Glasgow Rangers defender Nikola Katic could replace Filip Helander sooner rather than later as he is close to returning from his horror knee injury.
The 23-year-old underwent surgery in the summer as Steven Gerrard was forced to dip into the transfer market to sign Leon Balogun – who has turned out to be an absolute gem since his arrival at Ibrox.
It’s hard to imagine Gerrard making many changes to the back four, as Balogun, Borna Barisic, Connor Goldson and James Tavernier have excelled in recent months, but they could be boosted by Katic’s return as recent reports have revealed that he could be back after a busy festive period.
Speaking to the Daily Record, his agent Ives Cakarun said: “All is going well.
“We hope Nikola will be ready for January. It was a big operation, cruciate ligaments and both meniscus.”
So, Helander could be in danger of being the odd man out as it’s becoming increasingly apparent how much competition there will be in Gerrard’s defence in the coming weeks and months ahead.
The 27-year-old was expected to become a first-team regular starter as he said he wanted “to win trophies” with the Gers after signing from Bologna but it’s fair to say that this hasn’t been the case so far – just 8 games in the Premiership during his debut campaign at Ibrox is proof of that – although it’s worth remembering that he missed a large chunk of last season due to a foot injury.
It looks like it could be a different story now though, as Helander has already made 10 appearances in the top flight so far this season. However, the 13-cap Sweden international has arguably been overshadowed by the arrival of Balogun in the summer, who has been a consistent performer for Gerrard’s side in recent weeks.
Another reason why he could become the odd man out is that his performances in the Europa League this season have left a lot to be desired so far, as he was at fault for two goals in the 3-3 draw with Benfica in Lisbon earlier this month, as he was dribbled past three times and only won two out of eight ground duels, via SofaScore.
In two appearances in the European competition last term, Katic made two tackles and one clearance per game, whilst he was only dribbled past 1.5 times per game, as per SofaScore, whilst he also managed one shot per game, which shows that he can be a useful attacking threat as well.
Gerrard has heaped praise on the Croatian defender in the past, paying tribute to the matchwinner after he scored against Celtic to secure 2-1 win at Celtic Park last season, saying: “The kid is a winner and a warrior. We know what he gives. Anyone his age, after giving the penalty away, might have gone into their shell. It might have affected their performance.
“But if you knock Niko Katic down, he’s gonna get back up and come again. That’s the man, that’s the player.”
It’s no surprise former Aberdeen striker Noel Whelan has described the news as a “massive boost” as the £1.4m-rated centre-back could usurp Helander in the not too distant future if he returns from his ACL injury in January.
There’s no doubt that he will be nervously looking over his shoulder when Katic does indeed reunite with his teammates in the end, that’s for sure.
AND in other news, Bongani Zungu’s injury blow could give Glasgow Rangers star Ryan Jack big chance…