With the Scottish Premiership coming to an official end, former Rangers ‘Player of the Year’ Steven Davis has spoken out about his future. He has pledged his commitment to his current club, Rangers, and country, Northern Ireland, remaining coy on how long exactly. Furthermore, he has expressed his desire to get involved in football from a coaching perspective, with aspirations of managing both sides in the future.
Initially joining Rangers on loan from the EPL in January of 2019, Davis would impress Gerrard. Ultimately, he struggled with his fitness having not played many games before the loan deal.
The clubs finalised a permanent deal in July of the same year. Estimated to cost £1,800,000, Davis would go on to secure regular minutes at Rangers throughout the season, averaging 79 minutes per game. He added one goal and three assists to the side as well as attaining 42 appearances, despite having a bruised foot that was responsible for him missing six games.
This scout report will better inform the reader of Davis’ strengths and weaknesses. It will provide and make use of his statistics from this season. By doing so, we can develop an objective foundation that will allow for an accurate tactical analysis and evaluation of his ability.
He has featured primarily as a defensive midfielder for Rangers with 19 appearances. Due to the variety of opposing styles, Rangers continually adapt their tactics. As a result, Davis has also featured 11 times as a centre midfielder and five times as an attacking midfielder.
Let’s examine his positioning at set-pieces.
Above, at defensive corners, Davis takes a post. Therefore, his job requires him to clear any imminent danger. Furthermore, he leads the defensive line forward as they relieve the threat.
At attacking corners, Davis occupies a similar role as he does for attacking free kicks. His intense pressing style merged with his crossing or long-range shooting ability is a threat to any team’s defence.
The picture above shows Steven Davis’ role during defensive free kicks. He positions himself in line with the front post. Here, he’s responsible for clearing low crosses as well as pressing any attempts to play short.
At attacking free kicks, Davis occupies a space on the edge of the box. If the opposition clears the initial cross, his positioning prompts an opportunity to recover possession. If he succeeds, his vision combined with technique enables him to find a teammate or shoot.
This season, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard has entrusted Davis to drop deep, create an overload and establish possession amongst the defensive unit. By doing so reliably, he enables his fellow midfielders and full-backs time to advance further forward. Therefore, Rangers progress up the pitch with few unforced errors in their half.
In the picture above, note how Davis provides an option, positioning himself in a space to receive and pass. His availability creates an overload in the middle third. As a result, Rangers’ defenders have more options to pass too, making it easier to maintain possession. Furthermore, Rangers’ reliability in possession allows their teammates off the ball to advance.
Progressing through the thirds
Pictured above is an analysis of the progressive passes made in the SPFL. Under Gerrard, Davis plays as a pivot. He progresses through the middle third by playing around or over the opposing midfield unit. Additionally, when Rangers utilise the long ball tactic, Davis will press to win the second ball as another method of progressing through the middle third.
As the ball travels into the channel, the closest midfielder, Davis, provides a passing lane infield. The position that Davis gets himself into allows him several passing options, all of which he can play. Using his experience, he often performs the least risky pass that progresses play forward. If the opposition recovers possession, his position prevents the opponents from exposing his fellow centre-backs. He acts as the first line of defence, delaying the ball carrier, providing time for his teammates to recover.
Another approach that Davis exercises to progress play is the long ball. For example, if he receives the ball in a deeper position near his defensive line, he will utilise his long-passing ability to unlock spaces in behind defences for his forwards to exploit.
In previous years for Rangers, Davis played an instrumental role from this position. However, this season, Davis has played a more defensive role for the team, scoring once and assisting three. Despite the lack of the final product, his vision, timing and ball manipulation have created several goal-scoring opportunities.
In the picture above, Davis’ defensive position sees him remain 10 – 15 yards outside of the box. From this position, he serves as the first defender should the opponents attempt to play out from the back. He can also recover clearances and start attacks from the final third with his passing ability.
The example above shows Davis executing the type of pass that’s become synonymous with his style of play. With a lack of pressure, Davis slows down to an almost static position. From this position, he has three options; A, to bend one around the opposing defence and allow his wingers to attack the full-backs; B, to play an intricate pass over the defence; or C, to play a low through ball between the opposing centre backs.
Davis completes the hardest pass, B. He dinks the ball over the defensive line to Ianis Hagi. The number 10 gets enough behind it to reach Hagi instead of falling short or ending up in the keeper’s grasp. This highlights Davis’s vision, timing and mastery of passing.
To date, Davis continues to provide key passes. However, his deeper position in midfield has limited the number of attacking opportunities Davis gets. Above, Rangers find themselves 2-0 down against Braga.
As a result, Davis pushes higher, creating an overload in the half-spaces. Thus, he provides an option for wall passes for the front three.
Furthermore, Davis visually identifies dangerous spaces to take up in the final third. Above, with Rangers needing a goal against Porto, Davis advances to the edge of the box. From here, he often plays a lateral pass, encouraging the wingers to attack the goal. However, in this picture, Davis proves he’s capable of scoring from outside the box. The picture highlights his spatial awareness. As a result, he often finds himself with enough time to get a clean strike away.
Defending from the front
As the defensive midfielder of the team, Davis drops deep to provide a screen for his fellow centre-backs. The circumstances in which Davis will press in the final third involve the second phase of direct set-pieces shown below.
Above, Davis positions himself on the edge of the box as a set-piece is whipped in. The opposing defence heads the ball out and Davis immediately presses the ball carrier. At this point, Davis springs a press, forcing the ball carrier to relinquish the ball. It’s in these moments in which we see some of Davis’s greatest attributes. They include the ability to win the ball back without going to ground and then being able to fire the ball back into the box with precision.
Defending the final third
As a defensive midfielder, Davis’ role also includes marking the opposition’s attacking midfield. If the opponent plays without an attacking midfielder, Davis will block the passing lane into the striker. He will also cover the space between the penalty spot and the edge of the box.
In the example above, Davis’ hard-working mentality enables him to remain tight to his opposite number. Note how his position permits him to see both the ball and the man he’s marking. Davis pursues the central runner and can make a challenge should it be passed in this direction.
Failure to track his man or get on the wrong side could leave his centre-back exposed to a one on one situation. By doing so, he’s forced the opposition wide as seen above.
See above the position Davis takes up in his box. At 35, Davis consistently treks back and marks the space in and around the penalty area. Moreover, he’s composed and disciplined in the defensive third, and his experience means he can instruct his teammates. In a scenario where the ball enters the box, Davis instinctively deals with it without a second thought.
Alternatively, when a player carries the ball into the box, Davis presses without diving in or going to ground. And finally, Davis makes sure to get himself between the ball and his marker. As a result, he always has a chance of intercepting the pass.
This season, Davis has evolved his game by becoming a holding centre midfielder that controls possession under immense pressure for Rangers. His role also requires him to progress the ball out from the back and towards the wings.
In the final third, Davis can still penetrate defensive lines with his passing. However, he is instructed to sit further back, recovering possession outside of the opposition’s box before distributing it back into the channels.
Out of possession, Davis works relentlessly to organise the midfield and protect his defensive line.
As a result of Davis’ commitment, professionalism and passion to play 90 minutes every week, he’s been able to maintain his appearances in a long and fruitful season.