Glasgow Rangers manager Steven Gerrard may have just received the worst news imaginable, if recent reports are to be believed…
According to Premium Times Nigeria, Rangers defender Leon Balogun hobbled off the pitch with an apparent injury problem in Nigeria’s 4-4 draw with Sierra Leone in the Africa Cup of Nations on Friday. Despite Joe Aribo’s return to the starting line-up, the Super Eagles threw away a four-goal lead with Gernot Rohr looking on in disbelief as Sierra Leone staged a remarkable comeback.
Gerrard will have been concerned after Balogun reportedly suffered an injury just after the break. He was replaced by Semi Ajayi and whilst he was able to walk to the sidelines appeared to be in some discomfort after a late challenge.
With the Gers facing a tough run of fixtures after the international break, including home games against Aberdeen and Benfica, the Ibrox boss will not want to lose a player who is arguably one of his best defenders. The extent of the injury is currently unknown but it looks like it should give Gers fans some cause for concern. If Balogun is ruled out for the foreseeable future, Gerrard may have to recall Filip Helander in his place.
Helander has been a part of his first-choice defensive pairing alongside Connor Goldson this season, having made 10 appearances in the Scottish Premiership so far. However, the 27-year-old badly let Gerrard down in the draw with Benfica in the Europa League, as he was slammed for being “pretty poor” by Ally McCoist, and was subsequently replaced by Balogun in the starting line-up for the 8-0 win over Hamilton Academical at home.
Despite this setback, the Sweden international may have been handed a reprieve, as Gerrard recently admitted he will need to manage Balogun carefully over the courrse of the campaign. The 32-year-old has only recently returned after suffering a muscle strain against St. Johnstone in August, although he has turned out to be a true bargain buy. Helander is clearly highly-rated by the Ibrox boss, who heaped praise on his leadership qualities after a dominant display in the Europa League draw with Porto last season.
Gerrard said: “He has shown great leadership. He had a little bit of an ankle issue before the international break and never played for Sweden so I think he has had time to rest that up.
“I decided to go with (Niko) Katic at Hearts to deal with the real big physicality of (Uche) Ikpeazu and then use Fil’s leadership and experience away at Porto, which I knew was going to be more of a technical game, and one that needed experience.
“He did ever so well for us in Portugal and he has stepped up and been a leader for us again. So I’m delighted with what he has done this week.”
Competition for places is so, so important, especially when you consider the fact that Gerrard is juggling domestic and European competitions this season. So, the Swede must take the next opportunities when they come to impress at Ibrox. He just needs to forget about his nightmares in Portugal as he was at fault for two of the goals in the 3-3 draw.
The Gers are currently enjoying a 20-game unbeaten run, stretching all the way back to the 1-0 win away at Aberdeen at the start of the season. It’s hard to pick holes in Gerrard’s side, but if there’s one thing he needs, it’s centre-back options, as he is only an injury (or two) away from a serious defensive crisis. Goldson, Helander and Balogun have all established themselves as first-team regular starters, whilst fringe squad player George Edmundson will hardly have done himself any favours whatsoever after breaking coronavirus protocols.
He may need Helander to deliver when it matters the most, that’s for sure.
AND in other news, Gerrard could unearth the next Ryan Jack in Glasgow Rangers loanee Stephen Kelly…