Rangers will go into Thursday’s second leg against Maribor with a 3-1 advantage. However, Steven Gerrard has a problem. Unfortunately, Jon Flanagan has picked up three yellow cards in the five qualifying games so far. Therefore, he is suspended for the trip to Slovenia.
Gerrard will be looking to get a better result than the 2-1 defeat Rangers suffered the last time they visited Maribor in 2011. If he is to do that, he has to pick a system and team capable of keeping it tight in defence.
I will take a look at a few of the potential alternatives that Steven Gerrard could use on the night:
Andy Halliday at left back in a four-man defence
This one seems the most likely option. Halliday got some minutes against St Mirren at the weekend, and he’s played full-back a few times throughout his career. This swap with Flanagan would create minimal disruption to the side. It will give Halliday a chance to show that he can still be a useful member of the squad. If Halliday is chosen, he will have to go above and beyond his normal levels and make sure he does himself and the manager proud on the night. He is likely to be buoyed by Steven Gerrard’s recent comments regarding his hard work and professionalism during pre-season.
A back five containing Ross McCrorie
With Ross McCrorie likely to be in the squad, tactical flexibility is always on the cards. Despite playing in midfield against St Mirren before being sent off, his inclusion gives Gerrard the option to go with three centre-backs if he wishes to do so.
There has been a lot of talk about Gerrard favouring the three-at-the-back system before he came to Ibrox. With Rangers having a two-goal lead and looking to hold on to that, it may not be totally out of the question that he uses McCrorie as the spare man, which would allow Nikola Katic and Connor Goldson to pick up Luka Zahovic and Marcos Tavares.
Within the back five, he could also have the option to use Jamie Murphy or Andy Halliday as the left wing-back. Halliday would be the more defensive-minded option, while Murphy could prove to be an interesting choice given his work rate and the attacking threat he could provide from the left.
A miraculous return for one of the Lees
Wallace or Hodson, this would be the most unlikely of the three choices. But nevertheless, both of them are on the payroll and still provide an option. Both missed out on the squad registration for the last round. Frankly, I doubt many fans would like to see either of them play in this match. I reckon it would be too much of a risk to play either of them. Given that Wallace has been out for months, it wouldn’t be good management to throw him back in. The inclusion of Hodson will give most fans a feeling of dread given his record last season when picked.