By Alastair Aird.
On his day, Alfredo Morelos is unplayable. Powerful, rumbustious, a nuisance for opposition defenders, he is all of the above. And he has shown he can score goals in Scotland and beyond. He’s broken his duck against Celtic, scored at difficult venues like Pittodrie, and you don’t become the club’s top goalscorer in European competition if you don’t know where the goals are. But he needs to find that form again, consistently.
While we have players like Ryan Kent, Joe Aribo and Ianis Hagi who can be relied upon to chip in with the occasional goal, their remit has more emphasis on the creation of rather than execution of goalscoring chances. With that in mind, the onus on getting goals lies upon the shoulders primarily of Kemar Roofe, Fashion Sakala and Morelos. And it’s the latter who has so often been the go-to-guy when it comes to goalscoring for Rangers.
His match-winning header against Hibernian was his 99th goal for the club and his appearance last Saturday against Hearts was his 197th. Since 1872, only 31 players have recorded 100 or more goals for Rangers, and should Morelos notch another goal for us and join the centurions, he would be in the esteemed company of bona fide legends like Bob McPhail, Jimmy Smith, Davie Wilson, Derek Johnstone, Mark Hateley, and, of course, Ally McCoist.
There is no doubt that Morelos offers a different dimension than Roofe or Sakala due to his physicality. But strikers are judged on goals scored not how much they worry and unsettle central defenders, and the enigmatic Colombian has been exasperating, unreliable and often appeared uninterested in the opening fixtures of season 2021/22. Many are also questioning his level of fitness. And El Buffalo’s finishing on Saturday against Hearts left a lot to be desired.
Including his winning goal against Hibernian, he has netted just five times in 15 appearances this season. According to the club website, Morelos has played 1,069 minutes in those 15 appearances, so his current return works out at a goal every 213.8 minutes. His shooting accuracy is sitting at a meagre 24% too. That is not the statistical data you expect from your team’s number one goalscorer. But how does it compare to previous seasons?
Morelos made his fifteenth appearance of season 2020/21 when Rangers beat Kilmarnock 1-0 at Rugby Park on 1 November 2020. In those 15 appearances, he netted six times. Minutes played totalled 1,071, which works out at a goal every 178.5 minutes. The previous season, 2019/20, Morelos had netted 12 goals by the time he made his fifteenth appearance, a 4-0 win over St Johnstone. 929 minutes were played in those games, which gives Morelos a record of a goal every 74.4 minutes. That’s impressive, and data for 2018/19 (15 appearances, 7 goals, 1,181 minutes played, a goal every 168.7 minutes) and his debut season at Rangers, 2017/18, (15 appearances, 8 goals, 1,083 minutes played, a goal every 135.4 minutes) is decent too.
Thus, from the data above it appears the less minutes Morelos plays, the more often he scores, season 2019/20 being a case in point. This suggests a fresher Morelos looks to be a sharper Morelos.
Irrespective, Morelos needs to improve his return this season. Whether Steven Gerrard elects to persist with him in the starting XI or instead gives the sometimes-sulky Colombian a spell on the sidelines remains to be seen.
Jermain Defoe may have a telling contribution to make. There are some who are pushing for him to play – he has rarely featured in matchday squads this season, his sum total of action being eight minutes – but realistically, we aren’t going to get a run of games out of a player who, aged 39, isn’t just on the back nine of his playing career, he’s on the 18th fairway. But adding him to the coaching staff might well be a masterstroke by Steven. The player-coach has often been regarded as a mentor to Morelos, and given Defoe’s gift for goalscoring, he may well be the very man to help rediscover Morelos’s scoring touch. But for this to happen, Morelos needs to listen and learn, and not go off in a huff. Feedback is constructive, and if the choice is to leave him out, the man who is on the verge of becoming a Rangers centurion must be encouraged to view this as a positive decision.
If Morelos is left out of the XI then Kemar Roofe looks the most likely to fill the void. The Jamaican has looked lively and dynamic when he has come off the bench against both Hibernian and Hearts and has six goals in 12 appearances this year. His shooting accuracy is much better than that of Morelos – it’s at 52% currently – but Roofe has had his moments too, and he can’t be completely absolved of all blame when it comes to our profligacy against Hearts. He too should have done better when presented with a very good opportunity late in the game.
As for Fashion Sakala, the jury is still out on the 24-year-old from Zambia. He lit up the pre-season friendly against Real Madrid and opened the scoring in the 1-1 draw against Motherwell. His biggest asset seems to be his pace, but his finishing has been wayward. Despite a shooting accuracy of 62%, Sakala was guilty of passing up good chances to kill the game off against Motherwell, and that was a contributory factor that led to the dropping of crucial points in another game we were dominating.
This could be the most important January transfer window since Steven Gerrard took the job. Celtic will no doubt look to bolster their playing pool as part of Postecoglu’s ‘rebuild’ – so should we be scouting for more firepower to help Morelos, Roofe and Sakala?
That’s a debate for another day. For the moment, do we stick or twist with Morelos? Steven has praised him in the past but did admit on Saturday that he isn’t at his best. The manager did take heart from the fact that Morelos was still getting into good goalscoring positions, but it will be interesting to see who he earmarks for the striking role against Brondby on Thursday.
Successful Rangers teams of the past have had that talismanic goalscorer. The question is will Alfredo Morelos return to form and assume that role as Rangers’ quest for 56 continues?