After playing Kilmarnock, Rangers had another away match, this time against Livingston. Beforehand, Livingston have had the mid-table security of eighth place, meaning they had no urgent need to go for the jugular given how they lay far from the relegation zone and battles for UEFA competitions. On Saturday, second-placed Kilmarnock had drawn 0-0 with Aberdeen. The equation was simple: with a win against Livingston, Rangers had the chance to move up to second place in the Premiership.
In the match against Kilmarnock, Gerrard used a new 4-4-2 diamond formation as he blooded new signings Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis from the start. In this match he reverted to his usual 4-3-3 formation. Against Kilmarnock Ross McCrorie and Daniel Candeias were on the bench, but they took their positions again in this match. Ryan Kent played as attacking midfielder against Kilmarnock but returned to the left wing against Livingston.
At the end of the match, ball possession was almost equal, as Rangers shaded it with 51%. Neither Livingston nor Rangers played out of the back. Rangers pressed Livingston high from the beginning. In the image below, we can see four Rangers players. They closed down five Livingston players and forced their goalkeeper to go long.
Rangers’ players pressed Livingston in both halves of the pitch. Generally, when they won the ball, they played it long to Morelos. If Morelos didn’t win possession of the ball, Rangers pressed Livingston again. We can see this situation in the images below.
Morelos does not win the ball, but 10 seconds later, they are pressing Livingston. The man in possession had five players around him, but also five Rangers players too. They closed down passing options and forced him to go long.
Livingston’s attacking strategy was to play long to their striker Dolly Menga or to one side of the pitch. Usually, they played long to their left side. Before they played long to the left, they occupied that area and then they fought for the second ball.
In the image below we can see five Livingston players on the left side of the pitch. However, Rangers anticipated this scenario and they occupied this area too. We can see that the right side of the pitch is completely empty. Seven of 11 Rangers’ players are near the ball.
In the image below we can see Rangers’ attacking structure. They attacked in a 2-2-5-1 formation. Both centre-backs stayed back. Ryan Jack and Ross McCrorie played as a double pivot while full-backs secured width playing high. Both wingers, Kent and Candeias, sat narrower in attacking phases with Arfield between them. Morelos played at the point of the attack.
Rangers rarely attacked positionally, though. They were focused on long balls, usually to Morelos, and high pressing after that. Livingston played in the same way. This match was all about transition. Livingston defended in a deep block.
In the image below, we can see eight Livingston players in their own third. They left wide areas empty and focused instead on the central area. They filled the penalty area and let Rangers cross the ball from wide areas.
Generally, Livingston played the ball long to striker Dolly Menga. After that, other players positioned themselves near him to try and win the second ball. When Livingston broke up Rangers’ first pressing line, the Glaswegians defended in a middle block.
Rangers positioned themselves in the centre of the pitch. Then, the ball-near players attempted to catch Livingston’s player in a trap. They forced them to play to the side, then they pressed the player with the ball.
We saw how Livingston usually played in the defensive phase of the game by filling the penalty area. This style of defending enabled Rangers to score the first goal of the match. In the image below we can see this situation. Eight Livingston players were in the 18-yard box with Ryan Jack lurking on the edge.
After a few ricochets, the ball came to Jack to crack in the opener. When the ball was near Rangers’ 18-yard box, they defended very narrowly. In the image below we can see eight players staying very close to each other. Only Morelos and Kent stayed forward.
The second half continued in the same rhythm. Both teams play long balls and then occupied that area. Livingston usually forced their left side and Rangers usually forced their right side of the pitch. In the images below, we can see these situations. Both teams effectively formed rondos near the ball.
In attacking phases, Rangers generally attacked down the right flank. The strategy was to draw out left-back, thus forcing the left-sided centre-back to cover him. After that Rangers crossed into the penalty area, hoping to secure 2v2 situations in the penalty area.
Livingston’s left-back and left centre-back were out wide leaving their right-back and right centre-back alone against two Rangers players in the penalty area. We can see these situations in the images below. In the first image we can see Kent and Morelos against two Livingston players.
In the second image Livingston’s left-back is highlighted. The left centre-back must cover the Rangers player with the ball. Failure to do so grants Rangers an advantage in the penalty area.
Like in the first half, both teams again concentrated on long balls to their strikers and overloads of specific areas. Rangers did not even try to play out from the back. When the goalkeeper or a centre-back had the ball, players moved forward. In the image below we can see this situation. Only Katić was near McGregor.
Rangers still pressed their opponents. In the image below, Rangers close down all passing options. Morelos blocks off the passing option to the goalkeeper. After pressing, Rangers scored their third goal. Three Rangers players pressed three Livingston players. They stole the ball before Arfield set up Morelos in a one-on-one situation against the goalkeeper.
Like in the first half, Livingston defended very narrowly. Rangers used that especially in counter-attacks. In the image below is an example of one such counter-attack. Five Livingston players are in the central area concentrating on just two Rangers players. That allowed Morelos, who was wide, to be free.
After Gerrard’s tactical gamble against Kilmarnock, he decided to resort to his good old 4-3-3 formation. This time, Defoe and Davis were on the bench as Kent and Candeias took their places. This was a physical sort of the game. Both of teams forced long balls and overloading of specific areas of the pitch.
Rangers also applied high pressing. With this win, Rangers moved up to second place on the table. Rangers will play their next match against Cowdenbeath on 30 January, their third consecutive away match.
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