written by – Jordan Campbell
Mark Warburton continued with his attempts to shape the Rangers squad ahead of the new season by completing the signing of Wigan duo Martyn Waghorn and James Tavernier.
But with Jason Holt and John Eustace currently training with the club and looking likely to sign that would take the number of first-team acquisitions to an impressive total of nine. Although the club released eleven players in the close season, Warburton has stressed that he prefers a lean squad in terms of numbers and with the way the U20s team have been playing some of the youngsters will no doubt be in his thoughts.
So with that in mind I’m going to take a look at whether there is a need for any further additions and what sort of role each player can expect to have this season.
Attempting to guess what our settled starting line-up will be throughout the season would be sheer guess work at this stage, tomorrow’s game against Burnley will give us a clearer indication of what the line-up will look like at Easter Road.
However, it is fair to say that Warburton’s new signings haven’t come to be mere squad players; they have come to play. And judging by the quality of signings I would envisage the vast majority of them being constants in our side.
I am going to split the squad into three categories in order to gauge what areas need strengthening either in terms of depth or indeed quality. The first category – which most of the new recruits will fall into – are the regulars who will be mainstays in the team for the duration of the year. The core of the team is very strong and can easily be built around but there are certain areas that could still benefit from reinforcements.
SPINE IS FINE
The most promising aspect of this is that seven roles have been occupied – of which five are the defence. The old cliché is that the best defence is a settled defence, and as Chelsea proved last year, that motto stands to reason more often than not. In an earlier post I spoke about how Weir’s influence will help the unfamiliar back four gel but the fact that we have signed four players who come as ready-made upgrades on what we have makes that task a whole lot easier as [Foderingham; Wallace-Wilson-Kiernan-Tavernier] is likely to be the combination for most of the campaign.
In midfield, we have plenty of options but most of them are either existing players like Dean Shiels and Nicky Law who have so far failed to produce the form they showed at their previous clubs or youngsters looking to cement their place. Only Andy Murdoch and John Eustace really stand out as players who are going to be integral to Warburton’s plans. Murdoch fits Warburton’s ideal down to a tee: a young, energetic midfielder who can read the game well, break up play and orchestrate sharp, attacking moves. Eustace, although not the most exciting of players, will do a great job in balancing the overlapping wing-backs we have in Wallace and Tavernier. This, in turn, will give Murdoch more freedom too as at times last season he had the be the responsible head in the midfield.
As the diagram shows, the three positions in behind the striker is where the uncertainty lies. Our wide-men have proved to be inconsistent the past few years and we have yet to bring in a player who possesses the natural pace and trickery associated with those positions, yet we still have a plethora of options in these areas. The trouble is though, do we trust that any of these six have developed enough to earn a regular starting berth on the Rangers wing?
David Templeton and Barrie McKay are the only out and out wingers we have at the club but Warburton isn’t a traditional manager who wants to see his widemen beat their fullback, get to the bye-line and whip a cross in; he likes them to be intelligent in possession, cutting in from wide areas to link up with the other attackers in tight spaces.
McKay looked to be in sensational form against Ayr last week and if he can reproduce the flashes of skill he displayed in the bottom tier on a regular basis then it will be like having a new signing after he was cast away on loan for a couple of seasons.
Tom Walsh came into a struggling team late last season and was one of the brighter sparks in his first few appearances. He did fade though after suffering an injury but provided a bit of hope when he came on as a sub against Motherwell in the first-leg. Probably the most comfortable with the ball at either foot he has the potential to play either wing or in the number 10 role which I feel is where he will eventually grow into. Under Warburton’s guidance I believe he could be a key player this year but discovering his best position could be the key to unlocking his undoubted potential.
Templeton is in last chance saloon. Big things were expected of him when he made his move to Ibrox but a catalogue of injuries has prevented him from ever getting a serious run of games under his belt. At his best he can produce moments of magic, but at his worst – which tends to be more often than not – he looks disinterested, half hearted and a liability in all honesty. Warburton is a stickler when it comes to hard-graft and he won’t accept any luxury players; they all need to pull their weight defensively even if they are a diminutive winger. If Templeton can knuckle down and get back to basics we could see the player we signed from Hearts. A full pre-season programme will have done him the world of good.
The other three (Calum Gallagher, Andy Halliday and Fraser Aird) can all play out wide but it seems that their futures under Warburton lie elsewhere within the system. Gallagher played there when he featured a few times under Ally McCoist, and while he performed relatively well, he doesn’t possess the guile or craft which will be needed. He is more suited to leading the line using his physique to hold up play and threaten in behind.
Aird started at right-back last week which came as a shock to a lot of fans. His crossing has left a lot to be desired and he too doesn’t have the pace or bit of genius required to get past his man on a regular basis. At right back he may be more suited to the more conservative nature of the position as he will not be tasked with beating players, rather he will be asked to overlap or link up with those ahead of him. He will need to improve his positional awareness though if he is too convert to a full-back in the long-run.
Halliday is the ultimate utility player – our very own Phil Jones you could say. He views himself as more of a central midfielder but he featured as a left-full back under Middlesbrough and can play a more advanced role if needed. The problem that he may face is that he is so versatile he doesn’t nail down a position for himself. On the other hand though, if he doesn’t become a regular starter he is unlikely to sulk or throw his toys out of the pram: a) because he is so delighted to be here; and b) because Warburton’s background checks on players are so thorough that he wouldn’t let an ‘energy-sapper’ into the dressing room.
Jamie Murphy of Sheffield United is an example of a player who would be perfect for the left flank but having a price tag likely to be north of £1 million it would seem any deal would be too costly at this stage of the rebuilding process. So we may be wise to stick with what we have at our disposal, and if we need to dip into the transfer market in January then we can.
Another sensible approach would be to wait until January to offer Scott Allan a pre-contract as Hibs are highly unlikely to sell at a cut-price to their promotion rivals. He, or even Craig Sibbald of Falkirk, would certainly be great additions but we have more than capable options in Law and Jason Holt for the time being.
The striking department has been improved by bringing in Martyn Waghorn and when you consider we have Ryan Hardie, Gallagher, Nicky Clark and Kenny Miller as back-ups we may have to let one go to keep the pathway to the first team open for the youngsters. My choice would be Clark as I don’t believe he has the ability needed to lead the line on his own or the ruthless streak to bag 20+ goals a season. Miller can still offer a mentoring role which can benefit Hardie and Gallagher improve as players and he will be viewed as one of the older heads which Warburton is keen to have.
If you take some of the emerging youngsters into contention, Rangers have a first-team squad of around 27 players. Warburton used just 24 players last season at Brentford so I would imagine we may shift a few players like Marius Zaliukas and Clark to bring in another couple of players later on – most probably loans from down south.
At the moment however, the three entirely different starting XIs we could field – in descending order of quality of course – is surely enough to seal promotion this time around.
You can follow Jordan Campbell on Twitter @JordanC1107