After a season in France, Sheyi Ojo arrived at Rangers on a season-long loan from Liverpool this summer. The Englishman is highly thought of at Anfield, he’s already started and scored for his parent club and his potential was rewarded with a long-term contract last summer.
Ojo made 11 appearances for Liverpool in 2016 but has struggled to break into the team since, spending time on loan with Wolves, Fulham and Reims in the past three seasons. Ojo joins Rangers after an underwhelming spell with Reims, much like Ryan Kent who spent last year on loan at Rangers after an unconvincing spell in Germany prior. Upon his return to Liverpool, manager Jürgen Klopp said of Ryan Kent’s time at Rangers: “he left as a boy and came back as a man.” He will be hopeful and so will Rangers fans that Ojo’s impact will be similar.
Early indications have been extremely promising. Ojo was impressive in pre-season and has already racked up seven goals and assists in Europa League Qualifiers and league games. This scout report will aim to provide a tactical analysis that will pinpoint three attributes he will bring to Rangers.
Positioning and movement
Rangers made a well-documented switch in tactics towards the end of last season. Moving away from a rigid 4-3-3, where both wingers would stay wide, to a 4-3-2-1 so as not to isolate the lone striker and build play through the centre. Until this switch Rangers struggled to break down sides who sat deep and were unable to play through them. Moving to a system with a more fluid midfield three and wingers often acting as inside forwards has allowed Rangers to create many more chances in these types of games.
Sheyi Ojo fits perfectly into Rangers’ new system. He plays predominantly from the right-wing but often finds his starting position in the half-space to receive the ball, at the same time creating space for his right-sided full-back to exploit. This is a perfect remedy at Rangers, right-back James Tavernier recorded 17 goals and 20 assists last season.
Analysis of Ojo’s heat map shows he is more of an inside forward than a winger who hugs the touchline.
The below frame shows Ojo receiving the ball in this half-space area in Rangers’ recent clash with Hibernian, in between the lines of the defence and midfield, at the same time creating space for Tavernier to advance. Movement from the right-wing like this drags opposition players central and creates space for Tavernier to exploit.
As shown below, Ojo also has the ability to receive the ball short in front of the midfield if the ball behind the midfield is not an option. In the frame shown below, he receives the ball, turns his man and switches the play to the left. This is crucial when breaking teams down, in the same way, teams use a pivot at the base of the midfield to switch the play quickly. Ojo has the intelligence to drop in front of the midfield and switch the play. Dropping in front of the midfield ‘line’ is crucial when teams play a low block with little space in front of the defence. A team playing in a low block is set up to minimise space, so it’s important that players create it by receiving the ball in congested areas and find space.
The man Ojo replaces in Rangers’ front three, Daniel Candeias, didn’t possess the same ability to break teams down. He was evidently not as comfortable drifting into central positions to receive the ball and turn.
As mentioned above, when playing against a team in a low block, in trying to break them down a team will often have to play through the phases of defence, midfield and attack. Due to the lack of space behind the defence that would allow for a long ball.
The below example is taken from Rangers’ 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock last year. The game was a perfect example of how Rangers struggled to break teams down in their 4-3-3 formation, and also shows why Ojo will be so important in similar fixtures this season.
Candeias here is looking for the ball in behind but there isn’t much space as well as two covering centre backs. He should try and work the ball through the midfield phase by receiving the ball short in the space highlighted and linking with the midfield. As Ojo did in the earlier example.
Ojo’s ability to drop deep, link the play and create space for his partnering fullback will allow Rangers to break down teams who sit deep.
Pace and versatility
In Rangers’ 3-1 home victory over Midtjylland, Sheyi Ojo was played on the left of the front three. The reason for this was to isolate opposition defender Eric Sviatchenko who struggled against the speed of the Rangers forward line in their previous encounter.
Ojo looked as comfortable playing off the left as he does from his more natural right-sided starting position. Scoring and assisting twice in a fantastic individual performance.
Above we can see Ojo carrying out his job to the letter, finding space between Sviatchenko and the Midtjylland right wing-back to receive a through ball. From the resulting ball, Ojo would provide his first assist of the night. In the previous examples of the Rangers vs Hibernian game, Ojo dropped into midfield to connect the midfield and attack. Here, Scott Arfield carries out that task allowing Ojo to run in behind.
He provided a similar assist in the prior mentioned game against Hibernian. This time setting up Jermain Defoe. In this shot Ojo has drifted from the right unmarked to run between the Hibs’ centre backs, his pace and power allows him to receive the ball in these dangerous areas as shown.
This pace could be a real weapon in European ties if Rangers progress to the group stages of the Europa League and in high stake league matches where teams are more willing to attack.
The aforementioned four goals that Ojo has already scored this season indicate the goal threat that he will bring to this Rangers side. Throughout previous loan spells, he’s struggled to find the back of the net regularly but his strong scoring start at Ibrox indicates that this could be the year he becomes a goal scorer.
From his first seven competitive games for Rangers, Ojo has four goals and three assists. He has an XG (expected goals) of 0.47 per game, last season his XG was 0.28. Stats also show that he is averaging 4.77 shots on target per game, over double the 2.29 average he managed last season. Perhaps even more impressively, he has won on average 15.19 offensive duels per game already this season, Candeias managed an average of 6.83 last season.
This is further proof that Ojo seems to be a perfect fit for Rangers. Last season Rangers were overly reliant on Alfredo Morelos’ goals, with Candeias and Kent notching only 12 goals between them. It will be crucial Ojo maintains his goal-scoring exploits.
His first in a Rangers shirt came in a Europa League qualifier against St. Josephs, a curling effort from the right side of the box. He continued in the same vein against Progres at Ibrox in the next round, scoring from range from the left side of the area. Both were fantastic individual strikes, but his goal against Midtjylland was perhaps the most impressive.
As shown in the below two frames, Ojo is within his own half when Scott Arfield picks up the ball to play in Morelos at the bottom left of the screen. In the next frame, he makes up significant ground in around eight seconds to finish from eight yards. This is a poacher’s goal; exactly what Rangers need from their forward men.
This is a huge season for Sheyi Ojo. At 22 he is no longer a prospect and must act on the potential he has so clearly shown in flashes throughout loan spells and appearances for Liverpool. His start at Rangers indicates that this season could be his best yet.
Clearly an upgrade on what Rangers have had before in his position, he will be desperate to go back to Liverpool next summer ready to contest for his place in the squad.
It appears from his start that it may be a perfect fit for club and player.
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