The imminent return of influential midfielder Joe Aribo to Glasgow, following Nigeria’s surprise elimination in the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 at the hands of Tunisia on Sunday, is clearly a major boost for the Ibrox club.
With the respective omissions of midfielder James Sands and forward Kemar Roofe from the USA and Jamaica squads for their impending World Cup qualifiers, it means that the only permanent absentee from van Bronckhorst’s plans for the next three league matches in the Rangers is Alfredo Morelos.
But while there will be an element of relief for the Rangers manager that he hasn’t suffered a major interruption, it’s also true that perhaps no individual is more difficult to replace in his starting lineup than Morelos.
With six goals in nine games since van Bronckhorst replaced Steven Gerrard in November, the 25-year-old striker deserves to be called up to the Colombia squad.
As Morelos prepares for Qatar 2022 qualifiers against Peru in Barranquilla on Friday night and for Argentina in Cordoba the following Tuesday, van Bronckhorst must assess who is best equipped to fill the void he leaves behind.
Rangers welcome Livingston to Ibrox on Wednesday night before hitting the road to face Ross County at Dingwall on Saturday ahead of next week’s potentially crucial Old Firm clash at Celtic Park.
Van Bronckhorst has three international strikers to fall back on as Rangers try to maintain or extend their current four-point lead over Celtic in the title race. The Dutch coach is about to find out if any of them can alleviate Morelos’ unavailability.
If it comes to experience and pedigree, then Roofe would be the obvious choice to lead the Rangers’ line for the next three games.
The 29-year-old has an impressive strike rate of 28 goals in 57 appearances for the Scottish champions since joining them from Anderlecht in the summer of 2020.
But Roofe’s contributions have been interrupted by stints on the sidelines as he has suffered calf and thigh problems.
He has only started one game under van Bronckhorst and returned to action after his last injury absence as a second-half substitute in last Friday night’s Scottish Cup fourth round victory over Stirling Albion at Ibrox.
Jamaica head coach Paul Hall agreed to leave Roofe out of his squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica to allow him to try and get back to full fitness for the game with the Rangers.
Given the circumstances, Roofe’s playing time may be rationed over the next three games. But he may be the favorite to start at Celtic Park, giving him the chance to add to the two goals he scored in the Old Firm matchup last season.
Van Bronckhorst has already made it clear that he did not remember Itten from his loan spell at Greuther Furth, where he was lately restricted to a substitute role, simply so that he would sit on the Rangers bench as well.
The Swiss international marked his return to the starting line-up with the third goal in Rangers’ 4-0 win over Stirling Albion and perhaps the game’s lack of sharpness can be attributed to his failing to capitalize on a couple of premium chances in the routine win over League 2 opposition.
In total, Itten has started just 11 games for Rangers since their £2.7m move from St Gallen in August 2020. He has shown flashes of real quality, scoring seven times, but never making a convincing case for more playing time. regular.
Itten, probably Rangers’ most naturally equipped leader for the traditional number nine position, has to take this opportunity to prove himself against van Bronckhorst.
While his time at Bundesliga-struggling Greuther Furth was ultimately frustrating, his early form there was impressive enough to earn him a call-up to the Switzerland team and saw him score in a 4-0 win over Bulgaria in November that secured its place in this year’s World Cup. Cup Finals.
The Zambian international’s hopes of getting going as a Rangers player following his move from Belgian Oostende last summer were dashed by a groin injury that limited his participation at the start of this season.
Sakala showed glimpses of the pace and directness that marked him as an obvious threat to opposing defences, then in late October he seemed to seriously advertise himself in Scottish football with a hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Motherwell at Fir Park. .
The 24-year-old hasn’t played as much as he or Rangers might have hoped since then, although his six-goal comeback is decent enough given he’s only made nine starts so far.
Sakala’s willingness to engage opponents in one-on-one situations over wide areas makes him a good fit for the style of play that van Bronckhorst has tried to implement since taking over the team from Ibrox.
He was rewarded for a typically spirited display against Stirling Albion when he scored Rangers’ fourth goal on Friday night and will certainly not lack commitment or enthusiasm as he attempts to secure a regular place in the second half of the season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.