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There was much frustration after Rangers recent match with Livingston, mainly built around the teams failure to record three points even at this early stage, but laterally some valid tactical questions have been raised of Gerrard’s chosen set up. In this piece I try to shine a light on some of the areas where I feel the team struggled, but more importantly try and understand why they are happening.
Lack of Penetration
It was apparent throughout the game that while Rangers maintained a lot of the possession the pass selections were safe, or when probed forward almost instantly came back out. This lead to hopeful lofted balls into attacking areas, and thus enabled Livingston to gain confidence from being hard to break down. Here are some examples of how that happened:
Rangers Midfield Structure
Probably the biggest concern voiced by Rangers fans is the need to play “Two Holding Midfielders”, which has come in the form of Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara.
While this is purely semantics, Rangers don’t play with two holding midfielders, well at least not in the traditional holding “Defensive” midfielder role. Gerrard builds the positions of the players overall shape on the attacking structure, and then where each can best press the ball in transition.
The graphic below shows how Rangers contract their attacking shape, firstly by the full backs stepping forward, then laterally the wingers move inside to create options within the inside forward positions. The central midfielders then give balance by placing one on the ball side (example below shows Kamara coming out to the left) and the second midfielder now moves centrally like a deeper lying midfielder.
Before we discuss the effectiveness of this strategy, especially against the low block, lets take a look at some of the structural issues Rangers faced in their central midfielder positioning.
So while many would argue the need for two central midfielders in this system, if we look at what their primary roles are the bigger question is do they currently perform their roles well enough? I would suggest not at the minute, as there isn’t enough evidence to suggest we are effective enough at managing the central space and breaking pressure. In the graphic above here would be the probable instructions set out to each player:
Kamara – Sit at the base of a left side overload. Find Barisic feet if you can, but look to play forward if possible into Kent/Morelos and let them combine in the final third.
Jack – Sit central as a pivot point for Kamara to open up through, then switch out to Tavernier to penetrate forward.
Do each of these players do these things, I would say they do, but are they always positioned correctly in which to complete the tasks effectively, that answer would be no.
While there is work to do with each player, here are some examples of good play from them both, which I’m sure gives the staff hope that they can be the players to fulfill the roles asked of them.
Front 4 Positioning
So I think its important to establish that saying Rangers “Dont need two holding midfielders” as a concept is a valid one, however given the positioning of this specific attacking foursome, and the roles the midfielders are being asked to complete, I simply don’t know where a deeper midfielder could be relocated to? Unless we open out the wingers there are no more central channels for them to occupy. In this video I illustrate how the current set up is often caught too narrow, and the variation of movement is causing a lack of penetration.
If we see how narrow the front 4 play, it again leads us to question whether the answer is adding another midfielder to an already clogged space or simply working with the current players to interchange their movement more effectively?
What Changes Moving Forward?
Gerrard and his coaches clearly feel this game model is one that will bear fruit over time, so for anyone who’s desire is to see wholesale change I’d suggest you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Gerrard has tweaked the strategy, but the teams progression appears to be through the recruitment of better players to fulfill the roles, versus changing the game plan completely.
With that considered it is a valid concern from the supporters to feel that our team lack the ability to break down packed defenses, as they have been given so much evidence to suggest that is the case. The only legitimate alteration that I could foresee is the return to genuine attacking width, through fielding two out and out wingers or a winger/inside forward variation. While we could argue this is currently the case, any data reports would suggest Kent is very much an inside player and we haven’t saw a right winger start for Rangers since the departure of Daniel Candeias.
I have no doubt the probability of victory falls in Rangers favor throughout most of the domestic campaign, however in these matches where the game appears to have reached a stalemate is there something that Gerrard can implement that gets his side over the line? Only time will tell.