A tactical analysis of Rangers’ last visit to Motherwell this season. Motherwell’s hopes of securing a top-six Scottish Premiership finish is over after they lost 3-1 against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. However, Motherwell, on the wave of a five home game winning streak have never won six in a row in either the Scottish Premiership or Scottish Premier League. Rangers, after a tactical change and a win over Hearts, went to Fir Park unbeaten there in their last 42 league meetings.


Scottish Premiership 2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Lineups (Credit Wyscout).

Motherwell were back along familiar lines, with Alex Gorrin replacing Carl McHugh in the midfield. Motherwell with academy graduates David Turnbull, Jake Hastie and Allan Campbell illustrated this was a very young Motherwell side. However, there was no start for the returning Chris Cadden.

Rangers made two changes, Katić and Candeias coming in for Kent and Worrall. Rangers have now made 99 changes to their Scottish Premiership starting line ups. The most in a Scottish Premiership this season. This was a selection where six players have English Premier League experience.


Motherwell in a 4-3-3 was a change from the midweek 4-1-4-1 versus Aberdeen. Out of possession, they looked to press Rangers as they entered the middle third. In possession, they were forced to go wide with Rangers blocking central areas.

Rangers again in a 4-3-3 had the triumvirate of Jack, Kamara and Davis in midfield. It was a very similar game model to the previous game. Where the front three work in a narrow central triangle. A slight difference, as opposed to rotations of the three, Candeias would drop deeper and Arfield would go beyond Defoe.

Motherwell’s defensive issues

Although the three Rangers’ goals were excellent one-touch finishes from Arfield, Motherwell contributed greatly to their own downfall. Poor decision making and a very open shape gave Rangers too much time and possession.

When the Motherwell front three went to press Rangers in their first phase build up. There was a large disconnect between the first and second lines of Motherwell’s pressure.

Scottish Premiership 2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Space between Motherwell’s lines of pressure.

Above, in the build-up to the first goal, Candeias drops into the gap. Goldson is allowed to play a simple pass to Candeias, already on the half turn.

Scottish Premiership 2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Candeias between the lines, already looking to play forward.

This allows Candeias to then play a straight ball to Defoe.

Scottish Premiership 2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Candeias plays to Defoe, who plays through for Arfield.

The midfield did not provide enough cover for the back four. The midfield line is too deep to be able to place pressure on the ball behind their first line of pressure. It is also horizontally stretched making it unable to block the passing lanes.

2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Motherwell allowing open passing lanes

In their previous match versus Hearts, Rangers played and attacked centrally. Perhaps a better option for Motherwell would have been maintaining the previous formation 4-1-4-1 with McHugh protecting the back four.

Rangers would have expected a physically intense defence from a team with an average of eight for Passes per Defensive Actions (PPDA). But in this match, it was 12.29, that is Rangers were allowed 50% more passes per defensive actions from Motherwell. Was this down to the formation? Or was it a sub-conscience lack of motivation? Or both?

Rangers’ shape, a work in progress?

Out of possession, Rangers sat in a back four being protected centrally by the midfield three. Forcing Motherwell to go wide and at times to go long. If Motherwell played wide to Grimshaw or Tait, Jack or Kamara would go wide to press. If they played it to Hastie or Ariyibi, Flanagan or Tavernier would go to press. This was successful in restricting Motherwell to their first shot on target to the 57th minute.

2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Rangers forcing Motherwell to go wide.

Rangers have increased the tempo of their first phase build up. Full backs Tavernier and Flanagan go high and wide, one of the midfield three drops back to link with the centre backs. This function is usually fulfilled by Davis and allows Kamara and Jack to go above Motherwell’s first line of pressure. All three are comfortable on the ball and look to play forward.

Scottish Premiership 2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Rangers’ first phase build-up.

If Rangers could not penetrate Motherwell’s second line of pressure centrally, they used the midfield to go wide. With the full-backs, Tavernier and Flanagan already high and wide attracting Ariyibi or Hastie. Candeias and Arfield coming into the central area and attracting Grimshaw and Tait. Jack and Kamara would look to exploit the space in the advanced wide areas.

Scottish Premiership 2018/19: Motherwell vs Rangers Tactical Analysis Statistics
Rangers second phase build-up

Rangers’ water carrier?

It is worth commenting on Daniel Candeias part in all three of Rangers’ goals. Passing the through ball to Defoe at the first. Pressing Turnbull and winning possession for the second. Finally pressing Motherwell’s goalkeeper Gillespie into rushing a clearance from a pass back that led to the final goal.

Often overlooked and sometimes criticised, he is a hard-working effective part of the team. For the season, his expected assists per 90 minutes are 0.2, this is better than James Forrest (0.18) and Callum McGregor (0.16). His figure for this game was 0.32.


Steve Robinson has stated in the past that he is changing the profile or identity of his team. Previously a physically robust and combative side at times overstepping the mark. Now a younger, more controlled positional team. It must cause him great concern about how inept his side’s defending was. Hastie and Ariyibi could not provide enough invention to get behind a compact Rangers defence which led to a frustrating day for Curtis Main.

Alejandro Rodriguez Gorrin is being linked with a host of English Championship clubs. Unfortunately for Motherwell, the 25-year-old Spaniard’s form in this game was not up to that standard. On the other hand, Jake Hastie looks an effective young player, when he gets behind the opposition defence, on a few occasions he caused Flanagan problems with his runs

Rangers have implemented a style of play without Morelos, either by chance or design, that has shown signs of improvement and consistency in two games. However, neither opposition showed great resistance. Gerrard will have grounds for claiming an improvement, nevertheless, the acid tests are still to come.

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