SPL

Murty Must Turn To Front Two To Close Celtic Gap

 • by Graham Ruthven
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Presented with an empty net a matter of yards out, Alfredo Morelos somehow contrived to spurn the chance to make himself an Old Firm derby hero. The Colombian had enjoyed a good game up until that point, giving Celtic’s defenders plenty to think about, but his blunder late on in the match provided the abiding memory of his performance last Sunday.

Despite Morelos’ impressive scoring record this season, this miss went to form. The 21-year-old has earned a reputation for missing sitters during his first season in Scotland, and the chance he fluffed against Celtic last weekend only reinforced that reputation. He should have buried it to salvage his side a point.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things it did little to dull the season Morelos is enjoying at Ibrox. A return of 28 goals for the campaign so far is excellent for the still young striker, with Rangers as a team improving as the season progresses.

Morelos has been so impressive he has been a transfer target for a number of Chinese clubs.

One of the biggest improvements Graeme Murty’s men have made since the January transfer window, when they essentially rebuilt their team, has been in the diversification of their attack. Morelos is no longer relied upon as their only dependable source of goals, with Daniel Candeias, Jamie Murphy and Josh Windass all stepping up.

The addition of Jason Cummings on loan from Nottingham Forest has also given their another option in attack. But in the interest of diversification and tactical adaptability, could Murty use Cummings as a strike partner for Morelos?

Might this Rangers team have the capacity to snap into a system that employs a conventional front two?

On the face of things, they have the players to. Windass could play on the left side of a flat midfield four, with Candeias on the right, where he started the season playing.

Greg Docherty and Sean Goss have formed quite the understanding since being paired together in January, and so they would form the central basis of such a system.

This would leave no obvious role for Murphy, who has managed to force his way into the Scotland squad following a good run of form but the use of this shape wouldn’t necessary be about finding Murty’s best team. It would be about giving them another dimension, another option, another way to react to the task at hand. Whatever it may be.

Cummings was used as secondary striker alongside Morelos for the final 15 minutes of their game against Celtic last week, but this was a move that came as a result of the circumstances.

At that time, Brendan Rodgers’ side were down to 10 men, the home side desperate for an equaliser they piled the pressure on. They could afford to remove a holding midfielder for a striker.

In theory, a partnership between Cummings and Morelos could work. Perhaps the best sign of their burgeoning understanding came in the Scottish Cup win over Ayr United, when the two were paired from the start. Both players finished on the score sheet, with Murty using Murphy on the right side of the midfield over Candeias.

Against an opponent of a lower caliber, like Ayr, it gave the Gers an additional goal threat. Most notably, the 4-4-2 formation, which allowed both Murphy and Windass to drift inside, with Declan John and James Tavernier overlapping as full backs, permitted Rangers to flood the opposition penalty area with bodies, as demonstrated by the below screenshot. That’s how the majority of their six goals that afternoon came.

The 4-4-2 shape would only work in certain scenarios for Rangers. Against teams who are particularly strong in the centre of the pitch, its use would be ill-advised. By playing Cummings alongside Morelos up front, the Ibrox side concede a level of midfield control. It could result in them being overrun against certain opponents.

But against teams where their superiority is a given, it could prove useful. They have stumbled a number of times against teams lower down the Scottish Premiership table this season and so a familiarity with a two up front system could help them break down teams that sit deep and play for a draw, as so many do at Ibrox in particular.

Many forget that before this season, Cummings had never played at the top level of the Scottish game. At Hibernian, he was considered one of the brightest young strikers in the country, earning himself a move to Nottingham Forest last summer, but that was in the Scottish Championship.

And so it’s possible that the 22-year-old needs a period of adaptation in Glasgow.

His signing, which will be made permanent in the summer, was designed to give Rangers more depth. At present, Morelos is the first choice striker, and by some distance. But that doesn’t mean that at certain times Cummings could have a first team role to play.

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