SPL

Tavernier’s ‘Unfinished Business’ Can Restore Rangers

 • by Lee Scott
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It should be little surprise James Tavernier has become such a key player for Rangers under Graeme Murty. This Gers boss was, after all, a fine right-back in his playing days.

Since arriving at the Ibrox club from Wigan Athletic in 2015 for a reported fee of £350,000,  Tavernier has quickly established himself as one of the best full-backs in Scottish football.

Despite reported interest in his services from Sunderland and Reading in the English Championship, Tavernier has reiterated his desire to stay in Glasgow to continue his development in a league that is well suited to his skill set.

A product of Newcastle United‘s academy system, Tavernier was always highly thought of by the North East club. He was sent out on a series of loan moves appearing for Gateshead, Carlisle United, Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons, Shrewsbury Town and Rotherham United before joining Wigan on a permanent deal in 2014.

There was a sense during the period in which Tavernier was packed off on loan season after season that his ability to fulfil his potential was diminished by the lack of consistency in coaching style or tactical setup in which he played. But at the DW Stadium he truly caught the eye. He would spend only one season in Lancashire before getting his big move to Rangers in 2015.

A spell of consistency at Rangers seems to have helped Tavernier to kick on again and improve upon his performance levels and output.

It took little time for Tavernier to become a favourite of Rangers fans given his tendency to operate as an attacking, forward-thinking full-back. His trademark surges into the opposition’s half, whether in or out of possession, quickly became a feature of Rangers’ attacking play.

Quick and physically powerful, Tavernier is extremely difficult to stop when in full flow. His ability to attack down the outside, inside and through the half space gives Rangers flexibility when trying to break down a stubborn defensive block.

Now 27, Tavernier is entering the prime of his career and this has been evidenced by his increased output as Rangers have gone from strength to strength this season, challenging Aberdeen for second place in the Scottish Premiership.

In 2016/17, Tavernier played for 3,865 minutes over a total of 44 appearances. In that time his critical contributions in the attacking phase were relative poor with two goals and seven assists. A total contribution leading to a goal every 429 minutes.

This season he has played 2,758 minutes over 31 matches with a contribution of six goals and eight assists to date. A total contribution leading to a goal every 197 minutes.

This variance in performance can be attributed to two main factors. Firstly, there is a huge difference between the style of play preached by Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha ,who was dismissed in October 2016, and his interim replacement Murty.

“He is a great modern attacking full-back,” Murty told the Scottish Sun after Tavernier scored his sixth of the season in Rangers’ 2-0 win at Partick Thistle on Tuesday.

“He has terrific quality in the final third and is an outstanding finisher. We see that in training all the time and it was a bit special to see that tonight.”

Under Murty, Rangers play a more progressive and wing orientated style of play. Tavernier is naturally finding himself more involved in the build-up play and around the final third of the field. His freedom to move into advanced areas is far greater now than under the more structured and cautious Caixinha.

However, this carries an inherent danger and, whilst Tavernier is an attacking threat, his defensive contributions are less impressive.

This all serves to explain the interest in Tavernier from south of the border, though he has been at pains to stress he is happy in Glasgow. “I came here to win trophies,” he told The Scotsman. “Also, in all the Old Firm games I’ve played, I’ve only been on the winning side once so far. I want to win some more of them. I still have unfinished business as a Rangers player.” 

That will be music to the ears of Rangers fans, not least because Tavernier is acutely aware of the need to get back to challenging Celtic at the top table of Scottish football.

However, the full-back has just 18 months left on his contract and if his form in the second half of the season replicates that of the first, Rangers may face a struggle to convince him to sign a new deal. If that becomes the case, they will realistically have to sell him this summer in order to get something near to his full value in compensation. 

The progress made by Tavernier, particularly over the last 18 months, has mirrored Rangers’ own. Steady improvement in their attacking phase of play has seen the Gers start to assert dominance against some of the smaller domestic sides. But the measure of real progress will be going toe-to-toe with Celtic once more – and Tavernier can be central that.

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