Rangers 2 – 2 St Johnstone tactical review

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By Jamie Currie

Rangers contrived to drop more points in the title race, this time at McDiarmid Park, as they drew 2-2 with St Johnstone. Despite being able to turn the game in their favour after Callum Hendry put the hosts in front early on, the goals from Florian Kamberi and Joe Aribo would mean Rangers only picked up one point. Stevie May pounced on a defensive error to get St Johnstone their second goal and further dent Rangers’ current Scottish Premiership form.

I will be looking at some of the tactical problems and instances that had an impact on the result.

Line-ups

Screenshot 2020-02-25 at 10.52.39

The 4-3-2-1 system stayed the same but the personnel had some changes. Andy Halliday replaced Borna Barisic at left-back, Joe Aribo came in for Glen Kamara and Ryan Jack replaced Steven Davis in a match that further led to questions being asked of the system and maybe why simplifying it for bog-standard domestic matches may be a fruitful change.

Goldson and Katic having needless possession

Katic Goldson passing1
Katic elects to go square to Goldson

Rangers are in the build-up phase of play. Katic originally had the ball, with Halliday open but instead of trying to build play, he went square to Connor Goldson passing on the responsibility.  These are the actions of a man who knows he’s doing the basics wrong and is afraid to try and do what many feel is the weakest part of his game.

Katic Goldson passing 2
Katic to Goldson again despite progressive passes being on

Katic, again, has two options on for a progressive pass: Halliday on the left to build an attack down the flank or the pass into Scott Arfield, who is ready to receive on the half-turn and break the lines, yet he chooses the safe option and allows the tempo of the attack to drop, while St Johnstone are able to stay compact and shut down Arfield.

Katic Goldson passing 3
Three or four potential progressive passes on for Goldson

The above image this time is Goldson: he has four passes on – three forward ones, and the one back to Katic which he opts for. He should be shifting his feet quicker and using the right channel, where Tavernier is wide and Scott Arfield is on the run and ready to break the St Johnstone lines. Far too passive and save in possession.

Screenshot 2020-02-25 at 10.51.11
Pass map between the back four and Ryan Jack

St Johnstone set up in a 4-4-2 low block and the pass map shows that there were 29 passes between Katic and Goldson; this becomes possession for the sake of it. It didn’t help that with the two of them having a mini-game between themselves the tempo of their passing was at a walking pace.

During the 25-minute period displayed in the above images, Rangers and St Johnstone had the same amount of shots on target – three. the hosts were playing direct on the counter while Rangers were being hindered by the slow tempo and the passiveness of their build-up play. During that same period, Rangers had made 71 lateral passes compared to 15 from St Johnstone. And Gerrard’s men had played 16 backward passes in comparison with five from St Johnstone. That tells it’s own story in terms of the build-up play and perhaps the players’ lack of confidence.

Niko Katic – not his best day at the office

It’s fair to say Niko Katic didn’t have his greatest performance in a Rangers shirt. Unfortunately, he was at the centre of both St Johnstone goals, making the individual error for both. Katic won 50% of his defensive duels. However, despite him receiving 37 passes, 15 of Katic’s passes were to Goldson. He needs to be far more proactive in possession. More worryingly for Gerrard, Katic lost the ball 8 out of 12 times in his own half, and that on its own highlights his poor performance.

Katic 1
Katic goes too early for a ball he cannot win

The above image shows Katic being too rash and attacking the ball instead of holding his line. This leaves St Johnstone in behind and on this occasion he was lucky that Goldson was on the cover. He should be allowing the striker to bring the ball down and then trying to challenge for the second ball instead of leaving big gaps in behind when challenging for balls in which his opponent is the overwhelming favourite.

Katic 2
Katic has a good starting position but fails to deal with the ball

The above image shows Katic’s position after Goldson had lost the first header to Stevie May. The Croat has himself in a good starting position – he’s favourite to deal with the situation. However, instead of sticking the ball out of play, he hoofs it high into the sky, loses flight of it, trips over and allows Callum Hendry in to score. This situation re-inforces why Goldson is the better covering defender while Katic’s role is challenging for the initial header.

Katic 3
Katic tries to take control when it’s not needed

The above image is naive defending. One long ball, like the first goal Rangers conceded reeks havoc. Katic – goes to clear the ball – he should not be going to clear the ball; he should use his brain and making sure Stevie May is blocked off – if Katic did that, it would allow Goldson to take control of the situation and bring McGregor into play, meaning no corner kick or goal led from this passage of play.

Simplifying the system worked in the second half – better numbers in attack which gave St Johnstone a different problem

Morelos isolated
Morelos isolated with Kent so wide, leaving him 2vs1 against the centre-backs

Often when Rangers are bang out of form, Alfredo Morelos is the one to drag them out of a hole. However, he was very poor and came up against two centre-backs who double marked him and often found himself isolated from Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi in the first half.  During the first half, Morelos had three touches in the box, won just one of his five offensive duels and none of his two shots were on target.

When Rangers changed it at half-time removing Halliday for Kamberi this helped take some of the burden from him, and it allowed Rangers to overload the forward areas.

442-2
Rangers have more threats in attacking areas

More of a 4-2-2-2 than 4-4-2, the above image illustrates how Morelos is now not being double-man marked any longer. Florian Kamberi is able to occupy one of the defenders which allows Rangers to create space for the deeper attacking players such as Hagi in this instance. It also allows Kent to drift and Aribo to make a front four as he is able to get closer to Morelos.

442-4
Attacking players are not isolated creating problems for St Johnstone

The above image is Rangers transitioning from defence to attack quickly, while there is a perceived lack of control, the quick forward pass disrupts St Johnstone’s shape. With Kamberi, Morelos and Hagi close together it helps Rangers create an overload in the central area and with Tavernier being so high, it meant their midfield four became a three because the wider midfielder had to track his run.

The difference is clear: between Kent, Morelos and Hagi in the first 45, the number of progressive passes was 21. When you add Kamberi and the change of shape into the mix for the second half, the number is 35. Perhaps reinforcing the need for change in some domestic matches from an attacking standpoint.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is an argument while Morelos isn’t himself and while Kamberi is on form and both of them seem to be able to link up well – change the system for the lesser domestic matches, where you may not need three in the middle, and trust that your attacking quality will allow you to win the game. Sometimes simplicity can be king, especially in this league and in matches such as this one.

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