Rangers continued their good run of form in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts to make their Easter weekend a good one. The 3-1 scoreline in Rangers’ favour flattered Hearts on the day. The goals came from Jermain Defoe and Ryan Jack in the first half, while Nikola Katić made it 3-0 at the start of the second period; Steven Maclean made it 3-1 with 16 minutes remaining but it made no difference to the eventual outcome.
In truth, Hearts had little chance of winning this one on the balance of play. Rangers were totally dominant, with 59.21% of possession during the match. Furthermore, Steven Gerrard‘s side had a higher passing accuracy (82.22% to Hearts’ 72.92%), a higher number of ball recoveries (108 to 85) and higher percentage challenges won (37.82% to 37.09%).
But as always, there are plenty of talking points to discuss and it was no different from the match at Tynecastle.
Rangers’ high pressing and quick transitions killed Hearts
While the graphics say Rangers played in a 4-3-3 formation. That strictly isn’t true. Steven Gerrard set up with a 4-3-2-1 shape on the day, and that was abundantly clear during the first two goals, specifically by how narrow the ‘wide men’ are. Rangers’ high press as well as their movement and their willingness to get the ball forward as quickly as possible killed Hearts.
The above image, which is the build-up to the opening goal from Jermain Defoe, illustrates how high Jon Flanagan is. He won the ball from Craig Wighton, who is the Hearts player on the deck. Glen Kamara’s first thought is to get the ball forward as quickly as possible, and with the ball being won in a highish area of the park, it meant one tackle and one decisive pass sent Defoe away to score. It also created a numerical advantage in attacking situations, which this shape seems to be able to achieve. In this case, it was a 3 vs 2 in Rangers’ favour.
Similar to Defoe’s opener, the second goal came from good pressing and incisive decision making. Jack wins the ball from Oliver Bozanic, and it falls to Daniel Candeias but, maybe in times gone by he would have stood and admired his ball-winning, he got on his bike and helped create a central 2 vs 2 situation.
As Daniel Candeias advances, with Scott Arfield to his left, Jermain Defoe’s run pulls Christophe Berra out of the area which Jack, who originally won the ball from Bozanic, runs into and tickles the ball into the back of the net. The movement and awareness from Candeias, Jack and Defoe in the lead-up to this goal is magnificent.
Nikola Katić gave another assured performance
He’s a fan favourite and Nikola Katić is showing why. He’s been very good in the last few matches. In this match, he was up against Hearts’ muscle man Uche Ikpeazu, who is a tricky customer. However, over the course of the 90 minutes, the striker beat him in the air once, which led to a half-chance for Craig Wighton and he turned him in the second half.
On the whole, Katić dominated the big striker and was more than happy to engage in and come out on top in the physical battle, which was evident as he won 63% of his aerial duels and made six interceptions. The young Croat topped off a good personal display by adding the third goal.
Why has it been so easy for Rangers to beat Hearts?
It’s a question that has been in my head since the final whistle at Tynecastle. Hearts have been easy meat for Rangers this season. Gerrard’s men have beat them in all four matches. On each occasion, the victory has been a deserved one. Rangers have scored 11 and conceded three in the matches against the Edinburgh side. It’s strange because they set up similarly to Aberdeen and Kilmarnock who Rangers have struggled against at points this season. So maybe it’s a case of Rangers having Hearts’ number this season.
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