After months of build-up and nine new arrivals, Rangers started their 2023/24 season in the worst possible fashion with a defeat against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.

Brad Lyons’ 65th-minute strike established a home lead that was never recovered. Although Rangers conceded little in the way of meaningful chances, their performance didn’t ease criticism flooding in post-match.

“In a stuffy game, when you’re struggling to create chances - you can’t concede the kind of goal that we did. It’s bitterly disappointing,” Michael Beale reasoned after the match.

Was the team selection wrong, how much did Rangers actually create and what was the game plan? The Rangers Review has looked over StatsBomb’s match data to bring you further insight into yesterday's match.

The game’s trendline, charting every shot taken, demonstrates the precarious position the visitors left themselves in. Rangers ended the game with a higher xG, 19 shots to 10 and 68 percent of the ball but with that said, didn’t create sustained periods of pressure materialising in shots until it was far too late. 

Beale’s men boasted a strong record away from home in the league last season, winning his first eight away trips and dealing with an array of venues. Although they were in control of the game and ball for long spells yesterday, you never got the sense Kilmarnock were truly uncomfortable. And when moments arrived for the visitors’ attackers to change the game’s direction with a half chance or yard of space, nobody stepped up. The pace of the game in the first half, slow and steady, suited Kilmarnock’s defensive gameplan and after their goal, the visitors didn’t have the necessary flow of sustained pressure to crack the hosts.

So, were they too conservative? Rangers lined up in a 4-3-3 shape which morphed into more of a back three on the ball, as John Lundstram dropped into James Tavernier’s spot at right-back to form a 3-1 shape at the base of the pitch. Beale explained after the match that he didn’t feel the “first part of the game would suit Todd [Cantwell], I thought the game would open up”.

Kieran Dowell and Sam Lammers tried to find pockets of space ahead of Nico Raskin at the bottom of midfield. The larger, warmer circles at the base of the team compared to the smaller, colder circles at the top tells the story of the game - Rangers were unable to get their difference-makers on the ball in favourable areas.

A pressing frustration shared on Twitter feeds after the game was the team selection. Beale knew that Kilmarnock would sit deep and the task would be picking a lock, so surely increasing creative profiles on the pitch would make sense?

Rangers often play with two holding midfielders to create numerical advantage in the first line of possession and add balance behind the ball. The idea, presumably, being that you establish control deep in the pitch, provoke pressure and then quickly capitalise on gaps, while retaining numbers behind the ball to counterpress and prevent the opposition from breaking away. 

Here early on, you can see Rangers in this 3-1 shape outnumbering Kilmarnock's front two, with Tavernier pushing high on the right. 

Yesterday, that didn’t materialise for a few themes repeated throughout this piece. Rangers’ pace of play on a dry pitch rarely cut through the hosts and when it did, the attack lacked incision. They suffered from a lack of creative players on the ball facing play. If those factors combine with conceding a goal off the back of your own mistake, you're asking for trouble. 

“I wasn’t surprised because I knew it wasn’t going to be a beauty contest coming here. I knew it would be difficult and it’s difficult to play against Derek’s teams,” Beale added.

"He’s very good at setting his teams up defensively and I knew the pitch would play its role as well. I wasn’t surprised that the game wasn’t free-flowing. We had a lot of possession in their half but we couldn’t find the right moments. If you can’t score a goal then it’s important to keep a clean sheet but the goal we conceded was damaging.”

Without the "moments" Beale referenced, Rangers' possession lacked an end product.

“We looked at Rangers from last Sunday, trying to familiarise ourselves with the new signings and we anticipated them playing a diamond and we set up in a way where we tried to nullify and show intensity through the middle,” Derek McInnes said on his side’s approach.

Flooding the centre is an approach that Beale’s faced plenty as a first-team coach and manager. More than what the opposition successfully carried out, it was Rangers’ own “stuffy” build-up and “connections which were lacking” that stunted them throughout according to Beale. 

One of the main issues experienced by the visitors, limiting their chance creation, was the way in which they used the wide areas. With full-backs receiving the ball at an angle, Kilmarnock found it too easy to press backwards.

Here as James Tavernier receives the ball, there are options to play into the centre with Cyriel Dessers dropping off the front but they’re suited to a left-footer. This is why teams so often press at the sides, the angles favour their approach.

Rangers try to attack centrally as much as possible. The plan yesterday well may have been about retention, waiting for gaps and retaining possession but without the right pace of play in key moments, without any "moments", no gaps could be exploited. 

Here’s an example which encapsulates many of the difficulties experienced. Connor Goldson disguises a pass out wide to Tavernier, crucially missing out a man, which buys the right-back a few necessary seconds to turn his body and play facing forward, instead of receiving with a man on his back. 

Dessers and Sima have room to attack but the ball holds up on the surface, allowing Kilmarnock to recover.

It was a similar story for the big chance of the half, Dessers' sighting of goal just before half-time.

This time, Rangers still have a four-vs-two in the first line but Lundstram has pushed higher. They’ve worked the ball to the left to create space on the right, with Lammers also dropping to take away his man, beckoning Tavernier forward in the second frame.

Lundstram pulls a centre-back forward as Dessers curves a run in behind, but the new arrival failed to unleash a shot after working the ball onto his left foot. 

Rangers Review:

The impact of the pitch holding up passes played behind the defence must be noted and had Dessers found the target or a set-piece been successful, the game may well have panned out as Beale predicted. However, when all these variables and the goal went against Rangers, their performance wasn't strong enough to achieve a result. 

One bright spark was Nico Raskin. As the third midfielder against a two-man Kilmarnock compliment, there was often space for him to receive the ball from full-backs and drive forward.

Rangers Review:

Rangers Review:

Look at his carries from the match, 92 percent of which (red) were successful. The Belgian demanded the ball and upped the tempo, but not enough of his teammates followed suit. 

Ending the game with 1.36xG, Rangers' chance creation in open play was limited. They came close from a number of corners, with 0.64xG arriving from set-pieces, but of those 19 shots fashioned, few were genuine sightings of goal.

Speaking after the game, Michael Beale highlighted the connections still to form, saying "That's the work for me and these players to do quickly". He will know this result and performance must be an exception for the season to be successful, starting on Wednesday night.