Rangers were met with the reality check of their season last Sunday as they were knocked out the Scottish Cup at the semi-final stage after a hammering from arch rivals Celtic.
Compared to the last Old Firm derby at Ibrox, the Gers offered little in terms of fight and produced an embarrassing display, much to the frustration and anger of their loyal fans.
Clearly there is a lot of work to be done at the club in terms of bridging the gap between themselves and Celtic and, despite a feeling the gap had begun to decrease, last Sunday was a reminder of exactly where both clubs are right now.
It seems unlikely Graeme Murty will retain his job beyond the end of the current season. In fact, he may not even be given the chance to see out the remaining league games. Whoever comes in will face the huge task of deciding which players to let go, and which players to bring in to the club to mount a stronger challenge next time round.
With issues to address in all areas of the pitch, the following three players are those Rangers should definitely be targeting in the rapidly approaching summer transfer window. The Gers need characters, those who appreciate the club’s values, and each individual would add a great deal of quality as the board look to build a new spine to take the club to the next level.
Hearts youngster John Souttar has become one of Scotland’s most highly rated centre-halves in recent times. If it was not for the likes of Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna, Souttar would probably be making his mark on the senior Scotland side but, instead, he has carried on his development with the under-21s.
Aged only 21, Souttar has become a stalwart in Craig Levein’s side, and has already amassed 128 appearances in Scotland’s top flight since his debut as a 16-year-old with Dundee United in 2013 and is as experienced as they come at his young age.
Despite being from Aberdeen, as a Scot the defender will be well aware of the prestige of Rangers and would no doubt relish the opportunity to turn out at Ibrox each week. Having lost David Bates, and with the heart of defence being a real weakness in the side, Souttar would make a fine addition in the summer.
Another current Hearts player, Norwich-owned Steven Naismith would be an obvious choice for Rangers given his long-standing history with the club.
The 45-capped Scotland international was one of the many players who decided to jump ship when the club entered liquidation and was sent to the bottom of the SPFL, but this does not mean he would not be interested in a return to his boyhood club.
As last Sunday suggested, Rangers need characters, and Naismith is the perfect mould to help the rest of the Gers squad understand exactly what it means to don the famous blue shirt. Had Naismith been playing at Hampden last weekend, you could bet their performance would have been infinitely better, with his added passion and determination to succeed for the club.
Aged 31, the ex-Everton star still has a lot to offer and his move to Hearts in January suggests he is not driven by money or glamour whatsoever. With his Rangers background, he is about as high calibre a target the club could realistically capture and should definitely be worth considering.
Glasgow-born Scotland international Ikechi Anya would be a magnificent capture for Rangers and would add a new dimension to the attack with his pace and prowess. Anya may be slight but has proved himself time and again to be a real handful for full-backs.
The 30-year-old Derby County star is also extremely versatile and can play just about any position down the flanks, from full-back to wing-back to attacking winger.
With nearly 30 Scotland caps and a season in the Premier League under his belt, Anya is also extremely experienced when it comes to top-level football and, like Naismith, would add a great deal to the squad both on and off the pitch.
With his international career having somewhat stagnated in recent times, the opportunity to play in his homeland for the first time, and in his home city at that, would be a terrific prospect for Anya, and a great way for him to see out his final years in football.
Due to his nationality, Anya is another top quality footballer who would be both a realistic and affordable option for Rangers this summer.
Rangers outcast Fabio Cardoso scores first goal for new club
New Rangers boss Steven Gerrard decided Cardoso had no Ibrox future, but he looks happy away from Glasgow.
Rangers have gone through wholesale changes this summer under the guidance of new manager Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool legend has moved to strengthen the team across the board, in particular the defensive positions.
He has made several additions at the back, leaving fringe defenders at the club looking for ventures new.
One such player was Fabio Cardoso. Signed by Pedro Caixinha, the Portuguese centre-back arrived at Ibrox with plenty of promise. He cost £1.3 million from Vitoria Setubal and had plenty of experience with his nation at youth level. But his time in Glasgow was forgettable.
He played just 12 times for Rangers in the Scottish Premiership. With the writing on the wall for the upcoming season, the player and Rangers agreed on a mutual termination at the end of July.
Cardoso has since landed on his feet. He headed back to Portugal, joining perennial underdogs Santa Clara. Promoted from the second-tier last season, Cardoso’s new team are now hoping to establish themselves in Portugal’s top-flight.
At the weekend they drew a thrilling encounter with Sporting Braga. After being 3-0 down at half-time they fought back to draw 3-3. Cardoso even did something he never managed to do whilst at Glasgow Rangers. The 25-year-old scored the equaliser with a thumping near-post header.
Rangers fans will harbour no real ill-feeling toward Cardoso. He was a product of the shambolic Caixinha era.
Scottish football was simply not for him. Hopefully, he can find some success back home.
Three ins and outs Rangers could complete this week
The final full week of the transfer window is here and there is a clear feeling that Rangers’ squad is not yet complete. Steven Gerrard has demanded more additions for his team, despite remaining unbeaten in the job, and some new faces could soon arrive at Ibrox.
Speculation continues to surround several potential additions, with these three being some of the most strongly linked with the club…
Kyle Lafferty (Hearts)
Edinburgh News report that Hearts have already rejected one offer for their talisman and his future remains unclear, as his own manager Craig Levein has confessed. With not long left in the window, a solution is required one way or the other.
“We are still talking. There is nothing more I can say at this moment in time. The dialogue has been sporadic. I don’t want to go into any details but I am not resigned to losing him. I am keeping people up to speed to inform that the Lafferty deal is not dead.”
With doubts over Alfredo Morelos’ future too, Lafferty could be brought in more urgently than ever if a serious bid is made for the Colombian.
Jack Simpson (Bournemouth)
Simpson has been linked with Rangers for some weeks now, and the Daily Record say that he is close to completing a move to the club at last after delays have prevented him from making the loan move from Premier League team Bournemouth.
With injuries now clearing up on the south coast, Simpson will be allowed to depart for Rangers and add another option in the heart of defence where Gerrard has made it clear that the squad is lacking depth.
Charlie Adam (Stoke City)
Perhaps the most unlikely to join, The Telegraph claim that Rangers were interested in bringing him back to the Scottish Premier League earlier this summer but a deal never came off. Now, that interest has faded, but Stoke City have told the veteran that he can leave the club.
Whilst Adam is unlikely to be top of Gerrard’s wishlist, stranger things have happened and his experience could be valuable for a young and inexperienced team.
Three things learnt from Rangers’ win over Kilmarnock: Morelos can’t be sold
Rangers have progressed to the next round of the Betfred Cup after seeing off Kilmarnock thanks to an inspired display by Alfredo Morelos in a 3-1 win, with all three goals coming through the Colombian.
Just before the half hour mark he broke the deadlock, heading in James Tavernier’s cross. Before half-time, he scored again, shrugging off pressure from the Kilmarnock defence and firing a pinpoint finish into the corner of the net.
With Rangers in control, disaster struck when Borna Barisic deflected a cross into his own net early on in the second half. The pressure was eased by yet another Morelos goal as Tavernier set him up yet again to tap into the net and complete his hat-trick.
Here’s what we can take from the tie…
Rangers can’t afford to lose Alfredo Morelos
Just as speculation about interest in the 22-year-old heats up again, he produces arguably his greatest performance in a Rangers shirt by netting a hat-trick against Kilmarnock with three impressive finishes.
Gerrard opted to withdraw the striker, who was on a yellow card, after his third goal but if he had continued he could have scored more. It’s clear that if Rangers want to be a success, they need a prolific goalscorer like Morelos, irregardless of whatever money is put on the table from elsewhere.
Steven Gerrard will take every competition seriously
The Rangers boss put out a strong side to face Kilmarnock in the Scottish League Cup and made it clear that he will not be taking any risks, despite also handling a title challenge in the Scottish Premier League and hoping to reach the Europa League group stages.
After several rounds of qualifiers, it would have been easy for the boss to rest key men like Morelos but he opted to stick with them and give the team the best possible chance of victory and reaching the next round.
James Tavernier is just as crucial to this team as Morelos
Many will be distracted by the headlines and the fact that Morelos netted a hat-trick, but on closer inspection it’s clear to see that the same man set up all three of his goals: James Tavernier. From full-back, he is proving to be one of the team’s most creative outputs.
The 26-year-old has been one of the team’s most outstanding performers since Gerrard arrived and it’s clear that he is fundamental to his coach’s plans.
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