STEVEN GERRARD revealed on Friday that Rangers are close to signing United States international Matt Polster on a free transfer after the 25-year-old impressed on a trial this month, following his release from MLS side Chicago Fire. “We haven’t got it over the line just yet,” revealed Gerrard. “But we’ve told his advisers that we’d like him to come.”

“He’s a player who I can play in numerous positions. He’s a good professional, he’s in good shape, and I think he’s got the potential to be a first-team player here at Rangers if the financials work,” added the Rangers boss.

Gerrard’s announcement that he hopes to get a deal for Polster concluded shortly confused some sections of the Rangers support. Why were Rangers signing yet another central midfielder? With Scott Arfield, Graham Dorrans, Steven Davis, Lassana Coulibaly, Ryan Jack, Jordan Rossiter, Ross McCrorie and Andy Halliday all already competing for a place in Gerrard’s three-man midfield, why were the club pressing ahead with the signing of yet another midfielder?

This is a perfectly understandable question, but Gerrard has already told us the answer. The Rangers boss highlighted Polster’s versatility during his press conference yesterday, and it is certainly true that the American has played in a few positions over the last three or four seasons in MLS. This is the real reason Rangers have signed the central midfielder: he isn’t actually a midfielder at all.

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While Polster started his professional career in the middle of the park, he hasn’t actually featured there regularly for Chicago Fire since the 2016 season. In fact, Polster hasn’t featured at all in midfield for club or country since June 2017.

The reality is that Polster is now a right-back by trade. The 25-year-old missed the start of the 2017 MLS season due to a knee injury but when he rejoined the first team, did so by filling in on the right side of defence. During this season, Polster played 25 times for Chicago Fire across all competitions and only featured in the midfield on two occasions. Even the player’s sole international cap came at right-back, not in central midfield.

It appears, then, that Polster has been signed not as further competition for Rangers’ growing list of central midfielders, but to provide cover for club captain James Tavernier on the right side of the Rangers defence. It’s an area of the squad that desperately requires more depth, too: Tavernier has only missed one game for Gerrard’s side this season, at home to Ayr United in the League Cup quarter final.

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It seems unreasonable to think that Tavernier will be able to start just about every game for Rangers between now and the end of the season and the time will surely come when the 27-year-old is either injured, suspended or simply needing a rest ahead of a fixture. Against Ayr, Jon Flanagan deputised in Tavernier’s absence but the Englishman has usually featured on the left side of the defence for Gerrard this season. An extra body is required, and it looks as if Polster will be able to provide that.

So how has Polster fared at right-back? A quick look at the American’s numbers suggest that the 25-year-old is strikingly similar in his style of play to Tavernier, which bodes well for Gerrard. Rather than having to ask Flanagan to play a role he simply isn’t suited to, Rangers now have a player capable of playing similarly to Tavernier whenever the Englishman cannot feature for the Ibrox club. A change in tactics will no longer be required and Gerrard can remain consistent, even if one of his most important players is absent.

As Tavernier is an attacking right-back, we’ll compare the two players’ creative stats first. Both have virtually identical assist rates from full-back and although Tavernier hits more passes, Polster does so with a greater degree of accuracy. Tavernier has the edge when it comes to crossing, hitting 1.74 more per 90 minutes on average and with a marginally higher success rate than Polster.

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Defensively, there is little to separate the two players but Tavernier generally has the edge. The Rangers captain attempts slightly more defensive duels and headers during any give match and completes more interceptions and clearances, although only by a small amount. Polster has a marginally higher success rate at tackling an opponent, whereas Tavernier wins more headers.

In truth, the differences between the two players are only marginal and it looks as though Polster would be a fine addition to Gerrard’s squad after all. The fact that the American can play in midfield is certainly a bonus but the primary reason Gerrard hopes to sign the 25-year-old is so that he can serve as understudy to Tavernier. It’s probably the last area of the squad where Rangers have looked a little short this season and, should the club get the deal for Polster over the line, Gerrard will have a squad of players that look capable of sustaining their early season form.  It might not have looked like it initially, but Polster might be the final piece of the puzzle for Gerrard and Rangers this season.