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Rangers 2-0 Shkupi: What we learned from Steven Gerrard’s first competitive game

A solid result, but some things to keep an eye on.

Rangers v Shkupi - UEFA Europa League Qualifying Round Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Steven Gerrard should take it slowly with the youngsters

Glenn Middleton was the star of the show last night after the young winger came on and created either a chance or a corner almost every single time he got the ball. With Rangers’ play in possession as flat as the Ibrox crowd towards the end of the game, Middleton was able to turn both around. Constantly getting to the byline and taking on his man on the outside, he was far more effective than Jamie Murphy had been at producing chances for his teammates, and should have had at least one assist.

However, he should probably still be on the bench for now. It’s quite easy for pacy, direct youngsters to look very good when coming into a slower, more pedestrian team, as Rangers certainly were for much of last night. Clearly Middleton is highly thought of and also has excellent technical ability and remarkable two-footedness - he’s not merely another Gregg Wylde. But he’s unlikely to be starting week in week out at his age, and it’s important to get the likely first choice eleven gelling before the domestic season kicks off. If nothing else, it always gives us an excellent option to change the game.

Ross McCrorie may be another who can take it a bit slower. We suspect Gerrard has a mild infatuation with the boy (who wouldn’t?) but yesterday wasn’t the right game for him to be playing so long. Gerrard was scathing pre-match about Graeme Murty (still at the club in the youth department remember!!) opting to play him at centre-back at the end of last season, confirming he sees the youngster as a midfielder.

But last night, he couldn’t offer much in possession, and due to the way Shkupi were playing, he wasn’t able to create chances by winning the ball in the middle of the park. Coulibaly or Jack may take his place as the deepest midfielder, but he shouldn’t worry about getting game time - he’ll have plenty of chances over the season.

Windass needs to go

We’ve said this many times, but Windass is simply more bother than he is worth. One of the most constantly frustrating things about the boy must surely be that, in the eyes of most managers, he will be the best player in training. One recent missive from Rangers TV saw him score an outrageous chipped effort - something he would never even attempt on the park. Then there’s the fact he doesn’t have a real position, is hopeless against deep defences, and the fact that the fans simply don’t like him.

We might not get a player with Windass’ raw ability for the price we sell him for. But we can certainly get somebody who can apply his talent on the pitch and within this team to a far more effective level.

We need to have a serious talk about Alfredo Morelos

Alfredo Morelos had another poor game, looking distinctly unrejuvenated despite the mid-season break. He now presents a conundrum - Rangers will struggle to find an all-round striker as good as an in-form Morelos, but we also can’t go into the season with only the untested Umar Sadiq as a realistic alternative. We need to find another option here at the very least, and if a large bid comes in for Morelos it’s certainly worth discussing. Hopefully if that does happen, Mark Allen has the next move firmly in mind.

The midfield is a concern

Despite Rangers having approximately 938 midfielders on the books, with Lassana Coulibaly set to join them, it’s still hard to get something together which really works. Rangers struggled to get the ball into the final third at times last night, and the lack of a midfielder who can dictate a game with a wide range of passing could be a worry going forward.

The introduction of Ryan Jack was likely aimed at ensuring that Rangers were able to move the ball through the middle of the park with greater ease, although it didn’t quite work out. Firstly due to his own sub-standard performance, but secondly due to the odd decision to keep McCrorie on the pitch when the youngster was offering little in possession (although he did improve in this regard.)

Gerrard later turned to Ovie Ejaria to offer some inspiration, but the Liverpool loanee showed too much of a proclivity for dwelling on the ball to get things going to the required speed. An alternate option may have worked in Greg Docherty, who can at least run through the centre, and it will be interesting to see if he gets a chance in the away leg.

It’s still early days, however, and it could look a lot better with more game time. But if there is anything in the Steven Davis rumours, that is probably a good thing.