After months of speculation, rumours and hearsay, Rangers announced earlier this week that they had finally got their man. It was revealed that 25-year-old KV Oostende striker Fashion Sakala has signed a pre-contract deal with the Ibrox club that will see the Zambia internationalist join up with his new team-mates at the conclusion of the current campaign – but what is less clear, at present, is exactly what kind of player Steven Gerrard and his coaching staff will be getting.

A cursory look at Sakala’s goal involvements this term in Belgium provides encouragement for those of a blue persuasion in Glasgow. The forward has provided 13 goals and three assists in 28 league games this season – a fine return, given Oostende’s status as Europa League hopefuls. But when we examine the type of goals Sakala has been putting away, there are questions raised over where exactly the summer signing will slot into Gerrard’s starting XI.

Sakala possesses enough pace and trickery to slot into either of the two inside 10 positions available at Ibrox but with Alfredo Morelos expected to move on this summer and Jermain Defoe turning 39 in October – not to mention the Englishman’s deal is set to expire at the end of the month – it seems fair to assume that Sakala will be battling it out with Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten for a place in the team at the tip of the attack.


READ MORE: Lowland League chief backs Celtic and Rangers' colt team 'pilot scheme' to take off

This is where Sakala has been playing this season and it’s where he’s thrived, but the truth of the matter is that he’s been presented with chances that he’s unlikely to receive in Scotland. Most domestic games for Rangers are an exercise in breaking down a deep-lying defence, patiently prodding and poking for gaps and relying on clever penalty-box play to unpick their opponents.

This hasn’t been the case for Sakala this season. The majority of his 13 goals have arrived when the opponent’s backline has been stretched as Oostende strike on the break. Sakala has a knack for playing on the shoulder of the last man and darting beyond them but such eventualities are few and far between for Rangers in a typical league match. It’s a handy skill-set to possess for European games but on the domestic circuit, Rangers’ opponents are rarely so accomodating at the back.

There will be a degree of evolution for Sakala, then, if the striker is to be a success in Govan. But the good news for supporters is that their club’s latest recruit has previously demonstrated clever movement in the box. One of Gerrard’s favourite tactical ploys is to instruct his wide players to get deep in the box before cutting the ball back to the centre, where a well-timed dart in front of an opponent can break the deadlock in a cagey encounter.

Sakala has a few such strikes to his name so far this term but the underlying stats would suggest he could perhaps even have had a few more. Expected Goals (xG) measure the quality and quantity of chances presented to a player and Sakala’s under-the-hood stats suggest that there is more to come from the forward.


READ MORE: Rangers SWPL1 clash not do-or-die as there's plenty more to come, says Glasgow City's Scott Booth

Sakala has been scoring 0.49 goals per 90 minutes of league football this season, which places him just inside the top 15 players in the Jupiler League when we remove those with less than 900 minutes played. But his xG this season is currently sitting at 0.57 – the eighth highest rate of any player in the division.

This tells us that Sakala has been getting into good positions but has perhaps been a little guilty of squandering good chances once they arise. Based on the quality of opportunities he’s had this season, he should have a couple more goals to his name. But logic tells us that given time, the chances will be converted. The tricky part is being in the right position at the right time, and the data suggests that Sakala is doing just that.

Being a forward at Rangers is about more than just scoring goals, though. With the fluid nature of the front three, it is imperative that any new addition can link up well with their team-mates. Sakala lacks the physicality of a player like Morelos or Itten and so doesn’t have the same hold-up ability, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t contribute in other ways.

Expected Assists (xA) works in much the same way as xG: the odds of a chance being converted are calculated and then tallied, giving us an understanding of how creative a player is without being hampered by whether or not the ball actually went in – something that is outwith their control. When we look at players’ combined xG+xA per 90 minutes in the Belgian top flight this season, Sakala is ranked ninth in the country (excluding players with less than 900 minutes played.

This figure gives a good representation of a player’s overall attacking output and if Sakala can maintain this rate in Scotland then he will prove to be a very savvy addition for Rangers. Sakala has an xG+xA per 90 of 0.64 – meaning he should score or provide two goals every three games – and if he can repeat this level of performance in the Premiership, he could effectively replace the output currently provided by Morelos.


READ MORE: Shelley Kerr: Why Steven Gerrard and Connor Goldson are my manager and player of the year - for now

The Colombian has the highest xG+xA of any Rangers player with 0.68, marginally higher than Sakala’s current rate. That’s significantly higher than the likes of Roofe (0.59), James Tavernier (0.58), Itten (0.46) and Ianis Hagi (0.45) – Rangers’ top performers in this regard.

The big question hanging over Sakala is his ability to adapt. If the striker can get used to playing in a front three rather than the pairing he’s used to at Oostende, he has a chance. If he can change his game to meet the demands of Gerrard’s system, he will be a useful addition. And if he can maintain his level of performance and carry it over to Scotland, then he might even be able to pick up Morelos’ attacking mantle at Ibrox.