Before this UEFA Europa League Group G match, not many, if any pundits or fans gave Rangers much of a chance of getting anything from the match against FC Porto in matchday three at the Estádio do Dragão.
Both sides went into the game in similar form with only two losses between them in their last six games combined. The match turned out to be a lot closer than most people thought. Rangers played really well in and out of possession and if it wasn’t for an individual error in combination with a Luis Díaz wonder striker, they would have come away with maximum points. If they did, FC Porto could have had no complaints. While Luis Díaz gave FC Porto the lead. It was cancelled out with a fantastic passing movement, which ended up with Alfredo Morelos scoring his 16th goal of the season.
The 1-1 draw leaves Group G wide open at the half-way stage, with all four sides fancying their chances of progression to the last 32.
FC Porto and Sérgio Conceição went with a 4-4-2 shape, which really became 4-2-4 when FC Porto were attacking. This caused them problems when Rangers narrowed up when in their defensive block.
Gerrard and Rangers sprung a surprise starting with two ball carriers in Kent and Barker. The idea was to negate FC Porto’s threat centrally and force them wide when and when they were out of possession. When they won the ball and attempted to transition the plan was to attack at pace and get Barker and Kent up to support Alfredo Morelos.
FC Porto’s wing play was their best route to goal
FC Porto’s 4-4-2 shape meant most of their best play would come from the flanks, creating 2v1 situations on occasion. They made 28 crosses during the match yet only nine of those were successful; three of them resulted in good goal-scoring chances.
The above image is an example of FC Porto creating 2v1 situations in the wide areas which in turn lead to a crossing situation. Moussa Marega robs Glen Kamara and as this comes while Rangers are in the build-up phase, it leaves Borna Barišić finding himself being caught up the field, and Marega and Otávio have an advantage. Otávio does get the ball in the shaded area, but his cross was blocked by Filip Helander.
In this example, Pepe is able to find Marega, who dropped off the front. Barišić and Kamara are caught and that allows Marega to link with Jesús Corona. He had all the time to whip in a cross for Zé Luís but he will look back on it with regret as he didn’t hit the target. For Porto, though, the combination play down the flanks was quick and incisive to enable them to create the crossing situation.
However, it wasn’t only when Porto created 2v1 in their favour, In the example below Alex Telles was able to receive the ball high yet he was outnumbered by James Tavernier and Brandon Barker but his quality of cross was able to negate that situation and cross for Zé Luís’ header to hit the post. The striker’s movement was superb to make a yard to get in front of Helander.
Gerrard’s shape made sure FC Porto wouldn’t get central success
If Rangers were to get anything from the game, which they did, they had to be compact, disciplined and make sure Porto weren’t able to cut them open centrally enabling the home side to get shot after shot on Allan McGregor’s goal.
Rangers were able to achieve all those adjectives and their performance was one of maturity, especially from a tactical point of view.
Even though Porto had 55% of the ball, they simply couldn’t find a way through the well-organised Rangers shape.
As the image above shows, Porto are trying to build an attack through Uribe. However, with Davis engaging him and Danilo out of play due to Barker tucking in to play in his zone, they are unable to play a forward pass and it means they have to recycle and go again.
However, in this instance Rangers’ shape was good but Porto’s moment front the front players was poor. They are all stood in a line, none of them are willing to drop off the front and get into the shaded red area to give Ryan Jack or Glen Kamara something different to think about or make them alter their position.
Rangers this time are in a much more compact shape. Pepe is left with the ball while both of FC Porto’s midfielders are out of the game. He’s unable to find Uribe, who is circled with Davis and Danilo is so deep but he cannot take the short pass because Rangers’ narrow attacking triangle could pounce on him and cause a turnover.
With Porto’s forwards being so high, Pepe has one option – to play the long diagonal. The ball is flicked on but Ryan Jack – the Rangers midfielder running backwards – matches the Porto player’s run and it goes out for a goal kick.
Furthermore, the above image ties in both of the previous points. If we look at FC Porto’s focus of attack map, it shows them having much more success from the wings and being able to create a better quality of chance. Centrally, however, they could only mount three attacks, with an xG of 0.43 rather the than fourteen from the right and left with an xG of 0.68 from the left and 0.48 from the right
Rangers’ ability to play through FC Porto’s press
One impressive feature of Steven Gerrard’s side was how brave they were while on the ball. As mentioned before FC Porto did have 55% of the possession, but they were outplayed at times by the way the Ibrox side were able to play through their press.
Rangers were able to play 18.55 per minute and the hosts were only able to play 15.83. Rangers also had the upper hand with the average number of passes per possession 4.4 to 4.34 albeit a small difference it was enough to show how brave and good Rangers were on the ball.
The above image is an example of how Rangers beat Porto’s less-than-impressive press. Marega is pressing Davis but the speed and purpose of how Rangers move it through the thirds is impressive and Morelos dropping deep, then feeding the ball wide to James Tavernier who is able to create an attack. Of course, if Danilo helps Marega with Davis and doubles up, it would give FC Porto a better chance of creating a turnover.
Given how good Rangers were at beating the home sides press, it wasn’t a surprised when the Rangers goal came from a passage of play which saw them take apart Porto’s press.
The above image illustrates the way Rangers construct the goal. Kamara (circled) dropping deep allows Barišić to overlap and drags the wide attacker with him; Kent (circled) drags his full-back inside into the half-space and flicks the ball around the corner, with the right-sided attacker being moved out of position by Kamara, and Kent doing his best to eliminate the full-back, leaving Barišić with the left flank to himself. He’s able to fire in a first-time cross, which Morelos finishes. The build-up to the goal included over 10 passes but it was the bravery of Helander and the movement of Kent and Kamara that opened the space for Barišić to exploit and cross for the goal.
This analysis shows how good a football team Rangers can be. When they are able to be so good in and out of possession, it shows Gerrard and his coaching team are getting through to the players and that the players are good enough to execute a gameplan against such a quality side. Gerrard’s tactics on the night were the kind of tactics you would see from a coach with far more experience than he has in the role. That has to be a massive positive for the Rangers manager.
In terms of qualifying from the group, Rangers will now fancy themselves to make the knockout rounds given they have two of the final three games at Ibrox.
FC Porto, on the other hand, were really one-dimensional in attack and despite taking the lead from a superb strike, it feels like they underestimated Rangers. They were luck their goalkeeper was able to save from Morelos in the second period or they would have had a severe bloody nose due to their arrogance.
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