When Michael Beale returned to Rangers last November he referenced new ideas and increased variety.

Speaking previously after takingĀ the QPR job, Beale said: ā€œI had a big influence on Steven [Gerrard] and Garyā€™s [McAllister] ideas when we worked together, but now this is a Michael Beale team and itā€™s important that you see slight differences in thatā€.

Thereā€™s no doubt that the football played so far under his management at Ibrox is similar to the product on offer before, when Beale served as Gerrardā€™s first-team coach. With a focus on central play, width from full-backs, narrow pressing and plenty of overloads around the ball.

So what are these new ideas, carrying a greater degree of variation?

Bealeā€™s Rangers appear more flexible and fluid than Gerrardā€™s Rangers. While rarely straying from overall principles, theyā€™re happy to tweak elements of their game regularly.Ā 

Off the ball, weā€™ve seen Bealeā€™s side adopt a mid-block 4-4-2, low-block 4-3-3 and high-press 4-3-1-2 in Old Firm matches.Ā 

Change has also been apparent in possession, whether that'sĀ demonstrated by moving to a back three, playing with ā€œextra wide forwards and flat full-backsā€ on the final day of the season against St Mirren and "trying something new" or adapting the starting shape of the front three.

Generally,Ā Rangers have moved away from operating with a deep-lying forward and two free 10s toĀ instead play with two wide No.9s and one free No.10.

"I want to play with two strikers at times. You should expect that in the coming games, that we play with two strikers. Thatā€™s a hint about whatā€™s coming,ā€ Beale said in his first pre-match press conference.

"I want more strikers on the pitch, more goalscorers."

The fluidity and freedom in the final third makes rigid ā€˜positionsā€™ hard to always ascertain but broadly speaking when compared with the past, we can see how Bealeā€™s present use of the front threeĀ makes good on the change he promised late last year. While explainingĀ theĀ arrival of Sam Lammers and others still to come.

The deep-lying forward past

So many tactical changes feel slightly circumstantial. After all, are tactics not about getting the best out of individuals?

Rangers seemingly moved to a 4-3-2-1, with narrow No.10s, in part because of Jermain Defoe replacing the suspended Alfredo Morelos and in part because it suited the Colombianā€™s game, while proving an effective method to draw out opposition defenders andĀ create space in behindā€¦

Or, if the defender chose to stay locked into their backline, create an overload - that is an extra passing option in the midfieldā€¦

You might sayĀ that above, Rangers look to be operating with two players, Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi, on the last line, so is there any real change?

The important detailĀ to remember in this discussion about the old and new is two-fold; the front three's profile and starting position have evolved.

Morelos rarely played as that metronomic switcher of play last season under Beale, when compared to 20/21.

Instead, Rangers have often been operating with two wide split strikers and one free No.10 breaking from midfield behind them.

The change is owing to the new ideas Beale's introduced as manager.Ā 

A preference for Hybrid profiles

Bealeā€™s outfield summer business, Sam Lammers, Dujon Sterling and Kieran Dowell alongsideĀ linked players, Cyriel Dessers and Jonathan Panzo, all hold a common trait - they'reĀ hybrid players. That is, they can operate in more than one ā€˜positionā€™.

More than enabling the manager to change his formation from game to game, this allows him in-game flexibility.Ā 

What does that mean? A player like Malik Tillman could be splitting lines with passes from the base of a triangle or receiving them with his back to goal. Cantwell might be taking the ball from the centre-backs one game and operating as the most advanced runner in the front three on another. Nico Raskin can anchor the midfield as a No.6 or create and score as a No.8.

Of course, prioritising players capable of fulfilling different roles isnā€™t new or revolutionary. However, Bealeā€™s priority to flood his team with this profile is obvious. In theory, it should enableĀ the flexible andĀ fluid football he wants to play while keeping his side unpredictable.

Every system has strengths and weaknesses and one of the benefits of this approach is the unpredictability ofĀ attacking movement. To a degree, opponents will always have to react somewhat to Rangersā€™ attackers, rather than being able to predict where a winger will receive the ball.

As a one-off example, look at where Cantwell received the ball playing in the free No.10 role away at Hibs late last season.

Or, as Beale explained referencing Ryan Kent following a 4-1 win against Hibs:Ā "I thought Ryan was essential to the midfield because they didnā€™t know where to pick him up and it gave space to Nico [Raskin] and Todd [Cantwell] and vice versa."

Clearly, Bealeā€™s No.10 is always afforded total freedom to impact the game as they see fit in the final third, with an extra player from midfield also given license to get forward.

Itā€™s worth pointing out that we, perhaps, saw a version of this front threeĀ evolution towards the end of Gerrardā€™s era with Kent operating behind Roofe and Morelos.

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However, Bealeā€™s iteration ofĀ two forwards and one free player is more fluid and informed by the profile of player available at the club now.

So, having established the what's and the whys, how does this look in practice?

The presentĀ 

Beale made sure to include two of Sakala, Morelos and Colak in most of his matches since returning to the club. Only starting without two of Sakala and Colak or Morelos in four of 23 league matches.

Looking at last season's xG/90 chart it's clear to see why. The team Beale inherited seriously lacked final third killers and as such, it was functional to opt for two forwards.

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Clearly, Rangers have moved from playing with two creators and one goalscorer, to two goalscorers and one creator.Ā 

The benefits beyond having an extra goalscorer on the pitch? The different problems the shape of the front three providesĀ opposition defences, especially given that so often they're facing a back five.

Here are some of the key benefits of this approach.

  • A proclivity to not use a centralĀ focal point up againstĀ the oppositionā€™s middle centre-back; which either makes them redundant or forces them into midfield where they donā€™t fancy travelling.
  • A tendency for the free No.10 to remain ā€˜unmarkableā€™, starting deeper than the other two members of the front three to occupy the middle centre-back and defensive midfielder simultaneously, and then capitalise on the freedom that provides.
  • A focus on wide forwards attacking from outside to inside, which either forces wing-backs to stay narrow or exploits space down the side. Beale's Rangers are often attacking vertically from outside to in,

In commanding away wins against Hibs and Hearts we saw how effective this tactic could prove when space is afforded domestically.

At Tynecastle, Kentā€™s positioning just ahead of Toby Sibbick. with Morelos and Sakala down the sides, gave the defenderĀ continual problems.

Here, before a disallowed Morelos goal, look at the shape of Hearts' backline. Kent's ahead of the opposition defence and behind the midfield, pulling the middle centre-back out of position.Ā 

Allowing the visitors to completely destabilise the backline, then attacking vertically.Ā 

In this example, another offside goal, look at the position of Rangers' front three as Tavernier plays the ball into Morelos. Again, utilising wide split strikers with their free No.10, Kent, breaking from midfield. The Hearts' defence simply has no response. Who picks up the free No.10?

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When Hibs tried to push up their full-backs and left their two centre-backs isolated, Sakala, Colak and Kent, again in that deeper role breaking from midfield, caused havoc continually.

Look again at the shape of the front three here, it's not Kent and Sakala playing off of Colak but rather the attacking midfielder playing behind a wide front two.

Colak's first goal of the night originated from Rangers winning the ball from a throw-in and allowing their front two to attack down the sides.Ā 

Pulling centre-backs into the space down the side of the defence, where they donā€™t want to go and are isolated without their full-backs to cover space.

Sakala'sĀ pace allows him to ā€˜outplayā€™ quickly and access a dangerous area of the pitch.

Meanwhile, Colak can use the space down the side of the left centre-back, Paul Hanlon, to outplay the defender in a different way. The Croatian has room to attack either side of the isolated Hanlon, with the free full-back slot buying him space.

This allows him to run on the inside and make a near-post dart, while Hanlon is literally looking over his shoulder anticipating a back-post move as Colak sets off.

READ MORE:Ā Sam Lammers scout report: Rangers' new attacker profiled

However, as any Rangers watcher will know, such space is a rarity. This system works and adapts, to a low blockĀ in different ways.

Take this example from a home win over Kilmarnock.Ā Rangers'Ā passing network from that game clearly shows Colak and Sakala operating as a front pairing.Ā 

Here, before a golden chance for the Zambian, Colak and Sakala are playing down the sides of the front three with Kent in the centre.

Kent simultaneously occupies Alan Power and Ash Taylor, the middle centre-back. Throughout the move Taylor, similarly to Sibbick, is out of the game. He isn't going to step up and mark Kent andĀ with Colak and Sakala down the sides, has nobody to base his movements against.Ā 

Kent can run off the back of the defensive midfielder and ahead of the middle centre-back, as Rangers use their two wide forwards to again outplay down the sides.Ā 

Cantwellā€™s opener in a 5-2 win over St Mirren features similar themes.Ā 

Look at the shape of the front three as Lundstram knocks the ball back into Tillman, having carried forward possession.Ā 

Again, notice the distinction in shape. Shaughnessy doesn't mark Cantwell tight, as he may well have done when up againstĀ Morelos a couple of years ago. Why? Because the player's breaking from midfield, not dropping from the front.Ā 

Again we see Rangers use two focal points down the side to score, with Morelos playing a bounce pass, Sakala exploiting the destabilised back three and Cantwell finishing behind the middle centre-back Shaughnessy, who clearly has no reference point as toĀ who he should be picking up throughout.

It's a very practical example of how Beale's fluid and flexible football can impact a low block.

Look at the successful final third passes played into Morelos and Sakala on that day, with the duo very clearly operating down the sides in a wide front two.

One final example can be found on the final day of the season, withĀ Morelos and Sakala again operating as wide forwards and Cantwell breaking from midfield.Ā 

Notice hereĀ how the wide forwards stretch the defence whileĀ Cantwell occupies the defensive midfielder, No.14 Cammy Devlin, and middle centre-back Sibbick.

Neither of them can do anything about his run, as he moves out of Devlin's blindside ahead of Sibbick, pointing with hisĀ arm outstretched.Ā 

The midfielder's game intelligence, to time these runs to the letter, makes his role higher up the pitch a must at points.Ā 

Again notice similar themes in Cantwellā€™s strike even if a mistake was the deciding factor.

The futureĀ 

To summarise, RangersĀ very clearly moved away last season from a focal point and two free players, instead choosing to often field two wide forwards and a free player.

As covered extensively in the Rangers Review's Sam Lammers scout report,Ā Beale's recruited a highly-technical player who can excel with his back to goal in either half-space and outplay in tight areas.Ā That's why this transfer feels like such a good fit.

Lammers arrives withĀ a hybrid profile and could occupy the No.10 position breaking from midfield or, as is more likely, one of the two forward positions. Given his ability to attack from the sides, receive on either foot and play with his back to goal.

Speaking to RangersTV, he said: "I think I have good technique. I can shoot with both legs, so that's also a positive side."

Beale added:Ā ā€œSam will give us great technical and tactical quality, being able to play in a variety of attacking positions as a number 10 or nine."

Similarly, Cyriel Dessers, as covered in greater detail here, is a player who can operate in wide or central zones and attack on either foot.Ā 

Beale's challenge when returning to Ibrox was bringing innovation to a system that required fresh ideas.

In the front three, his use of split strikers and a free No.10 could prove vital as he seeks to regain the Scottish Premiership.Ā