 may solve such issues, while allowing the team to keep the two-man strike-partnership which is bringing the best out of Alfredo Morelos.
Cover (part two)
As an attacking full-back/wing-back, it may not be outwith the realms of possibility to see John deputising for Josh Windass at left midifeld if Caixinha sticks with the 4-4-2. As mentioned, Kranjcar was not the answer there against Ross County, and there’s doubts of whether it’s the optimum position for Carlos Pena. With Aaron Nemane likely to be used predominately in the Development Squad, and Dalcio having fallen down the pecking order after some dreadful performances against Progres Niederkorn, it leaves a lack of quality depth behind Windass, who himself is still to win over the trust of Rangers fans following an indifferent first season at Ibrox.