James Tavernier has probably been the biggest enigma in the Rangers side over the last few seasons in terms of splitting the opinions of many supporters. Whilst his attacking threat and excellent output going forward has never really been questioned, his defensive qualities, lack of positional awareness and a failure to competently defend his back post definitely have been.
I’ll start this off by stating I love James Tavernier but that’s not to say in the past he hasn’t frustrated the life out of me. His development and maturity has shone through this season but while he has made mistakes in previous seasons, I’ve always thought he was used as somewhat of a scapegoat by certain Rangers fans for us going through a difficult period.
In my opinion you can’t ask an attacking wing back to hit the byline and create chances when you give him no defensive midfield protection (Andy Halliday doesn’t count). Moreover, playing under Mark Warburton and asking him to be competent with Rob Kiernan playing as the centre back next to him and when any attack breaks down he simply can’t be in two places at once when a quick counter ensues.
We are now seeing the best of James Tavernier this season because of quite a few reasons: his understanding with Daniel Candeias being the main one which provides Rangers with comfortably the best right side in the league.
Candeias is the top creator in the league in terms of assists but unlike most wide men he is a bloody hard worker and his ability to press opponents and track back helps Tavernier out so much as he is no longer isolated defensively.
The signing of Ryan Jack and the emergence of young Ross McCrorie occupying the defensive midfield role is also important for Tavernier as they know when to cover for the vacant right full back slot when he attacks. That solidity is something Rangers have been crying out for in recent years and it simply means we don’t get caught out as much and the defensive midfielders can break up the play quicker also.
In the recent Old Firm game at Parkhead I felt Tavernier was a stand out, defending very well, blocking a Scott Sinclair shot on the line and almost scoring with a well taken volley. he also put in some top deliveries including a superb mazy run where he cuts in between two Celtic players and breezes to the byline before setting up Morelos with a point blank header which should hit the back of the net.
He also volleys an early ball onto Morelos' head which he could have done better with also but for me it just shows how important Tavernier is to our side going forward. Signed for £250,000 I was thrilled with the capture at the time but his development has really impressed me: he has certainly found a level of maturity and some leadership qualities this season to drive on the side.
If we take a look at Danny Wilson's pending MLS move, I of course wish him all the best but respectfully feel we won’t miss his inconsistency that much but if we lost Tavernier I just don’t see how we replace him and that’s probably the biggest credit I can give him.
He has 22 goals and 37 assists in two and a half seasons and whilst this is skewed by the easier level of opposition in the Championship, those numbers are very hard to find. Last season he scored once and assisted six times in 36 Premiership appearances but he has went up to a different level this season with four goals and six assists in 23 appearances and you’d expect him to get in to double digits for assists from full back.
He is the best right back in the league by a distance, despite a few commentators suggesting that is ludicrous because Lustig is a Swedish International. That take is ridiculous as he is nowhere near Tav, if we take that argument then Lee Hodson is also an International so he should be better? Stop laughing at the back!
Let's say he’s the best right back in the league but how does he compare against boy wonder Kieran Tierney in terms of the best full-back? We’ll look at the stats for this season; now I’ll be honest and I think Tierney is a big talent but like Tav has his own defensive issues, when teams press him heavily he can make silly mistakes as we seen by Daniel Candeias' relentless pressing in the recent Old Firm derby.
In 22 Premiership appearances Tierney has two goals and five assists, a bit behind Tav four goals and six assists. There are intangibles that statistics just don’t give us such as positional awareness and such but defensively and offensively in an individual sense I don’t see a great deal of difference. However, due to Tavernier's occasional concentration lapses I’d say he has that to work on and I'd argue Tierney is the more composed when he hits the byline but Tavernier whips a ball in better than anyone in the league as seen versus Aberdeen for Morelos opening goal.
The above image is something you may have seen if you follow @TheSPFLRadar and I’d recommend you do if you don’t already. If you haven’t then it shows player statistics for their position and role, with the closer to the middle being the weakest and closer to the outside part of the radar being the strongest statistics for that position in the league this season.
For example, xA is Expected Assists so, as expected, he scores very highly for his attacking output here but I’d also like to look at cross blocking % and dribbled past per 90 minutes.
These are stats that we can use to look at the defensive side of the game and an area where Tavernier has been highly criticised and sometimes rightly in the past. The good news is that his cross blocking % is one of the highest in the league which means he is stopping dangerous attacks before they reach our area and something Declan John and Lee Wallace are both poor at.
That point can be related to Tavernier lack of positional awareness at defending his back post, he does have that issue and I can’t defend that but he also has to deal with it far too often and he was excellent with vital blocks late in the Aberdeen game.
In terms of dribbles past per 90 minutes, the stats show he is one of the best in the league in another defensive statistic. I’ve noticed this just by watching him but he is now more pro-active and aware of situations and when he can step in, has built up his strength to deal with wide men and is a very good defender one on one which he has massively improved on.
The image above is also provided by @TheSPFLRadar: this time for Kieran Tierney. In terms of his attacking output he is rather impressive showing his creative attributes but frankly his cross blocking % is horrendous but that could be due to Celtic being more dominant and choosing not to get as tight to the opposing winger. Similar stats for the majority of this radar simply show that there isn’t much difference between the two players. They're the two best full backs in the league and by a massive distance at that. Yet, one is valued at over £20million whilst Tavernier has often been derided.
Now we come to his contract situation, Tavernier has a deal until the summer of 2019 so he's now into the final 18 months of this contract. Given when he signed from Wigan for £250k he wasn’t a big name I can’t imagine he is on overly high wages though there have been rumours that he wants to move back to England with Sunderland the main club showing an interest.
His contributions on the pitch recently have been outstanding and his Twitter activity does not suggest to me a player that wishes to move on. However you have to pay players their worth and make them feel valued or we will lose him. On a rough estimate I’d say he’s on around £6k per week and he’ll have seen Carlos Pena and Bruno Alves pick up over £20k per week and show nowhere near the contribution that he brings.
In simple terms, we need to reward our star me and hope that if we can keep them happy and they will sign on. Sure we may lose some talents like Morelos down the line but I feel Tavernier wants to stay to win 55 and we urgently need to reward him with a massively improved contract on a long term deal which provides security for the club, rewards a star individual and is another marker of intent that we mean business to effectively challenge Celtic at the top of Scottish football. The soon to depart Danny Wilson may not have deserved a large pay-rise but Tav's performances and value to the team have to be fairly considered. Reward the man!
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