On the face of things, Cyriel Dessers’ move to Glasgow from Italy last summer could’ve hardly gone better.

The 29-year-old forward has been recalled to the Nigerian international set-up not long after the Super Eagles reached the African Cup of Nations Final. In all competitions, he’s managed 16 goals and seven assists by March, won a trophy and remains Rangers’ starting No.9 as they lead the title race.

And yet, there’s far more nuance to this particular debate. 

Dessers has the best goal/90 in the Scottish Premiership since Philippe Clement’s arrival at the club (0.80) ahead of nearest competitor Lawrence Shankland (0.71), with 12 league goals in 19 90 minutes since the start of the season.

However, no area of the pitch seems to leave the Rangers support more cautious about this season’s potential than the No.9 spot - especially heading into next week’s Old Firm. 

Do the numbers show Dessers is performing better than the eye test, or do concerns outweigh the data? Let’s find out…

Dessers had scored a single league goal in six starts before Clement’s arrival. Few survive being jeered off at Rangers or come back after the support has turned, but Dessers did. Speaking after the first rendition of his song away at Easter Road following a 3-0 league win in January, with the mood around his game shifting, Dessers admitted pressure will kill you if you don’t rise to it in Glasgow.

That macro view of Dessers’ Ibrox career to date sums up the micro. He’s a forward who doesn’t seem perturbed by missed chances or moments and does, regularly, appear to score the hard ones. When enduring a terrible start under Michael Beale the forward was always available and never hid from a redemption task that would’ve swallowed others up.

READ MORE: The Cole McKinnon story: Emerging from adversity, sliding doors and Thistle loan

The striker has routinely been a slow starter at previous clubs. When Dessers signed for Feyenoord in the summer of 2021 he appeared on a transfer deadline day show minutes after a fan podcaster, Kein Geloel, had complained about the signing. Unfazed and live on national television a smiling Dessers simply said he hoped to prove Geloel wrong and, over the course of a successful season in Rotterdam, he did.

Has the attacker's slow start shaped how he’s viewed in Glasgow?

Dessers' shot map from the Scottish Premiership shows a slight, yet marginal, underperformance on the basis of expected goals since August.

However, if we update that graph since the start of Clement’s era, Dessers has actually overperformed with 11 goals from 9.98xG. Of course, this doesn’t include moments where a shot did not follow a chance, such as Dessers' one-on-one in a recent Old Firm defeat.

Had Dessers started the season when Clement arrived, appearing to have shaken off any residue from an injury that ended his previous campaign early, would the perception of his game be different?

The 29-year-old Nigerian is not a player who excels with his back-to-goal or drags his team up the pitch. Often in games where Rangers don’t dominate territory, Dessers can cut an isolated figure like in the recent 1-0 defeat at home against Benfica or the League Cup Final win over Aberdeen. Especially when Clement’s side look to build play quickly and directly, Dessers doesn’t feel suited to the style.

Compare his radar at home in the Scottish Premiership (blue) to matches on the road (red). At Ibrox, the attacker has averaged 0.67xG and 0.68 goals/90, while away from home in games where theoretically there’s more space on offer, that number drops to 0.59 and 0.55.

Why? Dessers’ skill is his movement. The No.9 brands himself as a striker who’s better facing the play but he lacks the pace over distance to punish high lines repeatedly. Managing to stay out of the clutches of opposition forwards enables him to make quick darts and attack crosses. Goals at home to Ross County and away against St Mirren are examples of the striker exploiting space behind a defence with a one-touch finish when the distances suit his speed.

At Ibrox, all bar one of his goals have been first-time finishes. That fact also explains valid concerns surrounding finishing in other moments.

“It’s part of getting to know each other,” Dessers told the Rangers Review at a recent press conference discussing his improvement since the start of the season.

“If I look at the first months, obviously [for example] Tav is a great player, but it’s getting to know each other. Maybe the ball is always at the second post when I am running to the front post. Now we have this connection.”

Here are a couple of examples of how this ‘connection’ at crosses has worked effectively recently. 

In a 2-0 win over St Johnstone on the stroke of Christmas we can see a perfect example of this ‘hitting the right post’ example. 

Dessers starts the move ahead of Oludare Olufunwa motioning for a cross to the front post…

…However, it appears, both he and Tavernier know that instead, Dessers will run to the back post. The forward waits until the ball is airborne to time his movement behind Olufunwa and finish on his left foot...

The summer arrival’s second goal in a 3-1 win over Ross County was similar. Notice, as Tavernier is crossing from deep on the right wing, a feint to attack the front post which creates the necessary inches to attack the ball behind his marker.

Dessers’ goals have normally derived from crosses or lofted passes over the top of defences. They’ve rarely come in isolated one-on-one moments. That, as a miss in Nigeria’s 2-0 defeat against Mali on reminded, is not the striker’s strength. 

Some goals can show why Dessers does not score in others. Think of the goal scored in Clement’s debut 4-0 win over Hibs, a delicate far-corner finish, or that strike in the aforementioned 3-0 win in Leith earlier this season when Dessers effectively passes the ball home. An individual effort scored away at Real Betis when the forward chopped his defender before sending the ball through the keeper’s legs is an example of a move he’s attempted often and seems to try and replicate.

READ MORE: James Tavernier's new Rangers role - Seam runs, inverting and Gerrard's prediction

Perhaps that encapsulates Dessers’ issue. He’s not a clean striker of the ball with many of his finishes finding the net at a slow pace - think of a goal away at Livingston or the above strike against St Johnstone. Dessers can be too precise, waiting for a delicate goal instead of finding the net quickly, like the three above finishes highlight alongside that moment at Parkhead.

Dessers is something of an enigma. You can’t bash the numbers since a change in the dugout and equally, you can’t be totally sure what will happen when through on goal. What’s more the striker’s impact in big games has been limited. There’s a strong argument that it should be Fabio Silva who leads the line on April 7.

If the numbers continue to roll in as they have done since October, Dessers can become a hero in May. If the big moments betray him, fears will be realised. The script is there to be written.