When Alfredo Morelos received his fifth red card of the season in the recent Old Firm derby at the end of March, there was an overall feeling of anger within the Rangers support, but also the feeling of “Oh no, what now?” That, of course, is down to the fact that the Colombian is by far the best player at Steven Gerrard‘s disposal and how good his form has been this season.
His numbers this season make for impressive reading: 29 goals across all competitions with 11 assists thrown in. In the Scottish Premiership, the Colombian has hit 17 of Rangers 53 league goals so far, which equates to him scoring 23% of the team’s goals; when the next player on the list is James Tavernier – the right back – it tells a story in itself of just how integral he is to the team.
The Christmas Tree
With Morelos being out, Steven Gerrard had to find a way to get the best out of Jermain Defoe. By doing that he has quashed any idea that he is tactically inflexible, which was an unfair criticism to begin with – at least in terms of team shape. He’s gone with variants of 4-3-3, 3-5-2 at Motherwell, a 4-4-2 diamond against Kilmarnock and a flat 4-4-2 in the second half against St Johnstone. During the away tie against Maribor in the Europa League qualifiers, he used the 4-3-2-1 (the Christmas Tree) and recently he has used it in the past two matches.
That subtle tweak in the system with Morelos being unavailable has shown a different side to Rangers. With Defoe in the side and Scott Arfield playing as an inside forward – getting closer to Defoe and playing in and around him, at times beyond him has been fruitful. Furthermore, the team has still had its three midfielders to try and control the games, but also has condensed the middle of the park, so that they have not been outnumbered.
Not only have guys like Defoe and Arfield have stepped up and taken more responsibility in Morelos’ absence, they have looked like they fancy taking on the mantle of being the man, instead of their first thought being ‘give it to Alfredo and he’ll do something.’ At times that kind of variety to the play even when Morelos has been on the park has been badly lacking.
Does Morelos get back in?
The questions that face Gerrard and his coaching team if the next two results and performances go to plan is whether they put Alfredo Morelos straight back into the team and whether they stick with the Christmas tree or revert back to the variations of 4-3-3.
We have already witness Morelos play as the lone frontman in Maribor when Rangers first played this system, so for me. You have to keep the system and bring the main man back in. We have witnessed how Defoe and Arfield and Kent link up when Morelos is absent. It would be nice to see how Arfield, Kent and Morelos are able to connect in a system which is not reliant on Morelos carrying the attack on his own and having those two close to him – just like Defoe has in the recent wins.
However, the last two games – against Motherwell and Hearts – and the two coming up will give Gerrard, and the players who will remain at Rangers, a glimpse of the future. Especially if Morelos is moved on in the summer. It may give them encouragement that they have found a style and system which will bear fruit if added to by the right quality of player. This, in turn, may be able to compensate for the loss of their top man in the summer window and it may make the overall team a stronger unit. But for now, the choice is a simple one: you play your 29-goal striker when he’s available, especially now he has a point to prove not only to the manager, but his teammates and the fans who voted him Player of the Year just last week.
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