Looking ahead to the 2017/18 season, Pedro Caixinha has a lot of work to do to keep the Rangers support onside.
As impressive as Celtic and Aberdeen have been, there was certainly an expectation within the club to comfortably split their two main rivals. While it was perhaps naïve to suggest that a newly promoted side could waltz into second place, even with the second biggest budget in the country, the fact that a 3-0 win at Pittodrie in April only put Rangers nine points behind Aberdeen is testament to the gap that the Ibrox club will be looking to close next season.
This article will consider the make-up of the current Rangers squad, suggest the main areas to strengthen, as well as identify a few possible signing targets for these positions.
Part I – The Problems
At the time of writing, the difference between Rangers and Aberdeen is exclusively made up of the number of points won against sides in the bottom six. Out of a possible 54 points, Aberdeen took 43, while Rangers took 34.
That’s 9 wins from 18 games. During these games, Rangers scored 24 goals, of which just 9 came from their strikers. Consider that Aberdeen scored more against bottom 6 sides in four games alone than Rangers did in total, and you begin to appreciate just how much Rangers have struggled against the weakest sides in the league.
According to the Global Sporting Salaries Survey, Rangers pay out more on wages than the bottom six sides do combined- £330,000 vs. £303,000.
With such a disparity in resources, there shouldn’t be any excuses for picking up at least 80% of available points against these sides next season.
In these games against bottom six sides, Rangers’ conversion rate has been an appalling. 24 goals from 287 shots. That’s 12 shots per goal against the league’s worst teams. That leads to two probable conclusions: they aren’t creating a high enough quality of chances, and the standard of finishing isn’t up to scratch. A goalscoring midfielder and a poacher should therefore be two priorities in terms of recruitment.
Solve this problem, and Rangers will probably be where Aberdeen are at this season. However, given that the board’s stated target is to be “comfortable second”, Rangers will also need to up their game against the league’s better sides.
Outside Home Comforts
In away games against the league’s top five, Rangers have only managed five points from a possible twenty-one. Now, these are the most difficult fixtures Rangers will face across the season, so it is to be expected that they will drop some points. However, getting less than a quarter of the possible points available is unacceptable for a side with any aspirations of a title challenge.
Across these seven games, fifteen goals have been conceded. Of these fifteen goals, ten came from quick counter attacks.
Generally, the key to stopping counter attacks is to have a midfield wise enough positionally to stop the opposition before they hit the final third. Over the course of the season, Joey Barton, Andy Halliday, Jon Toral and most recently Jason Holt have all been tried in the role in front of the defenders. None have been able to carry out the role convincingly- this summer Rangers must find somebody who can.
Set piece woes
Frankly, this could be a whole article in itself, but I’ll be brief.
Over the course of the season, Rangers have just five goals from set pieces. On the other hand they’ve conceded twelve. That means their “set piece balance” over the course of the season so far is -7. Looking at Rangers’ total goals conceded, this means that around one every three goals will come from a set piece.
Set pieces are all about organisation, timing and practice. How many you score, and how many you concede is not down to dumb luck, but about the hours spent on the training ground.
Rangers have had 231 corners so far this season, and have scored from just two of them. Rangers actually win more corners than any other side in the league, so their sheer impotency with them is definitely a wasted resource.
A defender who knows what he’s doing at set pieces is useful for both attacking and defending them. Do Rangers have a centre back they can rely on to be a constantly provide a threat in the opposition box? It doesn’t seem like it at all.
Part II – Suggested Signings
Now we’ve pointed out the flaws, the next logical step is to suggest solutions. I have no idea what budget Rangers are working with. Last summer, they spent just over £2m in transfer fees, as well as signing players such as Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar, presumably on fairly high wages. With that in mind, I would propose the following four players, who could be brought to Ibrox combined for less than the price of Joe Garner (£1.8 million).
Nikola Dovedan – Rheindorf Altach
As it stands, the Rangers midfield is only the fifth best in the league in terms of goals and assists. While Emerson Hyndman and Jon Toral have contributed to that figure since their January arrivals, the duo will most likely be returning to Bournemouth and Arsenal at the end of the season. Therefore, Rangers badly need a goal threat coming from midfield.
Nikola Dovedan could be that man.
As it stands, Jason Holt has two assists in over 2000 minutes of action, and no goals from 28 shots. Dovedan, playing in the Austrian Bundesliga (ranked eight leagues higher than the Scottish Premiership by UEFA) has fared considerably better.
From 29 shots, Dovedan has scored nine goals, whilst chipping in with seven assists. He’s also played around 400 minutes less football this term than Holt.
The Austria under 21 internationalist is out of contract in the summer, and would provide an immediate goal threat from the centre of the park.
Tomas Soucek – Slovan Liberec
Continuing the theme of looking at players from stronger teams in stronger leagues, the next suggestion comes from the Czech Republic. The Czech league is actually twelve places higher than the Scottish Premiership in the UEFA rankings. Furthermore, the Euro Club Index would place Rangers as a mid-table side were they to play in the Czech Republic.
Tomas Soucek is a lanky defensive midfielder. An under 21 internationalist, he made his debut for the Czech senior side in November. While he struggled to establish himself at Slavia Prague, he has been getting regular game time on loan at Slovan Liberec since January. During this period, he’s turned himself into one of the best midfielders in the league:
Over 7 interceptions a game, and one of the highest defensive duel success rates in the league. If Rangers need someone to kill an attack before it even reaches the final third, then this is the man.
With only year left on his contract at Slavia, Soucek could probably be pinched for less than a million.
Liam Lindsay – Partick Thistle
Coming back to Scotland for this one, but with good reason. Lindsay has had an outstanding debut season for Partick Thistle as the Jags secured their first top six finish in over thirty five years. The 21 year old has certainly contributed to this. Not only is Lindsay the league’s top scoring defender (six goals, all from set pieces), but has helped form the fourth best defence in the league in terms of goals conceded.
Rangers have struggled at centre half this season, with Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan struggling to find consistent form. They have been supplemented by Clint Hill and more recently David Bates. The former is hardly a long-term solution at 38, while the latter has only just broken through to the senior side.
Lindsay would walk into the Rangers defence, shore it up and even nick a few goals in the process.
Thistle sold Jack Hendry to Wigan last season for a record £275k. For Rangers to buy Lindsay, they’d probably have to add another £200k on top of that.
Jamie Maclaren – Brisbane Roar
From back to Scotland to all the way Down Under for the final target.
Jamie Maclaren is an A League sensation, hitting 40 goals in 55 games for the Brisbane Roar. A real penalty box striker, he’s scored half of the Roar’s goals this season and has won himself a call up to the Australia national side in the process.
He’s quick, he’s nimble and he’s a great finisher. Kenny Miller became the first Rangers player to score ten goals this season at the weekend. That’s something Maclaren could have achieved by Christmas.
With a Scottish father, Maclaren holds a British passport. He’s out of contract this summer, and at 23 years old is only going to improve. It would be a low potential risk, high potential reward signing- in other words, a no brainer.
It is generally accepted that the Rangers squad is simply not at the level it needs to be should it wish to fulfil the board’s desire for a title challenge. There are several obvious deficiencies within the playing squad, with specific requirements for a centre back, a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder and a striker.
To ensure that Rangers are getting the best value for their money, they must abandon the current recruitment policy of signing players exclusively from England and broaden their horizons. A proper scouting strategy will not make them title challengers overnight, but it would be a huge step in the right direction.