Seven days ago, Rangers capitulated in a frenzied atmosphere at Celtic Park. The champions were hurried and harried from the outset, and they meekly responded to the challenge posed by their unrelenting rivals.
The absence of their talisman, Alfredo Morelos, was a significant blow. The Colombian’s presence would not have prevented the visitors from frittering away a two-point advantage, but his influence cannot be understated.
As Rangers toiled in the East End of Glasgow, Morelos was returning from international duty. The 25-year-old spent ten days in South America, missing three matches for his club, yet he did not feature once for the goal-shy Los Cafeteros.
His response to a fruitless jaunt home was emphatic – and he delivered a statement performance on Sunday in a 5-0 thumping of Hearts. Fine finishing earned him a double, but his industry and combination play were equally impressive.
Morelos has been revitalised under Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. He is the primary success story of the Dutchman’s reign so far, scoring eight goals in just ten appearances. The management team’s ability to communicate with him in Spanish is perhaps partly responsible for his upturn in fortunes.
The Colombian is often engaged in dialogue with Roy Makaay pre-match, and words of wisdom from a striker of his pedigree appear to resonate. He is a complex character benefiting from constant engagement, and his appreciation for the new coaching staff is evident on a matchday.
Morelos is flourishing in a more traditional centre-forward position again. Last season, the Colombian adapted his game to play a more withdrawn role. It was a subtle tactical tweak that worked for the team, but it was to the detriment of his goal-tally.
At the start of this season, Morelos was disengaged, overweight and lacklustre on the pitch. A shortened break following the Copa America did not aid his preparations for another long campaign ahead - and his relationship with Steven Gerrard did not appear to be as robust as it once was.
His lack of conditioning did not reflect well on his professionalism, and it was not the first time his commitment had been questionable. Maintaining optimum fitness is a prerequisite for any footballer, and doubts surrounding his dedication are likely why a move to a bigger league has not yet materialised.
To his credit, Morelos has banished fears regarding his eagerness to lead the line for the Light Blues. He has not quite reached the form he displayed in the first half of the 2019/20 season - netting 28 goals by Boxing Day – but he is trimmer, sharper and back unsettling defenders like few can.
Morelos’ shortcomings have been well-documented. He is considered a divisive character due to on-field misdemeanours, yet he is unfazed by the criticism. He is a popular figure in the dressing-room and adored in the stands, especially by young supporters, and his contentment is evident in performances.
The current Rangers squad is filled with talent. They have an abundance of quality, but Morelos is the only irreplaceable performer. The 25-year-old has a bustling style that is highly effective; at home and abroad, and he is a unique centre forward in the modern game.
The Colombian has not been given enough credit for the impact he has made since arriving for a paltry fee from Finland four and a half years ago. He has netted 109 times in 213 appearances and also become the club’s top goalscorer in European competition.
Morelos has proved to be one of the wisest purchases in the last ten years. It seems inevitable that a club from a wealthier league will eventually take the plunge and offer him the chance to showcase his talent in a bigger market.
The Ibrox faithful would meet a summer departure with widespread sadness - but Morelos can soften the blow by firing the club he adores to the league title before contemplating future possibilities.