Rangers could be left facing something of a defensive crisis on Thursday night when the Light Blues host Lyon in their opening Europa League group stage game with Connor Goldson self-isolating and Fil Helander waiting to discover the extent of a knee injury – so what options could Steven Gerrard have when the Ligue 1 side come calling?
The Rangers boss admitted yesterday that he was unsure of the timeline for Goldson to return but that he remained hopeful the Englishman would return after his 81-game streak of playing every minute was ended yesterday.
After the 2-1 win over St. Johnstone, Gerrard spoke about Leon Balogun and Jack Simpson stepping up but with Simpson unable to play on Thursday night, the ex-Bournemouth man won’t be anywhere near the starting XI as the Europa League anthem booms around Ibrox.
With no other senior centre-backs listed in the Europa League A list, Gerrard could be forced to move one of his senior players into an unfamiliar role – or rely on the B list containing Academy players.
Gerrard has had to do something like this before, playing Joe Aribo at left-back when both Borna Barisic and Calvin Bassey were ruled out – but just what options does the Rangers boss have if Goldson and Helander both miss out on Thursday?
Bassey moving in at centre-back with Borna Barisic coming back into the side seems the most obvious option but there are real question marks over Bassey’s defensive capabilities. The former Leicester City man does have experience playing in the middle but his decision-making and positioning can be very suspect at times.
The Italian-born defender has played centrally twice for Rangers – once in a League Cup win over Falkirk and a brief cameo off the bench v St Johnstone last season – while he played there fairly regularly for a time while at Leicester.
While you’d really want one of Helander or Goldson beside him to taalk him through a game, Leon Balogun isn’t exactly a rookie himself.
King has made a couple of appearances from the bench and the B team star is highly regarded at Ibrox after impressing the Rangers coaching staff. King played 90 minutes yesterday for in the B team win over Bonnyrigg Rose and has been a central figure for David McCallum’s side this season in their dominant start to the campaign.
The 17-year-old has less than 25 minutes of first-team football under his belt outside of the Colts though so is VERY inexperienced for such a massive game and it would be a huge risk to throw him into such a high-pressure situation with so little experience under his belt.
Gerrard seems to really like him though and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if King finds himself on the bench on Thursday night,
King’s regular partner for the B team, the Northern Irish youth international spent time last season on loan at Falkirk and impressed for the Bairns as they lost out to Celtic at Parkhead in the Cup. McClelland was on the bench in the previous round against Alashkert – perhaps surprisingly – while there was no place for King, which could hint at where the two stand in the overall pecking order currently.
While he has played a little bit more first-team football, making 8 appearances while at Falkirk, McClelland is also hugely inexperienced but looks like a really composed young defender who reads the game very well.
McClelland was linked with a move to Southampton last season with then-Falkirk boss Lee Miller praising the teen while on loan with the Bairns.
Meanwhile, Rangers could take advantage of cross-border compensation rules to pip top sides to the signing of players.