Rangers have been defensive issues since the 19/20 season began, their defense have been shipping in goals all season especially, during the second half of the league. As if Gerrard already didn’t have enough complexities at the back, injury to defender Nikola Katic has aggregated this to another level as the 23-year-old centre-back is set to miss the start of the next season.
Nikola Katic is a young centre-back signed from Slaven Belupo in 2018. Katic averages 81% pass completion rate and completes 8.65% of headers overall. In his final season at Slaven Belupo, he completed an average of 8.91 aerial duels per game.
His performances for Rangers has been good this season, even scoring a goal in the Old Firm derby against Celtic, giving Rangers their first win at Celtic Park in 9 years. However, Nikola Katic is now set to miss the start of the Scottish Premiership season, which began with a 1-0 win over Aberdeen, due to a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained during pre-season training and assessments state that the defender might face several months on the sidelines. He will miss Rangers’ Europa League last-16 second leg with Bayer Leverkusen.
The Rangers have already signed Leon Balogun on a one-year-deal, with the option of a further year, from Wigan Athletic. The Nigerian defender was signed shortly after Katic got injured to fill up the gap. Leon’s experience in the Premier League will certainly provide a much needed defensive cover in the absence of the Croatian, but will it be enough?
Whether with Katic or not, Steven Gerrard already had major defensive issues. The Gers needed major reinforcements at the back. Just look at the number of goals conceded by them after January, which cost them 3 losses against Hearts, Hamilton and Kilmarnock as well as a draw against St Johnstone. Had the Rangers won them, they could have mounted a serious challenge to Celtic, which apparently, they did till December.
Although the signing of Leon Balogun boosts Ranger’s defensive options for now, will he be good enough as a back-up option? Will the 32-year-old centre-back be able to solve their troubles at the back?
As the uncertainty of the return date for Nikola Katic looms, Rangers should dive into the transfer market for a more reliable and consistent centre-back, who can solve their defensive problems and help them stop Celtic from winning 10 titles in a row. Let us analyse the potential candidates Rangers can look at for defensive reinforcements.
1. Sepp Van Den Berg
The teenage Dutch defender joined Liverpool last year. Although he hasn’t featured for the first team regularly, mostly playing for the under-23s, he played against Shrewsbury Town and Aston Villa in the League Cup. With Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo impressing for the Gers this season, it won’t be a surprise if Gerrard brings in another Liverpool player on loan.
In his final season at Dutch side PEC Zwolle, Sepp Van Den Berg averaged 2 tackles per game at a completion rate of 83.3%. That is second only to Virgil Van Dijk in terms of completion rate (100%) and Matip in terms of the number of tackles per 90 (2.3).
A loan away at Rangers would be beneficial for the young player’s development as he will get more first chances with Nikola Katic sidelined. This may be considered a bold choice for Rangers as they look to break Celtic’s 9-year dominance.
2. Adam Dzwigala
Bringing in a 24-year-old defender from Portugal as a fourth-choice defender might be a bit unusual. But since Nikola Katic is out for the foreseeable future, Adam Dzwigala could fit right in.
The Polish defender has impressed for Aves this season, averaging 2.1 tackles and 4.2 clearances per game. According to Onefootball, he’s won 57% duels and completed 13 interceptions, but to fit in a team like Rangers, he would have to improve his pass accuracy. His pass accuracy is pretty low (73%).
Adam is valued at €400,000 by Transfermarkt. He can play on both sides of the defence and can also put in a shift in defensive midfield if required, quite similar to Katic. At only 24 years of age, there is a lot of time for the defender to improve. By playing for a club like Rangers, where he could play in European competitions, would be beneficial for the Polish defender.
3. Rick van Drongelen
Rick van Drongelen is a 21-year-old Dutch centre-back who has impressed for Hamburger SV in Germany’s second division. Van Drongelen made the move to Hamburger SV in 2017 from Sparta Rotterdam for a fee €3million and the Bundesliga 2 side would certainly want to make a profit on the player.
Of the 32 matches he’s played in, he has won 63% tackles, completed 27 interceptions, and won 57% duels. His passing accuracy is an impressive 88%. The Dutchman also has a couple of assists to his name. Drongelen has a strong left-foot and therefore, can play as a left-back too.
However, he recently suffered a serious cruciate ligament tear in his left knee in the last game of the season, in which he scored an own goal and was later replaced in the 36th minute. Hamburger SV have ruled him out for the first half of next season due to the injury. Rangers might still feel like it is a risk worth taking anyway, but he won’t come cheap, with Transfermarkt rating him at €5million.
4. James Tavernier
It might be strange adding James Tavernier to the list, but the full-back can also play at centre-back. Tavernier is predominantly a right-back. With Rangers looking to sign right-back Dennis Gyamfi from Leicester City, Tavernier could slot in at centre-back till Nikola Katic returns from injury.
In the Europa League this season, the 28-year-old English defender has put up decent numbers. According to Onefootball, he’s won 71% of his tackles, 48% of aerial duels, and has made 5 interceptions. The Rangers captain also has a pass accuracy of 68%.
With Bayer Leverkusen leading 3-1 in the Europa League round of 16, Gerrard would look to play Tavernier at right-back with Connor Goldson and Filip Helander as the two main centre-backs. There are other prospective young defenders like Lewis Mayo and Leon King, but Tavernier might be an immediate and free fix.