Frankfurt vs Rangers – Europa League Final

The Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium in Seville, Spain played host to the 13th Europa League Final, a match contested between two sides who few would have envisaged still competing at this stage in the competition. What we can say with absolute certainty is that their qualification was absolutely warranted, especially given both sides form throughout the knockout stages.

Eintracht Frankfurt made an impressive start to their Europa League campaign, remaining undefeated throughout the group stages to secure top spot in Group D. Rangers, on the other hand, had to navigate two qualifying rounds before placement in Group A and would begin their group stage in disastrous fashion, losing their opening two games and failing to score a goal. Eight points from the remaining four matches would see Rangers finish second in Group A, which set up a playoff round against Borussia Dortmund who had dropped down from the Champions League.

Rangers remarkable 6-4 aggregate victory over Dortmund installed a momentum and confidence that continued throughout the remaining rounds, culminating with a memorable 3-1 home victory over RB Leipzig.

Frankfurt required a 120th minute goal to navigate past Real Betis in the round of 16, a match which looked destined for penalties before Betis defender Guido Rodriguez turned the ball into his own net. This was followed by an impressive 3-2 away win in the Nou Camp to overcome FC Barcelona, before dispatching West Ham in the Semi-final with a 3-1 aggregate score line.

Pre-Game Scout Report

From a position of Rangers coaching staff preparing for the upcoming Europa League Final, I prepared a base level scouting report that focuses on the trademark attacking and defensive characteristics of Oliver Glasner’s side. CLICK HERE to view that video analysis.

Starting Line Ups

Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner was without Martin Hinteregger, who had suffered a hamstring injury in the second leg of their Semi-Final with West Ham. The Austrian central defender played a pivotal role in this Frankfurt side, both in moments of build up and in overall defending, however he was replaced by Almamy Toure who would continue to deputize in the back line and Tuta moved into central defense.

Rangers coach Giovanni Van Bronckhorst had been managing numerous injuries during the final month of the season, namely Ryan Jack, Kemar Roofe and Aaron Ramsey, all of whom were serious doubts headed into the Final. Ryan Jack would indeed make the starting eleven, the remainder of which probably represented the strongest group available to Van Bronckhorst.

First Half Tactical Analysis

Rangers Build Up vs Frankfurt Press

In the opening moments of the match we see Frankfurt establishing a vertically compact defensive block, set up by dropping their striker’s line of confrontation and pushing up their defensive line. In reducing the spaces in which Rangers could penetrate centrally, this forced Van Bronckhorst to experiment with other ways in which to draw pressure and create gaps in the opponents forward press.

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Joe Aribo Central Striker

As Rangers were without recognized strikers Kemar Roofe and Alfredo Morelos, Joe Aribo had been brought in as the lead number 9 for several matches leading up to the final. Given his skill set as a creative midfielder, it was envisaged that Aribo would drop from the front line and link the game from a deeper position. In the opening forty-five minutes we see that he is in fact encouraged to maintain a higher starting position, primarily to pin back the opponents back line and prevent them from pushing forward, but also to increase the space in which his supporting players can attack from underneath.  

Frankfurt Build Up vs Rangers Press

In the Scout Report we had identified how Frankfurt’s build up play focused on penetrating opponents first line of pressure centrally, before using their wing backs to advance the ball into the final third. Rangers aggressive high press forced Glasner to alter his teams build up play, instead he opted for goalkeeper Kevin Trapp to play more direct passes into Colombian striker Borre, who can link with Kamada and Lindstrom inside Rangers defensive third and attack in transition.

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Rangers Defensive Transition

One of Frankfurt’s main strengths is the speed in which they counterattack, therefore it was imperative for Rangers to balance their defensive positioning when attacking forward so to prevent the Germans from exposing the available spaces. The video below illustrates a clear work ethic from Rangers to work back and collect as a unit when possible, but John Lundstram’s interceptions and closing down of specific Frankfurt targets is a clear example of how well Van Bronckhorst had prepared his side.

As Slavko Vincic blew brought a close to the opening forty-five minutes, the match remained on a knife edge. While Rangers commanded slightly more control of the game, Frankfurt were certainly the more threatening and looked more likely to open the scoring.  

Second Half Analysis

As the second half began it was clear Van Bronckhorst had dialed down Rangers aggressive forward press, dropping the overall defensive shape by 20 yards and placing a greater emphasis on individual man marking. While this more conservative positioning closed the spaces between Rangers lines, it did however afford Frankfurt’s back line more time and space in which to build play forward.

Defensive Frailty

From the start of the half Rangers continued to look vulnerable when defending Frankfurt’s throw in routines, either because of individual errors or a failure to address it at half time.

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Breaking The Deadlock

Given how finely balanced this encounter had been up until the 56th minute, it was perhaps a touch surprising that three glaring errors would conspire to present Rangers with an opportunity to take the lead.

An uncharacteristic miss-hit pass from Kamada was recovered when N’dicka reset play back with Kevin Trapp, who’s long kick forward was immediately returned by the head of Rangers defender Connor Goldson. Frankfurt midfielder Djibril Sow is normally on hand to pick up any second balls with ease, but on this occasion the ball evades him, and he inadvertently headed the ball backwards. To compound matters for Frankfurt Tuta loses his footing, allowing Joe Aribo with a free run toward the goal. The Nigerian takes one touch before calmly slotting the ball into the bottom corner, sending the Rangers fans into utter delirium behind Kevin Trapp’s goal.

Frankfurt Tactical Alterations & Rangers Defensive Adjustments

Frankfurt identified the weakness in Rangers’ defensive shape as the connection between Wright and Tavernier, therefore they used the entry point of the left half space to draw pressure before launching a penetrative pass for Kamada inside Rangers defensive third.

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Second Half Changes

In the minutes after Frankfurt’s equalizing goal both coaches would turn to the bench in search of fresh impetus. Jens Hauge would replace Jesper Lindstrom for Frankfurt in a like for like switch, while Ryan Jack and Scott Wright were replaced by Steven Davis and Fashion Sakala as Van Bronckhorst altered his team shape.

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Extra Time Analysis

After an exhausting second half in the searing Andalucian heat, the realization that the match was headed to extra time quickly became a reality. Late chances at either end left both sides with the uneasy feeling that their chance to win had escaped them, yet both coaches still felt confident they had players capable of providing one more moment of quality.

The next thirty minutes flew past as each side launched attacks and counter attacks, with the flow of a basketball match deadlocked in the fourth quarter.

Frankfurt Chances

In the closing stages Knauff and Kostic elite fitness levels ensured they remained a constant threat, both of whom ably assisted by the continued quality of Kamada and Borre inside the final third.

Rangers Chances

Van Bronckhorst replaced Glen Kamara with Scott Arfield at the start of extra time and after ten minutes would replace Joe Aribo with James Sands. This caused a slight adjustment of positions as Rangers were now set up in a 343 to mirror opponents Frankfurt. Sands moved into the backline alongside Goldson and Bassey, with Lundstram partnering Davis in central midfield and flanked by Barisic and Tavernier. Arfield moved into the center forward position, joined by Sakala and Kent on either side.

With minutes remaining in extra time Van Bronckhorst replaced Borna Barisic with Kemar Roofe and Fashion Sakala made way for Aaron Ramsey. While these changes were more likely in preparation for the probability of penalty kicks, Roofe immediately found himself in a crossing position and would set up Ryan Kent with a potential game changing opportunity.

Penalty Shootout

As the match ended 1-1 after extra time we would progress to penalties, with Rangers winning the toss they elected to shoot first, doing so toward the stand where their fans were stood.

After James Tavernier’s opening penalty in the shootout, two substitutes for either side would score the following four penalties with Scott Arfield putting Rangers 3-2 in front.

Daichi Kamada would then step up to strike home a sublime penalty, the ball kissing the inside of the post as it flashed past McGregor to bring Frankfurt level.

Extra time substitute Aaron Ramsey would miss Rangers next penalty, with Kevin Trapp saving the Welshman’s strike with his feet in the middle of the goal. Frankfurt immediately capitalized when Kostic followed up with a wicked strike into the bottom corner.

A delightful penalty from Kemar Roofe brought Rangers back level, but Rafael Borre would win the shootout for Frankfurt as he placed a clinical strike into the top corner.

The Final Chapter

On a purely analytical level you cannot help being impressed with what Giovanni Van Bronckhorst has achieved with this Rangers side. He has transformed a team that had been specifically recruited and coached, using a very clear ideology under Steven Gerrard, and in a short period of time he has imprinted his own style alongside achieving some remarkable results.

Rangers’ tactical flexibility demonstrates a maturity at this level which more than makes up for any technical disparity that may exist. While the resources available to a club working at Rangers level is far inferior to that of Frankfurt, they were able to bridge the distance in this match through a collective spirit that clearly comes from those in leadership positions within the first team.

Lundstram, Bassey and Goldson were arguably Rangers best performers on the night, all displaying a high level of aptitude when defending against some elite level performers. There can be no doubt the lack of access to Alfredo Morelos and the minimal use of Roofe and Ramsey hurt Rangers chances of success, yet it also should be noted that in Kostic, Knauff, Kamada and Borre Frankfurt have a quality of player that on any given day could win this match alone.

While Rangers are a club that rarely dwells on defeats of the past, they went painstakingly close to lifting this Europa League trophy and in my opinion should feel proud of this performance. As someone who attended this match with my father, something both of us had waited a lifetime to experience together, it will remain emblematic of an utterly energy draining, yet equally exhilarating, European campaign that went all the way to the wire.

About the Author

Picture of Alistair Bain

Alistair Bain

Alistair is a native of Hamilton, Scotland and is an A License qualified coach who has 20 years of experience within the football industry. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alistair's resume includes a variety of roles across football clubs in Scotland, England and the United States.

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