Be careful what you wish for….
Football fans are never happy. We always want better, what we can’t have or can’t afford. In every club, there are players that polarise opinion. At Rangers, there is almost an undisputed 1-11 (or whatever their squad numbers are!). The only position currently up for debate is the one occupied by Kenny Miller in the support of Eduardo Herrera but we’ve all been there before and know he needs to be replaced. The biggest area of concern now that the new additions are settling in and the resurgence of Josh Windass appears to be the full back areas.
Lee Wallace and James Tavernier are Rangers best full backs. There aren’t many that would disagree with this. Lee Hodson remains the best defensive full back at Rangers despite his below standard/borderline abysmal first 45 minutes against Motherwell on Sunday, he looked nervous and uneasy at trying to provide a more attacking impetus, frequently getting caught out of position. Hodson also hardly kicked a ball in pre-season. This was highlighted with Motherwell’s equaliser but he wasn’t helped by Foderingham who should have commanded his six-yard box better given the distance that the ball travelled from. Hodson was vastly improved in the second half but he didn’t offer anything going forwards, concentrating on his strengths and focussing on stopping crosses and the supply into Rangers’ penalty area. Herein lies the problem.
Wallace and Tavernier contributed to fourteen league goals between them last season. Each player had five assists, Wallace scored three and Tavernier one, but both players had ample opportunity to create and score more goals. Using the most basic of statistics and comparison Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig contributed to twelve goals scoring one each and Tierney assisting six to Lustig’s four. Aberdeen’s regular full backs Logan and Considine contributed fifteen but this is grossly inflated by Considine scoring six. Considine hadn’t scored the previous season and only had two goals in the previous four seasons to put things into perspective.
So, Wallace and Tavernier compare favourably in attack with their main rivals. This isn’t where the problem lies though. As big Wes said, “if you have 25 crosses into your own box you will get one or two wrong – I’m not Superman!”. Motherwell carved out a few decent chances all from crosses into the box. This is what they will do all season and will get a lot of joy if they continue with the same quality as we saw on Sunday. So, is this the fault of the full backs? Partially, but it is also the responsibility of the midfield both on the wings and centrally to cover the wide areas when Wallace and Tavernier are in advanced positions. It is easy to defend crosses when you are goal side and can press an attacker before the ball gets to them. It isn’t as easy when you are chasing or running alongside them, Moult was effective in playing 1-2s with wide players engaging full backs or midfielders to leave the full backs isolated and chasing runners from a deeper position.
Rangers fans must be realistic. Wallace and Tavernier will improve defensively with the additions of Alves, Dorrans, and Jack. Rangers can no longer go out and buy a Gary Stevens or Arthur Numan. Solid defensively and brilliant going forwards. I’ve asked a few people, who do you replace Wallace and Tavernier with? Usually met with silence. Steven Whittaker was touted in the summer but having watched him v Partick Thistle Wallace and Windass will have a field day. He was never blessed with pace but what he had he’s clearly lost (certainly don’t think he could do another “Lisbon”). Calum Paterson was another name early in the summer. A frustrated midfielder playing at right back, no better than Tavernier. Players better than Tavernier and Wallace would come at a massive cost. A cost that can’t be justified because Wallace and Tavernier will contribute to a greater number of goals than they will be culpable for defensively. Tavernier beating players and getting to the by line with Wallace in full flight overlapping on the left are two of the best assets and aesthetically pleasing events in the Rangers attack.
Pedro will improve our full backs defensively, they will also be better supported by the central and wide midfielders which will be marshalled by the authoritative and irrepressible Bruno Alves. Rangers fans need to remember that it is one of the hardest positions in an attacking team to get right, providing 3-5 goals and 5+ assists a season is a challenge for some wingers and attacking midfielders never mind someone that has to do 100-yard shuttles for 90 minutes! There aren’t many full backs of this quality kicking about either, £10m for Andy Robertson goes a long way to proving this, is he THAT much better than Lee Wallace?
At 30 and 25 respectively I can’t see Wallace and Tavernier being replaced anytime soon, or indeed with Beerman and Hodson also in the squad any full backs being brought in as cover. When there is a 37-year-old (nearly 38) in a key attacking position the money needs to be utilised much more effectively, especially since the departures of Garner, Waghorn, and O’Halloran with Forrester also due to depart. Goal scorers are always hard to come by and expensive. Why waste money on full backs when we have two that, although not everyone’s cup of tea, are more than capable of performing in the Scottish Premiership? If anyone has any ideas for replacements that are going to be affordable and better than we already have I’d like to hear them.
Wallace and Tavernier will score more goals and create more chances this season and I’d expect them to be not too far from the league’s team of the season if Rangers can get a goal scorer in before the end of the transfer window. We always want what we can’t have, we can’t afford what we want. I also believe that what some fans want doesn’t actually exist. Except in maybe Dani Alves, but I doubt he’d stay with a club if he had to play against a team that included a hedge as part of their ground and he’s nae Blue Cafu!