This weekend Rangers face their first away trip of the Premiership campaign when they head to Den’s Park to take on Dundee. Despite the 1-1 draw with Hamilton last weekend, Rangers go into Saturday’s game looking for three points on the back of a thumping win over Peterhead in the Betfred Cup.
With only Martyn Waghorn, Josh Windass and Matt Crooks missing, Mark Warburton faces something of a midfield selection problem ahead of taking on Paul Hartley’s side. Not that he’ll complain, this is probably the most depth Rangers have had in certain key positions in a decade or more. Jordan Rossiter, Joey Barton, Niko Kranjcar, Harry Forrester, Jason Holt and Andy Halliday will all in contention for the three central midfield slots and, reputations aside, there is a solid argument for every one of them to start.
Defensively, Warburton has a more settled selection with the back five likely to be the same five who had such success last season. Wes Foderingham sat out the midweek win over Peterhead but should regain the gloves from Matt Gilks while Danny Wilson and Lee Wallace have both recovered from the virus which saw them sit out Wednesday’s game.
Martyn Waghorn’s hamstring injury has created an opportunity for Joe Dodoo to get a run of starts under his belt and the ex-Leicester City striker will lead the line alongside Barrie McKay and, likely, Michael O’Halloran. McKay has made himself one of the first names on the teamsheet with consistently impressive performances. On the opposite flank Michael O’Halloran has impressed in recent games and although Kenny Miller appears to be in possession of the jersey, the former St. Johnstone man should get an opportunity to prove what he can do.
That leaves midfield. With six players fighting for three starting places this will be the first, real, problem Warburton has encountered with his team selection. Last season’s team largely picked itself and midfield was no different. Halliday, Holt and A.N Other was the regular midfield of choice last term but it could be that neither Halliday or Holt find themselves “first choice”. Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar are unlikely to have come to Scotland to sit on the bench so both will most likely start on Saturday. That whittles it down to four players fighting for one place and it’s difficult to figure out just which one it will be.
Jordan Rossiter has impressed everyone who has watched the young scouser play in light blue and would be the most likely choice to start. Sitting just infront of the back four, Rossiter has shown intelligence on the pitch well beyond his years and has, when he has played, made the midfield look a bit more balanced. Starting Rossiter would mean Barton and Kranjcar paired further forward, who impressed together against Peterhead, but there’s a worry that a Barton/Kranjcar pairing lacks the legs to carry out the high-pressing style Rangers have used.
Andy Halliday could slot into, either, the defensive role or alongside Kranjcar offering a more “box-to-box” type than Barton would. This was the midfield trio which started the draw with Hamilton and looked isolated from the frontline against Accies. If Halliday is to start in midfield then he is probably a better bet played further back. Halliday has been impressive in the early part of the season and has surprised many who thought the influx of midfielders over the summer may limit his appearances.
Last season was a breakout season for Jason Holt who, after a stop-start preseason, is fit again and looking to build on 2015/16. Constant energy in the middle of the park, Holt’s late runs into the opposition box resulted in a number of goals last season and Holt could be the ideal foil for Barton and Kranjcar. Holt was a vital player for Mark Warburton and, despite his £65k fee, has all the attributes to remain a key player at Ibrox for years to come.
Harry Forrester is the final of the four options and offers something totally different to the other three. Described by Mark Warburton as a “street player” Forrester has that special something that can create a moment of genius out of nothing. A midfield three of Barton, Kranjcar and Forrester would be very attacking but Forrester might just have played himself into a start recently.
How would you line up at Den’s Park? Let us know in the comments below.
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