Rangers started their quest to qualify for the Uefa Champions League group stages by beating Swiss side Servette at Ibrox. The Gers won by a 2-1 scoreline. Michael Beale’s side were 2-0 up within the first 20 minutes with goals from James Tavernier from the penalty spot and a goal from new striker Cyriel Dessers.
However, the Swiss side got back into the game just before half-time with a penalty of their own after Dessers was penalised for a handball following a VAR check. Chris Beda gave the hosts hope but on the night must have felt fortunate only to be trailing by one goal at the final whistle, especially as midfielder David Douline saw red before the hour after receiving a second yellow for a foul on Todd Cantwell.
Michael Beale changed things from the weekend’s draw against Kilmarnock. Out went Abdallah Sima, John Lundstram, Kieran Dowell and in came Ryan Jack, Danilo and Todd Cantwell.
Rangers lined up in a 4-3-1-2 shape with Sam Lammers in behind Danilo and Dessers and the midfield had Ryan Jack as the six with Cantwell and Raskin as double 8s.
This article is designed to delve a little deeper into how Rangers managed to win the match against their Swiss counterparts – having a look at a few tactical trends and some stats from the match.
Rangers central overloads created space in the wide areas for the full-backs
Rangers got joy from shifting the ball across the pitch quickly, making Servette go narrow, overloading the central areas and leaving the Rangers full-backs. James Tavernier and Borna Barisic were able to benefit from this particular pattern of play on the night.
James Tavernier crossed the ball eight times during the match – five of which were accurate and one led to the second-half Lammers chance, which was saved by the Servette keeper.
Barisic, on the left, assisted Dessers’ goal, but his crossing was much more wasteful. 15 attempted crosses and just four were accurate. However, many of those were headed away for corners and strikers not being on their toes.
Moving back to Rangers being able to move Servette infield to create spaces wide, this is evident in the video below.
As you can see above, John Souttar carries the ball from centre-back through the lines into midfield. He is able to commit the Servette attackers, while Jack slots in for him after playing a smart one-two. It’s the forward running of Danilo that helps bring the Servette defence so narrow – the right-back gets drawn to his movement. This opens up a passing opportunity and Souttar is able to find Barisic, who ultimately, crosses to the back post for Dessers to knee the ball into the net.
Similarly, the move above also shows a different variation of play but with the same outcome: the full-back being able to find space and Servette being forced narrow. It comes from Raskin picking up the loose ball in midfield and like Danilo in the previous video, Lammers comes in off the right, and takes up an inside-right position, meaning Servette narrow up – because their left-back is attracted to his movement and this opens up the space for Tavernier on the right-hand side.
Unfortunately, for Rangers and Sam Lammers his shot was tipped past the post, but the pattern was evident against a side who were very well-organised against Genk in the last qualifying round.
Rangers’ press was non-existent on Saturday night against Kilmarnock, but Sam Lammers along with Danilo, Cantwell and Raskin, Rangers were able to play at tempo and press from the front. It’s still a bit disjointed at times but there was a clear press in the opening 40 minutes, even if it fell off in the second half.
The penalty which led to the opening goal was a good example. Lammers pressed and won the ball back setting Rangers away down the side, but as you can see in the video above, Cantwell – playing as a number eight – was very high at that point and as soon as the Servette player took a heavy touch, he was right on it, and then obviously was fouled. That was the energy Michael Beale spoke about wanting in the side and it was given to him by Cantwell in the example above.
Todd Cantwell was pivotal to everything that was good about Rangers
Cantwell won man-of-the match in the stadium playing in a no.8 position. He was instrumental in winning the penalty with his pressing for the opening goal and he was dictating the play in the middle of the park in the build-up to Dessers’ goal.
The stats from Cantwell’s performance were pretty good, too: Accurate passes 69/75 (92%); Recoveries: 9; Passes into the final third: 8; 99 touches – the most of any Rangers player; Ground duels won 9/14 (64%).
Those stats back up Cantwell’s contribution to the game and his well-deserved man-of-the match award, but it proves, Rangers are a far better side with Cantwell in it from the start rather than on the bench, but we knew that already.
To conclude, the way Rangers went about playing against Servette, especially in that minute spell was encouraging. The forward running from players to create the spaces for dangerous chances helped a lot. But there is still plenty to work on, especially the front three as they strive to gain an understanding, but Overall, Rangers should be pleased with some aspects of the performance but can be, rightly, frustrated that they only won by a one-goal margin.