Rangers have exceeded all expectations in Europe maintaining an unbeaten streak since the first qualifying round of Europa League 2018-19. They have not only made it to the group stages of this prestigious event but are also placed at the top of the group ahead of Villarreal, Rapid Wien and Spartak Moskva. But the Gers have a more significant assignment on Sunday afternoon when they will be clashing heads with Aberdeen in the Scottish League Cup semi-final tie at Hampden Park.
The Dons, Celtic’s prime challengers for Scottish supremacy in the past few years, have been quite disappointing so far in the league but require one inspiring display to upturn their campaign. Their record against the Bears is not convincing either, but a few things might work in favour of Derek McInnes’ men this weekend.
Rangers have significant absentees high up the pitch with in-form Alfredo Morelos suspended for this game having picked up a second yellow against Ayr United in the previous round. Kyle Lafferty, the veteran centre-forward is ineligible for the League Cup as he already appeared in an earlier round for Hearts prior to his return to Ibrox.
Steven Gerrard, therefore, will have to reshuffle his frontline a bit to ensure a productive outcome against the Dons. He has a like-for-like replacement in Umar Sadiq, but the Nigerian, on loan from AS Roma, failed to impress the gaffer despite completing a high-profile summer switch.
He was addressed to improve ‘everything‘ to be ‘worthy’ of playing for Rangers and three late substitute appearances, however, do not imply an amelioration either. It is highly unlikely for Gerrard to gamble upon an unproven name on such a big occasion, but he honestly does not have much of an alternative and needs to deploy his wide options in a makeshift role tweaking his strategy.
A 4-3-3 has worked out spectacularly in favour of the Light Blues with Ryan Kent and Daniel Candeias operating from the flanks. Eros Grezda, meanwhile, remains an option who could be utilised as a centre-forward for this crucial fixture as the Albanian wingman is thriving for game-time since completing a summer deadline transfer from Osijek. Teenager Glenn Middleton has made remarkable strides under the former Liverpool and England midfield icon, but it would be too big an ask for the Scotsman to lead the line in this high-profile outing.
But he still might be brought in action down the left if Ryan Kent is preferred as a ‘number 9’ due to his scoring records in recent weeks. These are all backup plans Gerrard must be having in his mind for the tie, and we believe he might bank on Grezda upfront to keep balance in the game, particularly from the left flank where Kent would be tormenting Aberdeen with his pace, strong runs, one-twos, passing and dribbling attributes.