Steven Gerrard enters his third full season as Rangers manager and the circumstances surrounding his upcoming campaign could not be more complicated.
Off the field the pressure of delivering silverware rests heavy on the shoulders of every Rangers manager, however given Rangers travails in the recent past the sense of anticipation in attaining their next trophy is palpable. On the field there is a confidence that continuity breeds, brought about by a playing style that is well established and a playing squad that requires minor changes if at all.
Within both the staff and the support there is a lingering unease at how last season ended so abruptly, with the team’s domestic form nose diving between January and the close of play in March. We will never know if a restart could have invigorated the team, however a new campaign brings about renewed hope that this is the year Rangers can rectify the problems that has derailed their previous attempts at the title.
Rangers officially kicked off the 20/21 campaign with a friendly tournament in France, taking on Lyon and Nice in the Veolia Tournament hosted by Lyon. For a full match reports and some excellent pre and post-match content be sure to head over to Rangers FC official site for full coverage HERE.
In this piece I will highlight several tactical factors that were of interest in each match, both from an individual and collective perspective. I have added my audio commentary to each video to explain those areas I have analyzed.
Rangers 2 – 0 Lyon
Rangers set up in what many would consider their first 11, should everyone be available. The areas of interest for me headed into the match were:
- Hagi’s ability to link with Morelos and Kent, who have more playing time together and a stronger understanding. Could they now forge a stronger bond as a trio.
- Do we see a return to right side build up play or is our predominant build up side on the left?
- How is Aribo’s role going to evolve if any this year.
My clips will come from the first half, prior to the red card, as that gives us the best picture of what types of forward movements they have worked on in pre-season. There were a few tweaks to the movement patterns of the front three that would be highlighted in this match, but really come to fruition in the Nice match.
As one of our most creative midfielders Joe Aribo often holds the keys to unlocking opposition defensive structures, but within the 1st half there were a number of occasions where his body position prior to an entry pass being played to him that prevented him from preparing his next movement successfully.
Gerrard has continued with a narrow 433 defensive structure that served his side so well in the Europa League campaign during the 19/20 season. Familiarity has brought about a greater confidence of when to apply the pressing triggers and remain solid as a group.
While Rangers on the whole were impressive defensively, both in 11v11 and 11v10 situations, Lyon’s quality would continue to test Rangers resolve. I found a couple of instances that I’m sure the staff have noted afterwards, primarily in instances where Rangers players have to pass on their mark and in turn manage the opponents rotations.
Overall, there were lots of positives to take from this game. In particular I liked the way Hagi was able to make movements like that of a true attacking midfielder and penetrate in behind, thus giving Morelos more support centrally. I also liked how balanced the side looked, especially their spacing across the width of the field, when they created overloads on the left flank they still gave themselves options should play have to switch out to the right hand side.
Rangers 2 – 0 Nice
Gerrard would continue with a similar set up to the opening match but would make a handful of personnel changes. The areas of interest for me headed into the match were:
- How do Kent & Hagi link with Defoe, given that he is not a natural target/linking forward that Morelos typically plays as.
- How does Ryan Jack marshall the deeper central areas, and can Kamara provide the same penetration Jack would in the right of center midfield role.
- How does Goldson and Edmundson look in game 2 after playing significant minutes in the last match.
A valid criticism of the side at times last year was in how they utilized Defoe and not structuring the attacks around his strengths. Quite often we saw his teammates fall into making similar movements to those they would do with Morelos, such as hitting early passes into his feet and trying to work off the hold up play. To get the best out of Defoe he has to be facing the goal and working instinctively, here we see some moments during the game in which they looked to find his runs, but also areas where they could have supported him better.
Rangers Attack Play
With Rangers continuing to focus play down the left hand side it was interesting to see the movement patterns of the narrow front three, and how sequentially they trigger movements that spark a reaction from the opponent and create bigger spaces when starting within a small one.
Rangers Defensive Structure
First of all its worth noting Connor Goldson was absolutely flawless in this match, he lead the back line extremely well and set the tone for what is required of an individual working within this defensive structure. That said it was also impressive from the team to cover the ground required to defend in this way, narrow with lots of left to right shifts, especially when Nice have clearly scouted our opening game and are looking to play lots of big diagonal switches of play.
Ryan Jack Positional Issues
For some context I wanted to post a video that I had put together from Gerrard’s first season with the team, in which I highlighted some positional problems that Ryan Jack faces when he is placed as the deepest of our three central midfielders.
In this match we saw a number of similar issues, primarily centered around his movement to either evade the covering striker or vacate the space completely and rotate with a teammate.
With these issues considered Ryan Jack still remains an important part of the side, and when we can get him moving forward with the ball he is a threat that few in the division can cope with. His energy and enthusiasm is a focal point of his game, and perhaps in times where he is positioned deeper it negates from what his major contributions to the team can be.
Given this is so early in the preparations I think the staff and the players can be happy with a win in this match and a clean sheet. I think there were positive signs of finding new movements in the final third that will keep their opponents guessing, added to this a defensive shape that both opponents were unable to do major damage to across the 180 minutes.
The team heads into the Motherwell and Coventry matches this week with two very different tests, so we’ll be back soon to cover those matches and pick out any areas of interest.