When assessing John Souttar’s performances towards the end of last season, the natural inclination to feel optimistic is somewhat neutralised by caution. 

The imposing defender’s ability is unquestionable and he possesses the majority of the characteristics required to be an excellent centre-back in the modern area, with his blend of physical qualities and composure in possession. 

But Souttar’s injury history often hovers like a dark cloud even when the light beams brightly at the end of the tunnel. After all, he seemed destined for the very top when was handed his professional debut as a 16-year-old at Dundee United. 

Injuries, however, have plagued Souttar’s career with three serious Achilles issues at Hearts putting his career in jeopardy. The 26-year-old displayed impressive mental fortitude to allay those fears and his accomplished displays for Hearts during the 2021/22 season earned a move to Ibrox. 

It was a dream transfer for Souttar but injury struck again following his debut against Livingston, ensuring he was sidelined until March. 

That setback, caused by a stress fracture to his ankle, could’ve been debilitating for a player who had experienced so much adversity but Rangers were extremely cautious with his rehabilitation.

It’s understood that the club prioritised solving Souttar’s recurring injury issues, rather than rushing him back into action, which hasn’t always been the case previously. 

Speaking in April, the defender said: “I feel really good. I’ve been training for one or two months and at Hearts, I was straight back into the team after being injured but it’s different here. 

“There were people in front of me doing well and that gave me the opportunity to build up properly. Take a month or two to get back and I’m feeling the benefits physically.”

Rangers will hope that Souttar can enjoy an injury-free season, a sentiment that Michael Beale has echoed.

It’s difficult to underestimate the importance of pre-season in building up fitness for any footballer, but that’s twofold for Souttar. 

After his starring role in the 3-0 win over Celtic in May, the Scotland international admitted just how difficult it can be without a pre-season and reiterated the importance of this preparation period in a recent interview from Rangers' camp in Germany. 

"It's the first time in a few years that I'll have a proper pre-season when I'm feeling fit and 100%,” he said.

“It gives you a base for the rest of the season, you are not catching up with the lads or feeling like you are behind, you are right on it so this next week or two will give me a great base to hopefully have an injury-free season, so I am looking forward to it.” 

The 2023/24 campaign will be huge for Souttar - there's no other word for it. After some cameo substitute appearances towards the end of last season, he started in the 3-2 defeat to Celtic at Parkhead. Despite a glaring individual error, Souttar performed admirably and was labelled ‘outstanding’ by Beale. 

Subsequently, he started six of the remaining seven games and produced numerous impressive displays, despite both Connor Goldson and Ben Davies suffering injuries. 

Goldson’s absence is a significant issue for Rangers, as he is expected to miss the crucial Champions League qualifiers. The onus, therefore, is firmly placed on Souttar to fill his shoes. 

As it stands, Souttar will partner Davies at the heart of Rangers' defence as they attempt to qualify for the lucrative group stages of the world's most prestigious club tournament. 

There's no question that the club must strengthen at centre-back, with Leon King the only realistic backup option at present. 

Dujon Sterling - currently sidelined with injury - has been tipped to play there but while he could deputise as a wide centre-back in a back three, the former Chelsea man won’t be deployed there in a back four. 

Jonathan Panzo has been strongly linked with a move to Ibrox but a transfer fee has yet to be agreed with Nottingham Forest. 

Panzo is, like Davies, a left-sided centre-back. His arrival would allow Souttar to play on his preferred right side until Goldson recovers from injury. 

He possesses the necessary attributes to become an integral part of Beale’s plans in the short and long term. Given his aerial dominance, front-footed approach and ability to build play. 

Davies’ aerial ability is often criticised by supporters and Souttar’s superiority in this department is displayed in the below Statsbomb radar comparison. It should be noted, Souttar's sample size is pretty small.


What is this radar showing me?

  • Souttar's aerial win percentage and aerial wins supersede Davies, who clearly isn't as strong in this area. 
  • The pair match up similarly on xGBuildup - their involvement in the creation of chances. 
  • Souttar is more likely to go long under pressure (Pressured Long Balls).
  • The Scotland international is less likely to be dribbled past (Tack/Dribbled Past%) but a small sample size in comparison to Davies ought to be noted. 

While Rangers will sign another centre-back this summer, Souttar should be confident that he can nail down a starting berth, especially given his manager is such an admirer.

There’s never been any question about Souttar’s talent. In the absence of Goldson, it's now time to show those qualities consistently at Ibrox.