Rangers kick off the defence of their title on Saturday lunchtime when Steven Gerrard’s side host Livingston at Ibrox – and the quality of players who will be left disappointed when the Gers boss names his starting XI shows just how strong a squad he has at his disposal.
The Gers have, in previous seasons, had clear issues where the starting XI was very clearly much stronger than the options on the bench but that isn’t really the case now for the Rangers boss.
Using the starting XI that began the win over Real Madrid last weekend as a rough base (eight or nine of the XI will start v Livingston) the depth available to the Light Blues is frightening.
While Glen Kamara is likely to come into the starting XI to take the place of Ianis Hagi and – if fit – Alfredo Morelos would be a surefire starter, there can be no complaints this season that Gerrard is working with a thin squad.
Obviously, it takes more than just eleven players to win the title but there would still be enough in reserve for Rangers with fringe players who wouldn’t necessarily make the ‘second XI – like Jack Simpson, Glenn Middleton, Jordan Jones, Brandon Barker and Jermain Defoe – to make a title push without the stalwarts of last season’s title success.
Gerrard’s back five picks itself for the Livingston game with Allan McGregor, James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Fil Helander and Borna Barisic all fit and available.
Ahead of them, Steven Davis, John Lundstram and Glen Kamara would be the likely first-choice midfield trio as the middle of the park goes from arguably the weakest to the strongest part of the Rangers squad almost overnight.
Gerrard’s front-three is the one part of the pitch where there is likely to be uncertainty over who starts v Livi and when everyone is fit and available it only becomes a tougher choice.
A front three of Alfredo Morelos, Kemar Roofe and Ryan Kent is – on paper at least – the strongest available and, barring any departures, are more than capable of firing Rangers to the title again.
With the league kickoff quickly approaching, Rangers fans are in a buoyant mood ahead of the new campaign; Celtic’s Champions League elimination no doubt playing its part in that.
Lots of the players in the ‘second XI’ will have huge roles to play over the season if Rangers are to defend their title and reach the group stage of the Champions League.
However, it just shows the depth available to Gerrard when you compare the Light Blues second XI to the Celtic XI that started last night’s Champions League qualifier in Denmark.
Would this Rangers ‘second XI’ be strong enough to challenge for the title?
Scotland international is the clear number two to Allan McGregor but he would walk into any other Scottish Premiership side right now.
Patterson will be James Tavernier’s long-term replacement at right-back and has already wowed fans at international level after impressing for Scotland at Euro 2020.
Another who would stroll into any other Premiership starting XI and is arguably only kept out of the side by how good Connor Goldson and Fil Helander have been together.
Croatian defender is just returning from injury and is a little bit away from realistically challenging for a regular start at Rangers but he’s shown plenty already at Ibrox to know he’s more than capable in the Scottish Premiership.
Left-back is probably the weakest position, in terms of depth, at Ibrox. Bassey has impressed this summer in pre-season though and looks to have got his head down after appearing to have thrown away his Rangers career with a breach of Covid rules.
Canada international is Gerrard’s go-to player when he needs a gap filled or a particular job done. Injuries have taken their toll a little bit on him but he’s such a fantastic player to have around. Won’t start regularly this season but will have a massive role to play.
Jack’s recent injury problems – and the arrival of John Lundstram – make a staring place no longer a guarantee for the former Aberdeen captain. Despite being a player it looked like Rangers would struggle to replace, his absence last season wasn’t anywhere near as sore as expected. He’ll still have a big, big role to play this season, he just won’t be as indispensable as he was before.
The fact that Aribo joins Arfield and Jack in Rangers ‘second XI’ midfield trio speaks volumes to the quality of Glen Kamara, Steven Davis and John Lundstram. The Nigerian international has been a first-pick for Gerrard whenever he’s been fit but he may have to settle for a place on the bench a little bit more often this season.
Hagi started against Real Madrid in a more central role than he’s typically been used at Rangers but it seems certain he’ll make way for Glen Kamara on Saturday. The Romanian seems to have bulked up a bit over the summer and will want to really cement his place in the side – but he’ll likely have to be patient unless there are any departures over the next five weeks.
The former Aberdeen winger looks like he has really benefited from arriving at Ibrox early after initially agreeing to move to Rangers in the summer. The chance to bulk up a little and work with the Gers’ coaching staff has helped him bed in and be well settled ahead of a crack at a regular starting place.
Itten has hit a few goals in pre-season to show his Rangers career isn’t dead and buried yet but he’s going to need to be patient with a stacked list of strikers ahead of him in the pecking order. The Swiss striker has had his moments since moving to Ibrox last summer but hasn’t shown it anything near consistently enough.