A tactical analysis of Hibernian since Paul Heckingbottom arrived, shows a switch to 4-4-2 and three out of three Scottish Premiership victories. Hibernian’s only reverse has been in the Scottish Cup at the hands of Celtic. A tactical analysis of Rangers over the same period shows their “go to” formation is 4-2-3-1. Rangers last three Scottish Premiership matches earned them seven points, with nine goals for and no goals against. Rangers’ last outing was a Scottish Cup 1-1 draw with Aberdeen.

Line ups

Hibernian Rangers Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Credit: Wyscout.

Setups

Hibernian started in a 4-1-3-2 with Mark Milligan providing cover behind Daryl Horgan, Stevie Mallan and Stephane Omeonga and in front of the back four. Florian Kamberi and Marc McNulty were the central strikers.

Rangers again were in a 4-2-3-1 with Andy Halliday replacing Borna Barisic from the previous game against Aberdeen. Ryan Jack and Glen Kamara as the defensive midfielders with Daniel Candeias, Scott Arfield and Ryan Kent as attacking midfielders and Alfredo Morelos as the central striker.

Hibernian Rangers Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Rangers’ 4-2-3-1 formation.

Rangers’ first-half domination

In the first half, Rangers dominated possession. Hibernian allowed Rangers to outnumber them in midfield. With Milligan sitting deeper than Horgan, Mallan and Omeonga, they conceded numerical superiority and possession to Rangers.

As Kamberi and McNulty are positioning centrally up front and ensuring the Rangers centre-backs cannot advance forwards with the ball. The three attacking Hibernian midfielders would stay horizontally and vertically compact. The trigger to press is when a centre back is forced to play the from central segment of the pitch out to a full back.

With the recent introduction of Kamara to the Rangers midfield, it is now a quicker unit. Kamara and Jack, operating in a double number six role, allows them to alternate. One dropping in between and behind the Hibernian strikers to give their centre backs another option. Or dropping between their own centre backs, this allows them to go wider.

The consequence is that Kamberi and McNulty split wider, therefore, allowing a line through Hibernian’s first line of pressure. The wider the Rangers centre backs go, the higher their full backs go. Safe in the knowledge that Jack and Kamberi are providing security and cover. This seemed to confuse Hibernian in the first half.

When the Hibernian attacking midfielders were stretched Rangers could control the game with a three versus one in the central area. If the Hibernian attacking midfielders were horizontally compact then either Candeias or Kent, sometimes both, would come into the half channels to again control the midfield.

Hibernian Rangers Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Hibernian being outnumbered and dispossessed in midfield

If Omeonga stayed central with Horgan and Mallan, and Candeias came into the half channel, then the right outside channel opened for Tavernier. If Omeonga went out to Tavernier and Candeias was in the half channel the Hibernian midfield line of pressure was easily broken.

Kamberi and McNulty were not coming to the aid of their overworked midfield. As neither of the two Hibernian strikers were prepared to drop off and mark the deepest Rangers midfielder. Rangers again could get the ball through the Hibernian midfield with ease.

Arfield was playing more and more advanced as the half progressed, without any reaction from Hibernian.

Hibernian 0 Rangers 1

Despite this domination of possession and control of the game, Rangers could only convert one of their many chances. It took until the 44th minute for someone to open the scoring. It came about in unusual circumstances.

From a Hibernian throw in on the right-hand side, Kamberi eventually plays a ball through Rangers defensive line to the advancing Horgan in the right channel. The linesman who is in line with play raises his flag. The Rangers defence momentarily stopped, however, the referee correctly overruled his assistant. McNulty lays the ball back to Mallan who shoots, Tavernier blocks the shot, but it only goes as far as Kamberi. Kamberi, in space, 12 yards from goal, let the ball run over his foot.

With five Hibernian players in the Rangers penalty box. Kamara collected the ball and ran with it for 60 yards unopposed before playing it to Candeias in the Hibernian defensive third. In an attacking five versus five situation, Candeias drives into the box from the right-hand side. He attempts a low cross to Morelos, which Paul Hanlon blocks, only to go straight back to Candeias. Candeias, left-footed, curls the ball into Ofir Marciano’s top right-hand corner.

Half time, what do Hibernian do with Arfield?

Rangers with by far the better of the first half, the better possession, the better chances, but with only a one-goal advantage. With spurned chances from Morelos, Arfield and Kent, a genuine penalty claim for Rangers, Hibernian were still in the game but they needed to solve the problem of Arfield and the Rangers extra man in midfield. When Aberdeen played Rangers at the previous game, Derek McInnes put Lewis Ferguson on Arfield, Rangers’ furthest forward midfielder.

Paul Heckingbottom opted to tweak his 4-1-3-2 setup and go back to his more familiar 4-4-2 shape. Defensively it was a 4-5-1 shape. Hibernian went man-for-man in central midfield. Omeonga focused on Jack, Mallan on Kamara, and Milligan offered coverage behind and picked up Arfield. In attack, Milligan stepped forward into a flat midfield four. Kamberi moving to a more central striker position. This allows him to combat the threat of Tavernier going forward and to exploit the space that is often left by Tavernier.

Hibernian 1 Rangers 1

In the 76th minute, Hibernian scored with another full-length counter attack. Candeias inside the right-hand side of the Hibernian penalty box, cuts the ball back to Kent. His shot is blocked and rebounds to Tavernier on the edge of the box. Tavernier is disposed by Omeonga, with Tavernier on the ground claiming for a free kick, Rangers had seven players in line or in advance of the ball.

Hibernian Rangers Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Omeonga wins possession and sets up the quick counter-attack that leads to a goal

Omeonga played the ball early to Kamberi on the half way lin. Kamberi runs with the ball unopposed to 30 yards from the Rangers goal. With Rangers players tracking back in numbers, they set up a six versus three in their favour. Goldson turns to track the flow of play while Kamara and Candeias let Kamberi run free on a potential blindside run.

Hibernian Rangers Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
As Rangers’ players focus on the ball, Kamberi gets into space on their blind side.

Goldson, now marking McNulty, turns & notices Kamberi, he clearly indicates to the open Kamberi. However, there is no response from Candeias or Kamara. This was in the 76th minute and Rangers had yet to make a single substitution. Perhaps with the Candeias’ work ethic, he would have been a prime candidate to be replaced prior to this point.

Conclusion

This is the third time this season that Hibernian and Rangers have shared the spoils. Hibernian produced a battling performance to stay in the game up to half time. Then with a tactical change during the break began to be more positive. They pressed higher, were closer to Rangers midfield and perhaps got the benefit of the doubt in a couple referee’s decisions.

Both Darren McGregor and David Gray could have been shown red instead of yellow. McGregor for an arm in Morelos’ face and Gray for a very crude tackle on the same player.

Rangers continue to struggle to turn their dominance of possession into goals. In this instance, it was more down to lack of quality in their finishing as opposed to slow transitions.

Rangers can struggle against a side that sets up man-for-man in central midfield. Kamara is making a difference to the tempo of the Rangers midfield and therefore the whole team. As a team this still needs improvement. He always looks to play forward or run forward with the ball. This triggers the counter-attack that led to Rangers only goal. Candeias and Kent both initiate positional rotations but not often or quick enough.

Rangers dominated the first half and would have been secure with more quality finishing. However, Paul Heckingbottom deserves praise for identifying the problem and making the appropriate tactical adjustments.

It is time to discuss Steven Gerrard’s substitutions or rather lack of them. He did not use any in the previous game against Aberdeen. This time he waited until the 79th minute, after Hibernian had scored, before he brought on Jermaine Defoe. Could he be more proactive? Could he make changes before it costs his team goals? If not, he will need to learn quickly.


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Arthur Bell

An experienced coach, analyst, coordinator and educator having worked in a range of roles within education, grassroots and professional football in Scotland. Clubs includeBerwick Rangers, East Stirlingshire, Stenhousemuir and St Mirren over a 30 year period. Numerous honours including Glasgow Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1999.

An innovative and creative problem solver with the ability to lead and embrace change, motivate and inspire a team to a common goal or vision. Thrives in challenging situations and delivers strategic goals. Hands-on and leads from the front while building highly motivated teams who deliver results and succession plans for the future, with a high level of organisational, administrative, interpersonal, communication and support skills with a proven success record.