BRIAN LAUDRUP: Ryan Kent will be desperate to build on his winner at Aberdeen and become a key man under Steven Gerrard… and Rangers face a tough, but not impossible, task against Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League
- Ryan Kent scored the winner on the opening day of the season for Rangers
- Fans will be hoping he can kick on this year after arriving from Liverpool for £7m
- He has had to adjust his position, moving from the wing to more central areas
- Rangers face an uphill task against Bayer Leverkusen but should not be ruled out
So much has changed for Ryan Kent over the past year. Adapting to it all has taken time, and brought some tough lessons, but I’m convinced his evolution as a footballer will deliver big rewards for Rangers this season.
Saturday was a perfect start in that respect. A decisive goal and a strong, intelligent performance made Kent one of the key players in the 1-0 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
It was exactly what he would have wanted. He looked confident throughout the 90 minutes and made sure his influence was felt on the game. Steven Gerrard will hope that is a standard he builds upon as the challenges come thick and fast in the weeks ahead.
Ryan Kent impressed for Rangers at Aberdeen and showed signs he could be a star this season
I have to say I think Kent has great potential. I watched a number of his games last season and I know that some fans gave him a bit of stick at times because they expected more than they maybe saw after his £7million move from Liverpool last September.
The price tag brought expectation on its own, of course, but I think as much of it comes from the Rangers fans knowing exactly what Kent is capable of producing when he is at his best.
We have to remember that he is still relatively young at 23. I mean young not only in terms of age, but in that he hasn’t been involved at a high level of competition for a long time in his career.
There was Under-23 football at Liverpool and loan moves, some which worked better than others. That was how he first came to Rangers, so last season was really the first year that he was an established first-team player at a club who owned him.
For him to come in and deal with the pressure of being the creative player who is expected to score and set up goals was a huge thing to live up to. It was difficult at times but he should only be better for the experience.
There was a lot of talk about his stats in terms of goals and assists last season. And, yes, even for a young player you would say they should have been better. But I think that will happen this season because he is now getting used to a change on the pitch.
Kent raced through on goal and finished with composure to score the only goal of the game
He first came to Rangers on loan as a winger, but has been used much more as one of two players who operate more centrally behind Alfredo Morelos.
It’s not necessarily an easy alteration. Your skills are tested in a different way.
As a winger, you hug the line and know exactly what to do when you get the ball because you are almost always up against a full-back. But you are very dependent on the team in terms of actually getting possession.
Changing to a more central position brings a lot more bodies around you, opponents and team-mates. It puts another type of pressure on you in terms of technique. You have to be extremely good at taking the ball in tight areas.
The upside is that going through that process makes you better at decision-making, which is really the main key to experience. When do you take a player on? Where can you best influence the game? What is the best starting position to take up?
As someone previously used to being a winger, there will be times when you feel cramped in those tighter areas. But I believe it will make Kent into a more complete player – and more unpredictable to opponents who are determined to make life as difficult as possible for him.
He’s gifted, no doubt about that. Some of the criticism last season was that he was too far from goal and I know that feeling of frustration, when you want to go deeper to get involved in the game.
Manager Steven Gerrard would have been delighted with Kent’s performance at Pittodrie
With more experience comes patience. I think we will see a version of Kent this season who becomes better and better about seeing exactly where and when to use his weapons.
Gerrard will rely on him a lot, I’m sure, and the same goes for Ianis Hagi. But there is a long season ahead and the possibility of injuries is always there.
Do Rangers have the quality in reserve right now ready to come into that area of the team? I think that might be a concern.
Attacking players need to be fresh, motivated and on top of their game to be creative. That isn’t always easy if you only have two or three you can feel you really rely on in a crucial department.
That could be something Gerrard looks at in terms of his transfer plans, going alongside the search for another striker that was a priority even before the speculation about Morelos and Lille started.
It will be interesting to see how the squad develops. For now, though, I’m sure Gerrard will be very happy with Kent’s first contribution to a huge campaign.
Extremely difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.
The task Rangers face against Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday evening clearly cannot be underestimated. At 3-1 down from the first leg back in March, there is only a very slim chance of progression to the Europa League quarter-finals.
But there will be more than pride telling Steven Gerrard that the cause is not completely lost.
Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi have all shown they can score big goals in Europe. On a personal level, they need only turn to their memories for some confidence.
There is also the fact there will be more space for Rangers to exploit away from home. You have to accept you won’t be able to control the game as much, and stay deeper and more disciplined, but that can bring opportunities. Think back to the great goal Kent scored in Braga and the other chances the team had that night.
We cannot say Rangers are already out. Yes, Leverkusen are big favourites, it would be impossible to say otherwise. If they play at top form then there should only be one conclusion because they have wonderful, young attacking players in the likes of Leon Bailey and the main man Kai Havertz.
Kai Havertz slots home a penalty during the first leg between the two sides back in March
But they do have some weaknesses about them and are not the best side in the world at defending counter-attacks.
I watched them play the German Cup final against Bayern Munich. They started well but all of a sudden fell 1-0 behind. You could see them lose composure and rhythm from their game.
It would be very interesting if Rangers could go one up in the first half because there is an interesting psychological dimension here.
Leverkusen had quite a deflating end to their season, with that cup final defeat coming on July 4. Since then, they have only played behind closed doors in training while Gerrard’s team have played in quite competitive friendlies out in France and obviously started the league with a victory at Pittodrie on Saturday.
Again, there can be absolutely no questioning Leverkusen’s technical quality, but that lack of match rhythm might – and I say might – give Rangers a little more hope of staging an extraordinary comeback.
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