Rangers dropped two points and stayed second in the Scottish Premiership after a rather dull 1-1 draw with Hearts. The Jambos took the lead early on when Ryotaro Meshino was on hand to loft the ball into an empty net after a James Tavernier error. Rangers hit back before half-time with a clinical finish from Alfredo Morelos.
However, the second half didn’t prove to be a classic as both sides deserved a point on the day.
Rangers went with the usual 4-3-2-1, making three changes from the win over Hamilton. Greg Stewart found himself on the bench being replaced with Joe Aribo, while Morelos came in for Defoe and Niko Katić replaced George Edmundson next to Connor Goldson in defence.
Hearts, on the other hand, moved away from the back three they had gone with previous and deployed a 4-2-3-1 shape. Their plan was to use their striker, hit him early and win second balls and to be fair to Craig Levein his tactics were more successful than his Ibrox counterpart during this match.
During this tactical analysis, we look at some of the main tactical patterns of play used by both sides and how they helped decide the result.
Hearts’ direct play and the importance of Ikpeazu
Hearts got their joy by playing long up to Uche Ikpeazu – the burly frontman proved to be up for the battle and was a handful for Nikola Katić and Connor Goldson.
This was evident in the opening exchanges of the match. He had already hit the bar by winning the ball and knocking it wide for his right-winger to cross.
However, his pressing and presence sheer presence were pivotal for Craig Levein’s tactics during the match.
In this first instance, Ikpeazu has already forced Katić to play square to Goldson. However, he keeps pressing Connor Goldson, with Hearts three attacking midfielders also pressing high, and Glen Kamara unable to take the pass, Goldson goes long to try and use Alfredo Morelos as an outball, but he’s unable to hold the ball up, which causes another turnover. Rangers struggled to cope with the press and the high intensity of the press from Hearts in the early stages. This caused their midfield to take up a deep starting position as they try and beat the press.
This example is one of Rangers’ many poor moments during the transition; Sheyi Ojo (on the ball) takes the easy option of cutting back instead of trying to get Rangers up the park. However, again, Ikpeazu is the Hearts man who causes upset. Ojo has to pass backwards due to him turning inside and having Meshino pressing him from the back. Sean Clare floating in Kamara’s zone means a square pass is not an option. Ikpeazu pressing Davis makes him play long and ultimately this causes Rangers to give up possession.
It wasn’t only the pressing that made Ikpeazu a thorn in Rangers’ side, it was also the way Hearts were able to play off him. They were able to take full advantage of him drawing players towards him, especially in the example below where this allows Meshino to play in pockets of space. It may not be pretty but it worked.
In this example, it’s the build-up to Hearts’ goal. It looks like a run-of-mill free-kick, but as you can see Ikpeazu wins the first header against Katić. Steven Davis is in a decent position but he’s attracted to the ball, while Goldson is on the cover. As Kamara is watching the high duel, Meshino runs off the back of him into all sorts of space. He is then allowed to hover outside the box while the play progresses. James Tavernier allows his man to get the shot in on goal with another indecisive defensive moment; he simply has to clear his lines and launch the ball into the stand. If Tavernier clears the ball instead of trying to head it back, Rangers can reset and ride the early stages of Hearts pressure.
The big striker made one key pass, hit the woodwork once, won eight of his 15 attacking duels and made one progressive run.
Furthermore, Hearts’ direct style and use of the striker is evident in the pass map below. Joel Pereira to Ikpeazu is the second-highest of the top ten passing links with eight. That shows how many times Hearts were happy to miss out the midfield and hit their big man who spearheaded their attack.
Rangers’ build-up and failure to utilise wide openings
Rangers’ shape during build-up rarely changes the two wide midfielders drop deep allowing the two full-backs to overlap. One ball from Goldson on this occasion got Barisic away on a 2vs1 with Ojo. However, Rangers were unable to capitalise on this opening.
Similar to the first image, Ojo (out of picture) drags Hickey inside allowing Barišić the space on the overlap, but with the midfield being so deep, two of whom are covering for full-backs and Arfield too deep; this leaves Morelos in the middle against the four Hearts defenders – a battle on the day that even he couldn’t win.
Tavernier on the other side didn’t have much luck either of his eight attempted crosses none were successful – but they were from mostly set-plays and deep positions. Barisic’s hit rate was one from seven. When the full-backs are so vital to a team’s attacking play having one successful cross from 15 between them is really poor.
Rangers’ poor decision-making during the transition was a key factor in their poor attacking play
Six shots at goal and only one on target. And that was the goal from Alfredo Morelos. That stat alone gave an indication of how poor Rangers were in the final third. Their xG came in at 1.09; that also indicates the lack of quality chances created. That was down to the poor decision-making in the top part of the pitch.
The above image illustrates Rangers breaking and Morelos being fouled by Glen Whelan. Rangers are trying to break during this phase of play. But again poor decision making would rob Rangers of a potential goalscoring opportunity. Morelos has to get the ball out of his feet and play the pass. If Ojo receives the pass he would be bearing down on goal in a great position.
The image above is the tail end of a great move break including Arfield, Morelos and Kent. However, Morelos has to take that ball on the outside of the defender and get the shot away. If his shot is saved Kent is in a good position to tap it in. Playing the ball to Arfield when he’s outnumbered two vs one and he’s been closed down is the wrong option.
To conclude, this analysis shows how poor Rangers were on the day in attack. They were unable to make the most of the attacking situations they found themselves in. Furthermore, having one shot on target during the 90 minutes is telling.
Hearts are a team who have had a poor start to the season. But if they can use Ikpeazu in the way they used him during this game, their results will improve. Their style may not be easy on the eye but it works for them; this may be the start of a Hearts revival, and they should take great confidence from this match.
It was a day to forget for Steven Gerrard and his players. However, his players cannot continue to produce away performances like this one. They will have to pick themselves up and get ready for a tough Europa League fixture against Porto on Thursday.
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