Rangers striking options assessed should Alfredo Morelos fulfil Steven Gerrard's 'keep them all' claim
It's fair to say the Ibrox side would have a few different options should they need it.by Mark McDougall, https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/authors/mark-mcdougall/
"If there is one aspect of where we can improve it’s to be more clinical and more ruthless. What I would say is we’re still waiting for (Cedric) Itten to get up to speed, he’s had his injury setback, Kemar Roofe hasn’t played much before he came in, Alfredo (Morelos) has had his situation so we’re still waiting for our No. 9s to get really sharp.
"What we’ve tried to do is learn from where we’ve went wrong in the past. Maybe we didn’t have enough tools in the final third or enough people to change it or enough behind us when we’ve needed it at important times of the games.
"What will be interesting is if we can keep them all in the door, and if we can get them all up to speed it’ll be interesting."
They're the words of a manager who has watched his side score 15 goals and conceded none so far this season but he still wants more.
Steven Gerrard has had to rely on Alfredo Morelos as his main striker over the last two seasons but all of a sudden that has changed this year.
Players like Kyle Lafferty and Umar Sadiq struggled to step in to fill the void while Jermain Defoe had his moments, but couldn't be relied on every week given his age.
Now Rangers have Morelos and Defoe but they also have Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten. Roofe has managed two goals in his last three games while Itten suffered an injury problem that has meant he hasn't been able to hit the ground running.
The future of Morelos is one that is likely to be discussed continually until the window slams shut on October 5, providing he isn't sold before then.
But the last line of his gaffer's post match comments about keeping every one of his main strikers at Ibrox doesn't suggest that a move is imminent.
The Colombian has two goals this season and looked back to his best against Dundee United before his game was ended early by a horror tackle from Ryan Edwards.
But once he's back up-and-running, with the other three also now available, how will Gerrard line up and what options does he have to change the game?
These are the main first team players that Steven Gerrard will use this season when selecting his attacking options, and as is evidenced, there's plenty of them. You could argue that Roofe is now first choice but if Morelos gets back to his best, then there's no way that anyone but the Colombian who will be the key man.
There's also other players who could fit in if needed. Jordan Jones is down the pecking order but could play on either wing if no one signs him this summer. Joe Aribo can also play at 10 or wide on the right but he's at his best in central midfield and where he will be more likely to play when he gets back from his injury.
But with all those options, what's the best way to play?
The front three
This is close to the formation that Rangers mostly played last season with Morelos on his own and two 'inside 10s' who aren't as far out as Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi are in this graphic. If you look at the first six months of the season then it worked brilliantly both at home and in Europe so shouldn't be completely written off on the basis of the post-Christmas collapse.
It's likely to remain the go-to option for the Europa League, particularly in the later qualifying rounds and group stage should Rangers make it there again. It might seem bizarre that none of the new boys are first choice in this shape but Kent is always going to be the first name on the team sheet right now, and Morelos - if he's still there - has such a good European record you can't say any different.
Hagi is interchangeable with Roofe, Brandon Barker, Scott Arfield and even Greg Stewart on the right hand side. The Romanian has moments of magic but he's the kind of player that will make mistakes and in Europe that might not be what Gerrard wants.
In general though, this one gives plenty of options to change within the game while still holding a strong defensive base with the three man midfield.
This is more likely to be the shape that Gerrard goes with most weeks and is how they started against Dundee United on Saturday afternoon. Barker started wide with Roofe up front but going forward it could easily switch to this on a weekly-basis. The positions of Roofe and Hagi could swap here and after Barker's injury on Saturday, it was actually Kent who played wide on the right at first.
Hagi and Roofe took up positions left and central respectively, but were constantly swapping back and forward and in reality that front four is so fluid they don't really have set positions.
During Saturday's game, Hagi's 'starting position' for attacks had him central, left and right. He creates Kent's opener from the centre, Arfield's goal from the right and was linking up with Borna Barisic down the left.
This formation gives them the chance to really bamboozle teams with the movement of Kent and Hagi, particularly if Morelos is playing to drag defenders all over the place and leave space for Roofe to make an impact from a slightly deeper No. 10 position.
If you lose Morelos then Itten can come in and link play. The Swiss striker has appeared a bit off the pace since joining but looked better with his back to goal and the ball into his feet. He's brought it in and flicked it around the corner, in a manner that you don't see too often nowadays.
It might not work quite the same if you have to bring Defoe in, but it doesn't matter what formation you play when the veteran is involved, all that matters is you get someone close to him and get the ball to fall to him in the box and he'll score goals.
The front two and direct route
If they were going to go with an out-and-out front two then Morelos and Roofe is the obvious option. Similar to the 4-2-3-1, Morelos' ability to occupy three defenders at once leaves so much space for others to take advantage of and Rangers didn't do that enough last season.
When you look at Roofe's two goals that he's scored this season, his movement has been vital and they've both been from within the width of the posts. He's not an orthodox No. 9 like Defoe or Itten who come alive when the ball gets into the 18-yard box. He does a lot of work outside of it too but when it does come into the box? He knows where the goal is. It's different to Morelos who can quite literally score from anywhere with his style of play, and having someone who can fill the space left by the Colombian could be key to Rangers season.
It's not just Roofe and Morelos that could be a partnership though, and Gerrard could throw it back to the old days with a good old-fashioned little and large partnership. Throughout Defoe's career he's had a big partner up front, from Peter Crouch to Dimitar Berbatov and plenty in-between.
Switzerland striker Itten appears to have already struck up a good parternship with Defoe off the pitch and it will be interesting to see if they can do the same on the field. They're regularly posting Instagram stories together and worked hard at the Rangers Training Centre during the international break.
Itten is good in the air as well as with the ball at his feet and can get up well to head the ball.
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Even when he doesn’t win the ball in the air, his ability to challenge for it makes things very difficult for defenders.
In his last game against Kilmarnock, the second goal came from him competing and not allowing the defence to clear.
It bounced to James Tavernier who set up Kent and that’s the kind of thing Rangers need. For all the strengths of Morelos and Defoe, it’s fair to say they don’t quite have great ability in the air. Itten now gives a different option and would allow them to go direct if need be.
The 'we're behind and need a goal' all out attack option
Okay, this seems highly unlikely that Gerrard will ever line up like this but it is an option should they be chasing a goal. There is an argument that they would have too many strikers on the pitch but could you imagine being a defence, looking at the players up there and seeing that four?
That's without mentioning Kent, Hagi, Aribo or Steven Davis behind them who could all get goals or create opportunities.
It's one that would only come into discussion if Rangers are chasing a game, such as they did in the Betfred Cup Final last year when they finished the game with Morelos, Defoe, Kent, Arfield and Barker all on the pitch.
This year, that all out attack has a bit of an upgrade should it be needed.