Following on from our appraisal of Filip Helander, next up in our series of Rangers Half-Term Reports is marauding left-back Borna Barisic.
Wind the clock back to the end of last season, as the Gers slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Kilmarnock. Barisic was at fault for both of the goals that day, in a performance that summed up a disappointing first campaign in Scotland.
He looked completely devoid of confidence and ill-equipped physically to deal with the demands of Scottish football.
Now, a little over six months later, that concept seems ridiculous.
The 27-year-old has, without doubt, been one of Steven Gerrard’s standout performers over the first half of the 2019/20 season.
In fact, since his inclusion in the team to face Feyenoord at Ibrox in mid-September, he’s arguably been Rangers’ most consistent outfield player.
It’s hard to think of individual fixtures where the left-back didn’t put in at least a 7/10 shift. He struggled in the second half of the League Cup final as when he looked to force the issue, his crossing became wayward. Other than that, though, his performances have been stellar.
Rangers have kept clean sheets in 17 of his 27 appearances, with the Croatian international exhibiting sound positional sense and seemingly new-found robustness in the tackle.
Going forward, he’s been extremely influential, too. He’s netted twice, with inch-perfect free-kicks against St Mirren and Hamilton, while providing 13 assists in all competitions [Transfermarkt], the most of any Gers player. Two of those came when it mattered most in the recent momentum-shifting win at Parkhead.
The extent of the importance of the former Osijek man became clear to all when he missed the trip to Pittodrie in early December due to a niggle. It wouldn’t be a major stretch to claim that if he had started ahead of Jon Flanagan, the Gers would currently be two points better off.
Barisic has been superb in the Premiership, but he’s arguably raised his standards even higher for the Europa League, even making it into the competition’s ‘Dream Team’ after matchday one.
🔝 This week's dream team 😍
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) September 20, 2019
In the group stages, he had his hands full with established internationals like Steven Berghuis, but in general, he snuffed out opposition attackers and still managed to bomb down the left flank, contributing an impressive four assists in six outings.
In sum, then, in the space of a matter of months, Borna Barisic has completed a remarkable transformation from a timid signing who looked out of his depth, to the best left-back in Scotland and a Europa League star.