After both teams had differing fortunes in the Betfred Cup last midweek, it was time for another Rangers vs Aberdeen grudge match in the Scottish Premiership.

Rangers dominated this match and won 5-0. those goals came through two James Tavernier penalties in either half and one each from Jermain Defoe, Alfredo Morelos and Greg Stewart.

This tactical analysis will provide an in-depth analysis of how Rangers were able to pick Aberdeen apart and it will also show how one-dimensional Aberdeen were on the day.


Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis
Starting line-ups for both Rangers and Aberdeen

Rangers made three changes from their win in the cup against Livingston; Niko Katić came in for Filip Helander at the heart of the defence; Glen Kamara and Joe Aribo were replaced by Steven Davis and Greg Stewart.

Aberdeen made two changes. Andrew Considine was ill so he was replaced by Zak Vyner and Niall McGinn replaced James Wilson.

The home side started in a 4-3-3 system, which became very fluid and interchangeable and Aberdeen started with, on paper, a 4-2-3-1 and that rapidly became anything but given how little attacking intent they had during the 90 minutes.

Aberdeen’s passive, negative gameplan

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Rangers play out of a poor Aberdeen press

Last season, Aberdeen got joy from Rangers when they deployed the man-orientated press. However, in the above example, you can see Connor Goldson has the ball and has one pass on to Steven Davis, who is circled.

Instead of Niall McGinn or Sam Cosgrove cutting off the passing lane, they allow Goldson to feed Davis. He’s on the D but you can see the space he has, and that is because Aberdeen are so deep. You would expect Ryan Hedges, Dean Campbell or Lewis Ferguson to close the space in the red area out, which would give Davis a problem when he turns, but with none of those players taking up that position due to them being deep, Davis can easily take possession and start a Rangers attack, which ended with Morelos getting a shot away.

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Aberdeen’s ultra-low block is penetrated by Rangers

Another feature of Aberdeen’s negative tactics can be seen in the image above. They have eight men behind the ball. Ryan Jack has played the pass but instead of being aggressive and closing the space, or Ferguson dropping back in line with Devlin to cut off Arfield’s space, they do nothing and allow the pass to get through. You can see Cosgrove’s support acts: Hedges, in the right-back area, McGinn in the left-back area, and McLennan hovering around the D. Being so deep and leaving Cosgrove isolated made it really difficult for Aberdeen to get any attacking impetus in the game.

Cosgrove was left majorly isolated due to Aberdeen’s defensive tactics. He only managed one touch inside the box, and his team only managed four shots all match, with just one on target. He also lost the ball 13 times, but when he had little to no support and often surrounded by three Rangers players those stats aren’t surprising.

As you can see via the passing map. Cosgrove’s average position is about 25 yards from the Rangers goal. This isn’t where Aberdeen wanted him. Even though McLennan is pretty close to Cosgrove in the graphic, it doesn’t show the true reality of the situation as you can see in the image above.

Aberdeen’s main attacking game plan was to play long balls to Cosgrove. They were banking on him holding it up and winning free-kicks. It was very one-dimensional football. When you see how deep Hedges – no.11 and McGinn – no.10 are – the wide players, it illustrates how difficult it was for the rest of the team to get close to Cosgrove to create good attacking situations. And he was snuffed out and booked before being substituted.

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Sam Cosgrove so isolated and he’s not in the Aberdeen team’s top 10 passing links


Rangers’ rotating front three – Alfredo Morelos dropping deep caused Aberdeen confusion

Steven Gerrard credited Alfredo Morelos for this tactic, but the Colombian dropping deep and allowing the Rangers attacking players to rotate caused Derek McInnes’ team so many problems.

In the image below, you can see how Morelos dropping deep allows, Sheyi Ojo and Greg Stewart to pick up central areas, and with them occupying the centre-backs and the full-backs being tucked in for Aberdeen, Rangers and Morelos could use the space effectively. In this instance, he was able to find Steven Davis who came in out of the picture and he allowed Borna Barišić the opportunity to cross.

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Alfredo Morelos dropping into the no. 10 position
Morelos in the inside right channel dropping deep

Morelos’ positional play caused Aberdeen issues in the first half. The above image is the lead-up to Rangers’ opening goal. As you can see he drops off Zak Vyner and picks up the ball in the pocket behind Lewis Ferguson. This allows him to face-up Vyner and take him on from that deep area.

Ferguson’s lack of defensive nous and Morelos taking advantage of this ends up with Morelos being fouled in the box. That passage of play leads to Rangers going ahead.

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Morelos playing provider for Stewart

This was a recurring theme during the match. Morelos won the ball in the middle of the park and travelled some distance. He had lots of options, and he was able to create the chance by slipping the ball off to Stewart and pulling the defender towards him with his direct running from deep. When Stewart receives the ball and gets the shot off, he continues his run.

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Alfredo Morelos’ heatmap

Morelos performance and ability to drag the Aberdeen defence all over the place is shown in his heatmap. This illustrates him getting into so many deep positions, which helped Rangers create space. Interestingly, he was in the inside forward positions often, which are shown in the above examples.

Beating the low block by getting in behind

Rangers have had issues this season when playing against a low block. They often have been unable to get in behind and create chances. In this match, the tactic to get in behind was helped by Aberdeen’s poor press. Rangers didn’t need a second invitation to take full advantage.

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Greg Stewart getting in behind before hitting the post

In the above image, Steven Davis picks up the ball but he’s aided by Aberdeen failing to press the ball. He’s able to find Greg Stewart’s run in behind. However, the interesting aspect was that McLennan, who should be pressing Davis, is the one tracking Stewart’s run and trying to plug the gaps left by his defenders. It’s a mystery and a massive failing as to why he was so deep in this phase of play.

Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Aberdeen - tactical analysis tactics
Ojo with the out to in run to get in behind

Again it was Davis who was the orchestrator of Rangers getting in behind the Aberdeen defence. He is left on the ball again by McLennan and is able to look up and find Ojo. The winger had made the run from out to in and was played onside by Shay Logan. But he couldn’t finish the ball from Davis.


To conclude, the takeaway from this analysis is that Rangers used all of their weapons going forward to their full potential. Steven Gerrard realised he had to use his attacking players to unpick the Aberdeen backline. Rangers’ movement and ability to break the lines helped towards the victory. If you marry that to Aberdeen’s passive approach, there was only going to be one winner. In truth, the 5-0 scoreline flattered Derek McInnes’ side.

Artwork by @chapulana

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