Tactical Analysis: Rangers’ win over Hearts delays Celtic’s title celebrations

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis

Hearts at Ibrox is thought-provoking. Stats show Hearts as second only to Celtic in Passes per Defensive Actions (PPDA). “PPDA” is used to measure how intense a team is pressing their opposition when they do not have the ball. Calculated by dividing the number of passes a team concedes in their own half by the number of defensive duels they make. Rangers with a lack of midfield creativity should have difficulties against a team aggressively pressing in their own half. However, Gerrard has two wins out of two against Levein. This tactical analysis will look at the Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and Hearts.

Hearts had been successful in their appeal of Uche Ikpeazu’s yellow card for simulation against Aberdeen. Nonetheless, manager Craig Levein revealed that he would miss the clash after being stretchered off with a head injury.

Rangers appealed Ryan Kent’s two-game ban, meaning he was free to play. On the other hand, Alfredo Morelos and Andy Halliday were missing due to suspensions. Without their top scorer, would their Old Firm indiscipline hurt Rangers again?


Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Team Sheet


Rangers set up in a 4-3-3, dropping out as well as Morelos and Halliday were McCrorie and Candeias. With Flanagan, Davis, Kamara and Defoe coming into the side. However, it was not a straight personnel swap, it was also a style change.

Hearts set up in a 5-3-1-1, a slight change from the previous 5-4-1 against Aberdeen. Dropping out was Mulraney and Ikpeazu and coming in were Godinho and Bozanic. Wighton was the top striker with Clare playing behind and also dropping into midfield.

Hearts game model

Craig Levein set his side up to channel Rangers down the sides and deal with the crosses. A logical approach, with three big centre-backs and Rangers propensity to struggle against a horizontally compact low block. Souttar, Berra and Shaughnessy stay central to defend the area in front of the goal. Brandon and Godinho will press wide if required. Bozanic, Haring and Djoum block the forward penetrating pass and protect the centre-backs. Clare will come back to cover any gaps in midfield but also supply early support to Wighton.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Hearts shape

In possession, Hearts looked to break quickly or more often, overload to isolate. Taking Rangers to one side and leaving a full-back or a midfield wide on the opposite side. Then a quick switch of the point of attack sets up a one versus one.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Hearts isolating and switching point of attack.

Rangers game model

Although Rangers went back to their 4 3 3, it is not the formation but how they used it which is interesting. In the past, with Morelos as the main striker, Candeias and Kent have played wide and attacks have gone down the flanks with crosses into the box or balls into the channels for Morelos to battle. When Morelos was missing they tended to play the same way, this did not suit their other strikers.

This time they adapted to suit their striker, Defoe. Kent and Arfield came into the central and half spaces. This allowed them to get between the Hearts defensive lines and therefore penetrate through the central area.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Arfield and Kent getting central and between the lines

A change of style?

Rangers set out to control the central area and to play short quick passes around and down the sides of the centre-backs. They did this by setting up two central triangles. Davis, Kamara and Jack in one, and Kent, Defoe and Arfield the other. Any width or out ball required would be supplied by Tavernier or Flanagan.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Rangers Double Triangles

Within each of these triangles, the players would rotate which at times gave the impression of giving Kent and Arfield a free role. In midfield, although Davis was mainly the defensive player the rotation allowed him to take players away to create a space for Jack or Kamara. Allowing them to find space to receive a diagonal forward pass in an open body stance and to go forward. This had the effect of increasing the intensity of the play.

Hearts defensive changes

Initially, for 30 minutes, Hearts adopted a mid to low block but the rotations and interchanges allowed Rangers to penetrate centrally. Tavernier and Flanagan would go high and wide, Goldson and Worrall would split, and Davis would drop between the centre-backs leaving Kamara and Jack above the first defensive line.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Davis building from the back.

After 30 minutes, Hearts adopted a high block in order to stop Rangers control of the game. By this time Rangers were two goals up and confident. They kept their composure to pass out of tight situations and were prepared to go long when required.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Hearts High Block

After half-time, Hearts adopted a more aggressive man for man high block but this almost immediately allowed Rangers to bring them out of position. They were able to play an up, back and through to score what was the final goal of the game.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Hearts man for man press

Rangers see the game out

In Rangers’ last four games Hibernian, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Celtic have all countered quickly and scored. The midfield triangle provides security in the central area in front of the centre-backs. Davis helps to provide protection in this vital and vulnerable zone.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Hearts Organised Corner

Rangers controlled the remainder of the game and although Hearts had well rehearsed and organised set pieces, they could not take advantage of the few they created.

Rangers Hearts Scottish Premiership Tactical Analysis
Hearts Another Corner Variation.


For Rangers, there is life without top scorer Morelos. Defoe has shown with a change of team style he is more than an able deputy. With 578 passes and 68% possession, Rangers controlled the game from start to finish. Rangers have beaten Hearts in the last six games. If they could have gotten near this consistency against Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Hibs they would have been genuine challengers.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any life for Hearts without Naismith and Ipkeazu. Hearts lack the strength and ball retention in the final third without Naismith and Ipkeazu. After an excellent result against Aberdeen on Saturday, this was a step too far for Hearts.

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