Starting XI: McGregor – Tavernier, Goldson, Katić, Flanagan – Jack, Davis, Kamara – Arfield, Defoe, Kent
Starting XI: Lewis – Ball, Considine, McKenna, Lowe – Ferguson, Gleeson – Wilson, May, McLennan – Cosgrove
Steven Gerrard made one change but kept the shape that has been successful recently. With Ryan Kent free from suspension, he returned and Daniel Candeias was dropped to the bench for this Scottish Premiership match.
There was also space for a cameo appearance by former captain of the club, Lee Wallace.
Have Rangers found the key to unlock Aberdeen?
Nevertheless, Rangers are better equipped to expose a man for man system with their recent variant of the 4–3–3. Key to this is the midfield personnel. Kamara and Davis are orchestrating movement in midfield with Davis adopting a quarterback role with his range of passing. This is a change from earlier in the season when this role was more of an “enforcer”.
In the example below, Davis and Kamara open the central channel to allow Katić to penetrate. Kent drops in between the Aberdeen defensive lines, Arfield goes beyond the back four and Defoe is playing off the shoulder.
In this instance, it was unsuccessful, as Jack, in his eagerness to interchange with Katić, brings his marker Gleeson to the central channel where he steps across to pressure Katić.
Tactical analysis of Aberdeen’s defensive system
Aberdeen one dimensional?
It is in these situations that Aberdeen can have problems against better-organised opposition. Celtic are a prime example, with their organisation and game intelligence they find man-man marking easy to manipulate. They control the opening and closing of space. The team which controls the space is more likely to dominate the match and go on to win the game. In games against Celtic, Aberdeen rarely has control in or out of possession. Therefore they have only managed one victory out of the last 15, a game in which Celtic had already won the title.
Against weaker opposition, they are often able to get down the flank on their first attempt, with their long balls, athletic runners, and simple wing combinations. They are also able to physically dominate and bully certain teams in the Scottish Premiership.
Rangers, is this progress?
Rangers dominated possession, with 73% to 27% in their favour. However, the possession split was almost exactly the same in the Scottish Cup tie at Ibrox when Aberdeen won by two nil. What is the difference?
In the cup, tie Rangers started in a 4-1-4-1 with Candeias and Kent providing the width. Later as they tried to get back into the game the width was provided by Morelos and Defoe with Lafferty as a target. The game model was to get the ball wide and deliver from there. They delivered 32 crosses with 34.4% accuracy, this suited Aberdeen with McKenna and Considine in central defence. Aberdeen then bolstered this by bringing on Devlin to form five at the back and let Rangers have possession in front of them.
With this variant of 4 – 3 – 3 Rangers have brought in the wide frontmen about 10 yards and into the half channel. The game model now is to move the opposition and to attack centrally. Therefore the width is provided by the full backs and by midfield rotations where Kamara will go wide left and Jack wide right.
Rangers are finishing in second, at the moment, 11 points ahead of Aberdeen. As opposed to three points behind as they did last season. This is an improvement. Also, it is undeniable that there is an improvement in their European performance. Certainly, the management/coaching team seem to recognise and identify issues and look for solutions.
Although, a victory at home against Aberdeen, the team with the best away record in the Scottish Premiership could be seen as an improvement. However, it is worth noting that both goals were from set pieces.
Perhaps Aberdeen, as someone once famously said, is at the end of a cycle. After four consecutive runners-up places, Aberdeen will need to step up a level to stand still. With early evidence of improvement from Rangers and Hibernian, both of whom were missing from Aberdeen’s first two second places.
More importantly, the adjustments necessary for Aberdeen to move towards the next level in the Scottish Premiership and perhaps in their European campaigns are by no means extreme. Even a simple, compact low defensive block focused on defending the centre channel would serve them considerably better both in Europe and against Celtic and perhaps Rangers than their current system.