Rangers have put themselves within touching distance of the UEFA Europa League last 32 as they followed up their 1-1 in Porto with an incredible 2-0 victory over the Portuguese giants at Ibrox in Group G. The goals came minutes apart as Alfredo Morelos and Steven Davis made Ibrox erupt and furthered Rangers’ chances of progression.
Porto switched it up and went with a three-man backline. This was to help them deal with Alfredo Morelos and also to aid them curb the attacking threat of Rangers’ full-backs.
In terms of personnel, Wilson Manafá, Chancel Mbemba and Soares replaced Luis Diaz, Moussa Marenga and Ze Luis from the first match.
Rangers, on the other hand, stuck with the same team and the same 4-3-2-1 system that worked well in the 1-1 draw.
During this tactical analysis, we will look at three key tactics used by both sides and how those impacted on the eventual outcome of the match.
Porto’s shape and early high press
Porto opted to go with three central defenders, deviating from their traditional 4-4-2 system. It was an obvious tactical plan from Sérgio Conceição. The image above is from very early on in the game and shows how Porto’s press, makes Rangers almost play vertical football.
Connor Goldson is on the ball for Rangers. Instead of using his playmaker in Steven Davis, who is marked, he is forced to go long due to Soares’ pressing. It meant Rangers weren’t allowed to get into their usual rhythm and build through the thirds, which gave Porto the better foothold in the match at that point.
Another example of their pressing was against Brandon Barker. He’s about to receive the ball, but he didn’t have the time to keep the ball moving through the thirds because of the proactive Porto approach. He’s caught in a Porto triangle, and he’s dispossessed easily due to the numbers game and his lack of strength. This allows Porto to gain possession high and drive into the yellow area.
During Porto’s build-up play, they tried to isolate James Tavernier in a two-vs-one as the image above shows. However, Rangers are set up in a medium block making it difficult for Porto to carve Rangers open.
Similar to the previous image, Porto are able to create a 2-vs-1 situation but this time on the other wing. Corona and Uribe are able to isolate the full-back but instead of Corona playing Uribe in behind, he tries to dribble through Ryan Jack and Helander, who originally stood off if him and by strength in numbers they are able to snuff out this attack.
Porto’s pressing and shape in the above image indicate Porto’s press from an attacking Rangers throw-in. The press makes Rangers play across the park and Corona engages Borna Barišić with the press, which ends up in the Rangers fouling the Porto man and picking up a booking.
In the above image, Porto deviate from a back three and go to a back four in this phase of play. This caused Rangers to fail to get a good build-up in this phase.Barišić is unable to find any of his teammates as they are all covered and he is being pressed heavily. However, the way Porto were flexible enough to change shape seamlessly caused Rangers problems. Barišić in the end had to go square to keep the ball.
Interestingly, for Porto’s perceived dominance of the ball, their possession percentage came in at 49%. They could only muster one shot on target from 10 yet their passing was crisp and decisive as they completed 319.
Arfield joining the game improved Rangers’ pressing
It was a sub from Steven Gerrard that completely changed the flow of the game: Barker off, Scott Arfield on.
Arfield gave Rangers a different option when he entered the pitch. His positioning was much different from that of Barker. Barker played wider while Arfield came on and played narrower, and he came on and helped negate the influence of Danilo in Porto’s play. In the image above, Ryan Kent is pressing Chancel Mbemba – he cannot go inside to Danilo because he’s marked and ends up conceding a throw-in.
Again, in a similar phase of play on Porto’s right, Kent and Arfield close down the space; Morelos’ position means they cannot go back to the central defender nor is the ball to Alex Telles on. In the end, Rangers’ pressure creates another turnover of possession.
Just after the Rangers goal, the home side press higher. In the image above, they are going after a long pass from the defence. Immediately Arfield presses his opponent who is about to header the ball. James Tavernier, Kent and Morels back up Arfield creating a 4vs2 situation, which allows Rangers to pick up the second ball and start an attack.
Rangers’ chances and goals came from wing play
Due to Porto’s dominance in the first period, Rangers chance were few and far between. However, the one real chance the Ibrox side made was through a good combination on the right-hand side between James Tavernier and Steven Davis. Davis is able to draw to players to the ball; Tavernier makes the run beyond Telles and he then draws two players towards him, but he is able to find Barker in space, but he couldn’t take advantage of the wide opening.
In terms of Morelos’ goal, it comes from James Tavernier driving and Ryan Jack combining with him. Tavernier was able to be Manfa to the ball, and while it looks like Porto are in a good position to deal with the cross, Ryan Jack is able to cut it back. Morelos, on the other hand, slithers into the blue circle and it gives him the space for him to take the touch and score.
The second goal is a different combination from the other two examples. Barišić is able to link with Steven Davis, but on this occasion, he doesn’t use him. Davis’ movement pulls Corona wider and that opens up the space for Morelos to get in behind down the side. That is able to disrupt the Porto shape. Morelos’ run drags to players towards him and Davis is able to find space on the edge of the box to get his shot away and subsequently find the net.
This analysis showed the two sides to both teams. Rangers had to be patient but instead of attacking Porto through the centre like the previous game, they found themselves exploiting Porto’s wide areas. Porto set up to stifle Rangers, which they did, but their lack of real goal-scoring situation was their downfall. The Rangers change helped them press in a more coherent fashion and in turn, this helped them keep Porto at arm’s length from the 65th minute onwards.
Rangers have put themselves in a fantastic position to qualify from the group. Porto need two wins to stand any chance of progressing.
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