Tactical analysis and statistics: who’s the better left-back? Barisic or Halliday?


There’s always one isn’t there? A player that seems to get more criticism than the rest. Sometimes they bring it on themselves – see Josh Windass as the perfect example. But what has Borna Barisic done to deserve the recent negativity around his performances? He has just been called up to the Croatia squad, World Cup finalists, Croatia.

Left-back competition

There appears to be genuine competition for a starting slot at left-back between Andy Halliday and Borna Barisic. Steven Gerrard has frequently spoken about Halliday’s mental strength and personality traits. Strangely, you don’t see him mention his technical ability though. Gerrard has also implied that Barisic lacks what Halliday has in abundance. If Gerrard was being honest, he’d say he wants a full-back that is a hybrid of Halliday and Barisic. On Twitter, @OwenJamesBrown provided some great insight into Rangers’ three main full-backs.

There is, however, little doubt that Barisic is a better footballer than Halliday. He has a better and more consistent passing range. Barisic is a perfect athlete. He is tall (6ft 1 inch), fast and has great endurance levels, able to make overlapping runs for the full 90 minutes. It’s close, but I think Barisic edges dead ball delivery and crossing from open play (especially from deep).

What I love most about Barisic is his ability to play the pass that turns a defence. The pass before the assist, if you like, he actually beats Tavernier in this statistic although he is some way behind in pure assists. Halliday, surprisingly, outperforms Barisic in some areas. Stats don’t lie, right? Well, in this case, they may be slightly squint. Some of Halliday”s figures are gained from midfield performances, this will affect passing, pressure and tackling statistics.

Positional experience

There is one key component in the argument over who should start. Barisic is a left-back, Halliday is a converted midfielder. Halliday was outstanding in the pre-winter break Old Firm victory. He was aggressive but with great timing of when to press and when to maintain his position. He will not have a better game in a Rangers jersey. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod in the next Old Firm game.

I defended Barisic after the 4-2 win at Pittodrie. He lost the ball ten yards into the Aberdeen half and was getting the blame for Aberdeen scoring. Some fans said he didn’t track back yet he got goal side of the ball before Aberdeen got halfway into Rangers half. Ryan Jack sold himself then we had two further chances to clear the ball. The first was headed to the edge of the box, the second (from James Tavernier) was hit against his own player and into Sam Cosgrove’s path. There’s no way you can lay the blame at Barisic’s door for this one. It was bad defending all around.

When Barisic has a bad game he still defends well in terms of positional sense/defending his post and blocking crosses. Barisic doesn’t turn his back when he is blocking shots or crosses. His goal-line clearance on Sunday vs Aberdeen is ample evidence. When Halliday has a bad game, he gets caught out of position either not being close enough to the centre-halves or following the ball rather than staying with his man. I think this is where he edges it with Gerrard, offensively there isn’t much between them but defensively Barisic knows the position better.

Decisions to make

You want winners in your team, but you need to balance this with quality too. The debate does split Rangers fans’ opinion. If we want to progress we have to stick with Barisic though. Barisic has been labelled as too negative recently. Playing too many safe passes back to the centre-halves. To balance this, he plays further up the field than Halliday. Halliday plays a high percentage of safe balls too, this could give him a better passing percentage.

Halliday is one of our own remember. In a direct comparison between the two, I reckon this gives him an extra mark out of ten every week and creates the extra focus on Barisic.

Given an injury-free season, I’d expect Barisic to be up with Tavernier for assists and key passes. I’m a great believer of never changing a settled back-four but Barisic needs to remain injury-free for this to happen. He is capable of matching Tavernier’s attacking output whilst also being a more rounded defender, what an asset that would be.

I’m glad Halliday is still in the squad. He should be kept beyond his current contract too. He is versatile, perfect for the bench and to have in and around the dressing room. As a back-up, you can’t ask for much more. It doesn’t have to be a “one or the other” debate. There is room for both of them.

But Barisic is clearly the better player….

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