When it comes to Pedro Caixinha and Rangers, he has rarely had positive selection headaches to consider. Since arriving at the club six months ago he’s had to endure his fair share of crises and had plenty of firefighting to do, with the pressure on to deliver results and chase down Aberdeen and Celtic above them in the Scottish Premiership.
However, the international break has presented the perfect opportunity to assess his Rangers squad and move forward with positivity, and one of his summer signings has given him great depth at the perfect time.
Captain Lee Wallace is reportedly out of action for the entirety of October at least after suffering a groin injury. Almost ever-present in the Rangers side when he is fit, losing his influence is a blow, despite less than stellar performances over the last 18 months.
One silver lining to his absence though has been the emergence of loanee Declan John on the left hand side of defence. His impressive performances against Partick Thistle and Hamilton have thrilled the Rangers support and if he keeps it up, the Light Blues captain could find that he struggles to get himself back into Caixinha’s starting eleven.
What’s surprising about the left-back’s impact on the Rangers team is that it’s had little to do with his defensive prowess and more about the new attacking dimension he’s added.
In the match before the international break, he destroyed Hamilton with a quickfire double to turn a goal deficit into a 2-1 lead, the kind of contribution you’d expect from a lethal winger or a striker, not a defender.
His ambition to move into the space left by Josh Windass was a breath of fresh air and his expert execution when in the final third showed a player more than capable of excelling at Scottish Premiership level. It’s these kind of combinations and partnerships that Caixinha needs to focus on if Rangers are to turn things around this season.
Defensively there were some issues with his play, showing the same frustrating tendency as James Tavernier on the right flank to not get back into position in time when Hamilton countered. However, that’s something that can be worked on and the raw attacking contribution is something that should be encouraged given their creative problems so far this season.
With Lee Wallace out for the next month or so, Caixinha now has the opportunity to explore whether John’s role in the team is something that can work on a consistent basis. Tougher tests lie ahead against teams that will provide a more potent threat to the Rangers defence.
The St Johnstone match this Friday night is the perfect opportunity to see if John can replicate his performances so far against a side of superior quality that will fancy picking up a result against Caixinha’s men.
Away in Perth, defending will the left-back’s priority, but his attributes lend themselves well to countering, and his pace and link-up play with Windass could again flourish.
An upcoming national semi-final against Motherwell is again a big test and it’s after both these matches that we’ll have more of an idea of the Cardiff City loanee’s true potential in the Rangers team.
Moving past that, the return of Lee Wallace to full fitness is when things will start to get interesting. If John maintains his good form then Caixinha must show ruthlessness to deny the Light Blues stalwart an immediate return in order to accommodate the 22-year-old. At least, that’s one option. Another would be playing them both on the same flank.
It’s clear even at this early stage that John’s strengths lie in attack rather than in defence and playing him in front of Wallace on the left of midfield would allow those strengths to flourish, at the same time as bringing Wallace’s defensive stability and leadership to the side.
The worry with this partnership of course would be that with the absence of Windass moving centrally from the wide area, there is less space for John to exploit, but it’s still an intriguing combination moving forward into the rest of the season.
At the very least, Declan John has provided Caixinha with options at a time his side had started to look a bit one-dimensional. If he can recognise the left-back’s potential contribution and utilise it in the right way then Rangers could have a new weapon in their efforts to win silverware this season.