A scoreless draw against Spartak M0skva at Ibrox on Thursday night has kept Rangers pretty much in the hunt for a knockout place in Europe, but they have one massive contest awaiting on Sunday afternoon when they will lock horns with Aberdeen in the Scottish League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park. They have already met once this season where ten-man Gers were denied a victory at Pittodrie following a stoppage-time equaliser from Dons youngster Bruce Anderson. This game, however, will be having a result and Steven Gerrard, the Bears boss, should exhibit his tactical mastery to be one step closer to his first managerial silverware.
Aberdeen, although not in their best of form in recent weeks, would be upbeat to salvage something from a disappointing campaign and the game this weekend might work as a turn around of fortune for Derek McInnes’ men if they manage to grind out a result against the in-form Glasgow giants.
The Light Blues missed out left-back Borna Barisic as well as star midfielder Scott Arfield against their European counterparts. Barisic, out with a muscle rupture, is set to remain sidelined for the Sunday outing. Arfield, suffering from a hamstring strain, has an outside chance of making it to the matchday squad.
However, veteran Gareth McAuley and Lee Wallace are unlikely to be involved due to fitness concerns. Jamie Murphy is ruled out for the season having ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament whereas Graham Dorrans, the veteran midfield general has suffered an injury setback and will require a knee surgery which will keep him out of action for a few months.
But the suspension of star striker Alfredo Morelos will be a massive miss for the Gers as he picked up a second booking in the previous round while scripting a commanding 4-0 victory against Ayr United. To make things worse, experienced Kyle Lafferty will also be unavailable as he is cup-tied after playing for Hearts before his summer switch.
Gerrard has mostly preferred a 4-3-3 that earned him some laudable success in early months. He, however, experimented some alterations while lining up both Kyle Lafferty and Alfredo Morelos upfront. This change of tactics is unlikely to occur on Sunday as both of them are ineligible to feature for own reasons.
The arrival of Allan McGregor has seen Wes Foderingham slipping down the pecking order, but the former Gers ‘number 1’ has vowed to fight for his place and should be handed a start between the sticks similar to previous cup ties.
Skipper James Tavernier is in fine form and will have a massive role to play for against Aberdeen. He will occupy his usual right-back slot whereas Nikola Katic might be recalled in action having been replaced by Joe Worrall in the heart of Rangers’ central defence. Connor Goldson will look to maintain his towering presence at the back alongside the Croatian. Experienced Jon Flanagan should be preferred over Andy Halliday as their first-choice left fullback in the absence of Borna Barisic.
Ovie Ejaria, the Liverpool loanee, has been majestic in recent weeks and should keep his place in the middle of the park. Lassana Coulibaly, too, is expected to feature in a central role showcasing his box-to-box attributes and fluidity in midfield. Scott Arfield is close to returning to action and will replace Ryan Jack if declared fit before Sunday afternoon. The Canadian skipper is a vital cog in the centre of the pitch with creativity, inventiveness and game-reading attributes which the Gers have lacked a bit in recent outings.
The absence of both Lafferty and Morelos will hand Gerrard a severe selection headache ahead of the tie. He, however, is likely to deploy Ryan Kent and Daniel Candeias in their respective left and right wing roles and slot in Eros Grezda as a makeshift centre-forward following a few impressive cameo appearances in earlier games. Outcast Umar Sadiq might still not make it to the manager’s plans despite completing a high-profile loan switch from AS Roma.