Rangers welcome bitter rivals Celtic to Ibrox tomorrow as the Light Blues look to take the advantage in the title race – and Gers boss Steven Gerrard’s starting XI is going to be the hot topic right up until kick-off (and possibly beyond) tomorrow.
After Rangers were struck by a number of positive Covid tests, several senior players had to be left at home as the Light Blues travelled to Armenia to face Alashkert in Thursday’s Europa League playoff second leg.
With the manager among those stuck in Scotland, even his presence at Ibrox tomorrow is up in the air with assistant manager Gary McAllister refusing to give anything away when he spoke to the media yesterday.
Allan McGregor, Jon McLaughlin, James Tavernier and Calvin Bassey were all left behind due to Covid issues, Scott Wright and Ryan Kent were nursing knocks, Kemar Roofe and John Lundstram were suspended while Niko Katic, Jermain Defoe, Brandon Barker, Andy Firth, and Juninho Bacuna were all ineligible to feature on Thursday after they couldn’t be registered as part of the Europa League squad.
With many of those set to be available, it will really bolster a Rangers squad that is down to the bare bones beyond the starting XI.
A return for either keeper would see Robby McCrorie lose his place in the side but with both McGregor and McLaughlin being unavailable due to Covid, it is hard to know whether they will have been cleared to play tomorrow.
McCrorie didn’t put a foot wrong on his senior debut on Thursday night and the Scotland squad keeper can have no fears about facing Celtic at a packed Ibrox.
Having Tavernier and Bassey fall into the same category as the two keepers mean it could well be an unchanged back four for Rangers tomorrow with Nathan Patterson, Connor Goldson, Fil Helander and Borna Barisic starting.
Most would be happy with that defence 9 times out of 10 anyway so it shouldn’t be much of an issue if Bassey and Tavernier aren’t fit to return.
Helander could lose out to Leon Balogun given Gerrard’s habit of chopping and changing his defence but the pairing of Goldson and Helander is Rangers’ best and should start at Ibrox.
After largely having his hand forced in midweek, Gerrard suddenly has far more options available in midfield – although there is likely to only be one change from the side that started in Armenia.
Steven Davis and Glen Kamara are both surefire starters if fit so it really comes down to which of several players Gerrard wants to hand the task of being the creative outlet in the middle of the pitch.
Joe Aribo is most likely to get the nod and be moved into a slightly deeper role than midweek though, leaving the likes of Scott Arfield, Lundstram and Bacuna scrambling for a spot on the bench.
Similar to the midfield, two of the front three already seem to pick themselves with Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe must-picks for the visit of Postecoglou’s Celtic.
Alongside them, Wright and Hagi have both impressed this season while Ryan Kent has struggled for form but, if fit, the Gers number 14 is just the sort of player who can make things happen.
His track record in Old Firm games if impressive and getting over the niggle that kept him out of the Alashkert tie will make or break his Old Firm chances.
If he’s not fit, Ianis Hagi is likely to be the one given the nod to create chances in the final third – and it may well be a decision that isn’t made until tomorrow morning.