When a rain-soaked Michael Beale addressed the media following his side’s 2-1 Scottish Cup Semi-Final defeat against Celtic last season, a result that ended any hopes of silverware, everything came back to the forward line.

“As a team, if you defend, against a very good opponent and keep your goalkeeper quite clean in the whole game and defensively or tactically you think you’ve done reasonably well, likewise if you have big moments at the other end someone has got to step forward, be decisive and take them,” he said.

“Our Rangers team have performed well today but where it counts in both boxes we’ve fallen short. In the summer, there will be fresh faces, renewed energy and renewed ideas with some of the boys that we’ve got now of course.”

The summer business to this point reflects what Beale so often repeated last season - Rangers need players in the front three capable of changing matches, seizing outcomes and capitalising on big moments, who “align” with the style of play.

No two games epitomised that fact better than either Old Firm defeat in April. Games that were lost due to mistakes made in the defence but defined by the quality gulf up top.

News on Thursday night that Antonio Colak looks set to join Parma in a £2.5m deal and Fashion Sakala could also leave the club amid interest from Saudi Arabia reflects this fact. They’re both players who have redeeming qualities that could be useful over the course of a season but can they lead Beale's Rangers to silverware? Or, is recouping decent fees to reinvest at the right time a better approach?

To understand all this transfer activity, we need to first understand what Beale wants from his strikers, a topic previously covered in greater detail by the Rangers Review. From his first press conferences, Beale made it clear that “he wants to play with two strikers”, instead of opting for two free No.10s playing off of a central focal point.

Why? In short, it’s to i) Increase the profile of goalscorers on the pitch given the type of games Rangers play, breaking teams down, and the demand to win each fixture ii) Play outside of the congested centre and attack the sides of narrow defences, therefore freeing up the middle or attacking freer spaces iii) Carry an unpredictable, hybrid threat that’s difficult to defend especially for the middle centre-back.

Speaking about the type of forward he was looking to recruit towards the end of last season, Beale said: “I like the forwards not to be one position but interchange and move around and have a lot of freedom.”

Indeed, speaking at his club unveiling Sam Lammers said: “[Beale] loves attackers who can switch positions and don’t stay in the same place all the time. If you play attacking football and have lots of possession then the position doesn’t really matter.”

To create chances against the low block, Beale wants unpredictability. To foster control in matches, he wants forwards to be engaged in the play and not only finishing off moves, creating numerical overloads. To get the best out of attackers he grants positional freedom.

Here’s an example of what this looks like in practice, from a 5-2 win over St Mirren last season.

Notice two wide forwards (Sakala and Alfredo Morelos) playing down the side of a three-man defence, with a free No.10 (Todd Cantwell) able to play behind the defensive midfielder (Gogic) and ahead of the middle centre-back (Shaughnessy), who doesn’t want to step up aggressively.

Rangers’ front three is highlighted alongside the three St Mirren centre-backs. Play has been manipulated to create a four-vs-three against the St Mirren midfield and attract forward defensive midfielder Gogic, leaving Cantwell plenty of room.

Shaughnessy, the middle centre-back, doesn’t want to step up onto Cantwell because it will leave a huge gap in the defence, but also because he, like the majority of other box defenders who play in the middle and not down the sides of a three-man defence in a low block, is probably less mobile than his two other partners. What’s more, Cantwell’s in an awkward position, just ahead of the defence and behind the midfield - so who picks him up?

As Tillman exchanges a one-two with Morelos, Charles Dunne follows the forward, leaving a huge gap in the defence which is now destabilised. Note in the second frame, Shaugnessy and Fraser’s bodies aren’t set to defend a ball in behind, unlike Sakala and Cantwell who remain primed to attack. This will come in handy in a second.

As a ball from Tillman finds Sakala’s vertical run across the defence, again think of the “freedom” Beale wants from his strikers here, look at Shaughnessy. Cantwell is technically ‘his man’ but he’s already far out of reach in this image. Which will allow the midfielder to score, leaving the centre-back in no man’s land.

Note how Rangers attacked wide areas first to create space in the centre, saw their wide strikers engage in play to move the defence, took advantage of the middle centre-back staying put and carried an unpredictable threat throughout.

Beale's attacking three is all about free movement, flexibility and players who can fulfil more than one function. 

From this example we can ascertain that Sakala's a better stylistic fit for Beale's approach than Colak, but what about the Croatian's goalthreat?

Colak played well in this split striker system alongside Sakala away at Hibs and against Kilmarnock at Ibrox. He scored 14 league goals from 10.65 xG over the course of last season, averaging the side’s second-highest xG/90 (0.64) and their highest goals/90 (0.84). Surely then, given the guarantee of goals, he’s worth keeping around?

Look at his StatsBomb radar as evidence against that decision. Remember, percentile ratings are compared to other forwards in the league, the higher/closer to the boundary the better.

Colak’s key attacking metrics, xG, touches in the opposition box and shots, show up well. The issue is, the Croatian doesn’t have many other strings to his bow on the ball. That’s not to say he won’t score plenty of goals elsewhere but the role he was signed to play by Giovanni van Bronckhorst is drastically different to what Beale's building this summer. Does he have the necessary attributes to thrive in a ball-dominant free role? At 29, and given he won't be first choice, does a move make better sense?

READ MORE: Explaining how Michael Beale has changed Rangers' tactics up top

What about Sakala, who started 19 of the 23 league games Beale managed in the league last season, recording impressive numbers overall. Although he’s not necessarily at his best in a “free role” Sakala’s ability to create and convert, scoring 11 goals and assisting 6 times during that spell under Beale in the league, made him an appealing pick.

Looking at raw stats, there’s a strong case to retain the Zambian's services.

Not only do Sakala’s finishing numbers stack up well, he was also a potent creator (xG assisted) and ball carrier for his team. This is when the eye test is important, however. Will Sakala mature into the consistent level of player who can be depended upon to decide big games, with those two misses at Hampden coming to mind last year?

There’s an argument that although Sakala is a better fit stylistically when compared to Colak, the deficiencies in his game would make a replacement sensible. If, for example, Rangers can bring in Danllo and sell Sakala for a similar price, with Abdallah Sima offering you a transitional threat up top, a transfer could again make sense. A combination of Sima, Dessers, Lammers, Roofe and Danilo would provide real cover, variation and killer instinct.

Sima’s profile has some similarities to Sakala's. The loan signing is more reliant on clever movement from the right than transitional runs from the left, but can offer a pacey threat up top. 11 of Sakala’s 17 goal contributions under Beale in the league came away from home. He is suited to the manager’s approach on the road, keeping attackers high against teams who have to commit more men forward than if the game was at Ibrox.

Beale was part of the coaching team who brought Sakala to the club and clearly rates his ability. The question is, could Rangers upgrade? Is there an opportunity for a player in a similarly suitable tactical environment to match Sakala’s numbers with more dependability?

This leads us to the attackers already at the club, or strongly linked with a move. Especially, Cyriel Dessers and Danilo. In the Eredivisie, of course a stronger league than the Scottish Premiership, both recorded impressive goals-per-game averages in recent seasons. In the 2021/22 season, Dessers managed 0.59 goals/90 and Danilo 0.55 goals/90 during the last campaign. 

Importantly, both players like to occupy the box, get plenty of shots off and will hope to score more goals in a lower standard of division over the course of a season. Both have played for Arne Slots' high-pressing Feyenoord side that excelled in Europe and then won the Eredivisie. A quick glance at their respective StatsBomb radars shows what they could offer Beale’s Rangers.

Danilo’s pressing numbers especially stand out alongside strong goalscoring metrics. He’s spent time playing off the striker and while not as strong a ball-carrier as Dessers, would offer link-up play, predatory instincts and real energy off the ball.

Dessers also ranks well in key attacking metrics, bringing a slightly higher ball-carrying outlet alongside similarly strong pressure regain numbers to Danilo. He also developed a healthy knack for scoring big goals at big times in Rotterdam.

Speaking to the media recently, the 28-year-old said: “I can offer more than goals. I think I’ve shown that in the last few years. I can be important off the ball, in pressing the other team and receiving balls high up the pitch and relaunching the attack. When we have the ball I can do multiple things, play with the back to goal, short combinations, I can go deep but I think I’m best when facing the goal."

The manager needs forwards who “align” with his play style and decide matches. While Colak would guarantee goals, stylistically he arguably doesn't possess the variety of tools to be a dependable option in this season. While Sakala impressed at points last season, replacing his place in the squad with Danilo would represent an upgrade. Especially given the arrival of Sima on loan from Brighton. 

Beale's made big decisions this window to undertake the biggest rebuild seen in numerous years. Will more follow soon to complete his forward line?