Rangers central-defender Filip Helander received deserved praise for his standout performance against Ross County, but should he start over Leon Balogun?
We’re all a bit suspect of recency bias, myself as much as anyone. That burger I had last night was definitely the best I’ve ever had, despite the fact I can barely remember the one I ate last week let alone any in the 35 years previously. FIFA 21 is certainly the best instalment of the game ever, despite being almost imperceptibly different from FIFA 20, or even 19. Indeed, football has the strongest propensity for recency bias – ask any Liverpool fan what their favourite team ever was and, assuming you get the rare one who understands normal English, he’ll likely answer 2019/2020.
After Rangers thumped Ross County 5-0 yesterday, a result not unexpected but certainly enjoyable, you could see the same about with Bears or otherwise. James Tavernier missed a penalty, so that’s him off spot duty, despite scoring 9 of them in a row there. Cedric Itten, who alternates between hero and zero almost on a weekly basis, didn’t score after being subbed on so that’s him down the pecking order, despite his rescuing us a point against Motherwell last week. And then there’s Filip Helander.
The centre-back has been undoubtedly second choice this season, with Leon Balogun being favoured to partner Connor Goldson. Can’t argue much with that, when the Gers have only conceded 7 goals this season – and only 4 of those actually happened with Balogun on the pitch. A ridiculous statistic, no matter how you look at it.
Still, Helander came in and had a fantastic game, start to finish. He looked confident in possession, had that sharpness in passing which he’s lacked this season and scored an absolute bullet of a header for good measure.
This was exactly the kind of performance you’d want to see, in every way. Filip won more aerial duals than any other player on the park, had a higher pass accuracy than any other defender by a measure and was equally involved at both ends of the park. Goldson got a goal too, but Helander got the headlines, this was a breakout performance from the Swede and surely enough to justify the questions about whether he should now feature more prominently?
Well, not quite. There’s that recency bias again. Going back to Helander’s last outing in Light Blue, St Mirren back in December, was far less impressive. A Rangers 2-0 win masked what was a pretty rough outing for the 27 year old, losing possession an obscene 21 times including giving up a number of goal scoring opportunities. But for Goldson covering, and St Mirren being a bit poor lets be honest, it could have been a disastrous day for Filip.
The comments then, necessitating Steven Gerrard to start Helander over Balogun as he’s “the best thing out of Sweden since ABBA” are probably, to be fair, a touch overblown. Don’t get me wrong, this was a top drawer performance from the lad and, we can only hope, a breakout one to boot. He’s got the talent and has shown it on several occasions since arriving at Ibrox in 2019, but, it’s been mixed with just as many iffy performances too.
He just needs to be more consistent, in all honesty. More of the good Helander, much much less of the bad. I’d personally like to see him get more minutes and build himself into a bit of form, though that’s likely I feel to be from off the bench. Balogun hasn’t really done much wrong to justify being benched long term for the Swede and, you’d feel, it’s most likely he sat Ross County out so he’d be fresher for Hibs on Wednesday.
All the same, having a strong Filip Helander on the bench is an incredible boon for Rangers, a sign of our strengthened depth. Put in performances even half as good as yesterday, when called on, and it’s hard to see how we can be stopped. If the Gers pull off the 55 it will be the best season ever in my mind and Helander can play a big part in that. That’s one recency bias I think all Bears can subscribe to.