Rangers travelled to Denmark in high spirits after their late win over Kilmarnock in their Scottish Premiership opener. In what was their toughest test of the season against an unbeaten FC Midtylland side, who had won all of their Danish Super League matches, they came away from the MCH Arena with an impressive 4-2 victory.
A first-half header from Alfredo Morelos saw Rangers go in ahead at the break. Yet no one could have foreseen how the second half would open up. Rangers grabbed two early goals in the second half through Joe Aribo and Nikola Katić. However, even though they were three up, it only spurred the home side to stage a mini-comeback with goals from Frank Onyeka and Sory Kaba five minutes apart. Rangers completed the scoring five minutes later and now have one foot in the UEFA Europa League play-off round.
In what was a fascinating game, with plenty of goals, there were signs of how Steven Gerrard’s side are becoming more streetwise and how his team are able to recover from setbacks.
In this tactical analysis, we will analyse how both sides fared against each other’s very different styles of play on the night. This analysis will cover different tactical features used by both sides within the 90 minutes.
Rangers deployed a 4-3-3 shape. However, it would often become asymmetrical because Jones would stay wider on the left and Arfield would tuck in on the right, Kamara would then shuffle across to help cover Tavernier when he went forward.
Meanwhile, FC Midtjylland were in their familiar 5-3-2 shape. The only change from their weekend win over Aab was that Sory Kaba replaced Junior in the attack.
Rangers’ shape forces Midtjylland to play backwards
Steven Gerrard spoke post-match about Rangers’ tactics being to try and play with a medium block, and the aggressive nature of Rangers’ press made it difficult for Midtjylland to play through and create any real issues in the central areas. The only time that was the case was when Rangers shot themselves in the foot and were too passive in defending, which allowed Sory Kaba to score.
Defensively, Rangers’ tactical shape was pretty narrow. FCM’s right wing-back is seen here – in the above image – trying to build their attack but because Jones presses him and Morelos is covering Sparv and the rest of their midfield is marked by a narrow Rangers four, this means the only option he has is to go back to Erik Sviatchenko.
This type of situation continued throughout the first half. This made it very difficult for Midtjylland to get into any attacking rhythm. Furthermore, it negated the threat of Evander who, in the above image, is covered by James Tavernier and Glen Kamara.
Even earlier in the first half as we can see above, Joe Aribo triggers the press of Rangers’ medium block. Morelos and Scott Arfield cover Tim Sparv while Kamara, who is circled in black, makes sure Evander isn’t able to find pockets of space. Again, the shape and aggressive pressure is a headache for the Danes. They cannot find a way to play through the condensed third, which means they would often go wide and fire the ball long for Sory Kaba to contest an aerial battle with Katić. Unfortunately for them, Katić won most of those battles.
Rangers find joy down the sides
The cornerstone of Rangers’ attacking play was to get in behind and down the side of Midtjylland’s back three. This was an obvious tactical ploy from Steven Gerrard. In truth, Kenneth Anderson had no answer and did nothing to try and combat it. Even when they seemed to have everyone covered; his players switched off.
Morelos had already turned his defender before flashing his cross beyond any Rangers attacker. However, Midtjylland didn’t heed that warning. Joel Andersson didn’t drop in order to give Tavernier a decision to make, and yet again they managed to get in down the side and were punished. The image above shows how Andersson doesn’t drop or press which allows Tavernier space and allows him to get the cross into a fantastic area.
The ball inside the wing-back was frequently on
In the above image, Scott Arfield receives the ball from Kamara and manages to position himself in between Andersson and Sparv and flashed a cross across the box. However, like Andersson, Onyeka switches off and allows Arfield the time and space unchallenged to create a chance for Rangers. Rangers found their way down the sides of the Midjtylland defence by moving the ball quickly.
Ryan Jack was the single defensive pivot in the midfield area; he would be able to switch the play when needed, Kamara and Aribo would take turns at dropping back, mostly Kamara as Tavernier was the most adventurous of the two full-backs, so he would be covered when he looked to drive on. This would drag FCM’s back five across the park allowing the likes of Arfield – in the image above – Morelos and Jones to get a night of joy down the sides of the three centre-backs.
Moreover, the same type of situation occurred for Rangers’ fourth goal. In the image below, Andersson gets no help from his inside and fails to spot the run of Morelos. As you can see Morelos gets in behind and Scott Arfield gets in behind Sviatchenko, who left acres of space for the Canadian international to exploit. This is the third example, but it happened about seven times during the game. On this occasion, the home side’s negligence in defending the sides of their back three killed the tie.
Midtjylland’s set-piece threat was minimal
Three corners and one effort at goal for the set-piece kings. On the main, Rangers handled their threat competently. So, how did Rangers manage to stop their set-pieces?
They had three corners, but the first one gave us the indication of how Rangers would set up to negate this massive FCM weapon.
The image above is nothing more than a standard set-up from the Danes, it’s the movement that makes their set-plays dangerous if you allow them to execute it. In this instance, it was a simple but effective plan: old-fashioned man-marking from your main defenders. However, it appears that Jon Flanagan and Ryan Jack are zonal. Flanagan is preparing for an Erik Sviatchenko leap, who is at the penalty spot.
The red circle shows Goldson, Katić and Tavernier marking Kaba, Oneyka, and Nicolaisen, who is trying to make the run and take Tavernier away from the back post which would allow Sviatchenko space to run around the back. However, Rangers overloading the box, as shown in the image, helped. Most of the time they would stay strong in their defensive structure, win the second ball and Jones on the edge of the box, would use his pace to break.
In this example, Evander’s corner is headed away by the free man at the front post, who is Ryan Jack, even though Sparv gets beyond him and pulls Flanagan away. It was pretty impressive given Midtylland’s style that Rangers only conceded three corners and this set-up served them well in coping and dealing with said opposition threat.
Rangers on the break – Jordan Jones
In the above images, you can see Jones in line with the penalty spot. As Rangers clear the ball, his pace is vital and he gets Rangers up the park at pace. It’s something Midtylland couldn’t handle and as Jones’ heatmap below shows, the left-hand side of the pitch was his. After a difficult start, he came into the game in both the attacking and defensive phases. He was vital at nullifying the little threat posed by FCM down his side. In an attacking sense, he was, of course, crucial to Rangers’ countering as you can see in the images above when he carries the ball from box-to-box to relieve the pressure on his side.
As this analysis showed, Steven Gerrard had a clear plan in order to beat FC Midtjylland, and it worked. Despite their set-piece prowess, Rangers had the ability to cope with that as well as being able to find the weaknesses in the FC Midtjylland wing-back system, and being able to recover from a rally from the home side. Rangers’ players and Gerrard carried out a near-perfect tactical game, which looks like it has meant Rangers have themselves a place in the Europa League play-off round for the second season in succession.
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