When Dereck Kutesa raced down the left touchline into acres of space with a free man to find in the middle, all did not look well for Rangers.

They’d come up second best to that point in the second leg of their Champions League third-round qualifier with Servette. 2-1 up heading to Geneva, Kutesa had levelled the tie for the hosts after 22 minutes and all told, his side held the momentum. A direct, attacking style swung the balance in Servette’s favour and while Rangers failed to capitalise on their superiorities in possession, the hosts were ever-threatening to capitalise on the numbers they committed forward. On a hot night, in front of a loud crowd, the visitors didn’t look like the side set to progress.

“We need to play higher up the pitch, run forward and play with greater intensity. I felt first half we started the game well for the first ten minutes,” Michael Beale said after the tie’s conclusion, with a second-half James Tavernier goal ensuring Rangers came out 3-2 winners on aggregate.

“The crowd got up after the goal and we missed a great chance through Danilo. We spoke at half-time about the team we wanted to be and we were too passive in the first half. It was a much improved second-half performance. It was warm, a sticky pitch and the crowd got up after half-time. We had strong words at half-time and the team showed fantastic character to do the job that we came here to do.”

The first half was totally defined by transitions. Servette needed to score and played on the front foot, Rangers didn’t come to defend their lead and did the same. Both sides committed numbers in contrasting manners; with Servette getting four or five on the last line and distributing forward through the lines directly, as the visitors attempted to cut through the pitch in transition.

The game’s trendline tells the story of a very differing first and second half - so what changed?

Rangers’ pressure from the front wasn’t functioning before half-time according to Beale, which weakened their resolve in the backline. For example, although Tavernier looks at fault for allowing Kutesa so much room at the opening goal, he was forced towards the ball because Jose Cifuentes switched off tracking his man at the second ball.

The chain reaction of failing to shape the game in the midfield and forward lines had a direct correlation on the nature of Rangers’ back four.


No sequence better summarised the first half than Kutesa’s chance late on. Rangers played through the pitch quickly and created an extra man in Cifuentes on the right side of the box…

However, his touch was heavy enabling Servette the time to recover the bodies they’d committed forwards. Rangers, meanwhile, have five players in the opposition’s box…

As the bounce of the ball goes Servette’s way, they can motor forwards and create an opening that should have added a second goal. Again, like the goal, the chance comes about due to Rangers' centre-backs, in this case Goldson, not winning their duel.

Similar themes were evident when Butland was first called into action just before the 10-minute mark. With four Servette players on the last line, Cognat reacted quickest to run off the back of the midfield and burst through on goal. Servette were only able to access the final third after Enzo Crivelli got the better of John Souttar in the air.

READ MORE: 'He sets the standards' - Jack Butland according to his ex-teammates 

Note Butland’s quick feet to spring to his left initially, presumably coaxing Cognat to try and find the opposite corner, before propelling himself to that side and making a big save.

The PSxG (Post-Shot xG) ended up almost half the xG value - meaning Butland's aggressive positioning decreased the likelihood of a goal.

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“We had to make adjustments in the first half because we were too passive,” Beale said reflecting on his side’s defensive issues before the break.

“The defence was too deep and I get Servette were playing direct but we have to get up the park. There were too many flicks, dummies and not enough of securing the ball. Jack [Butland] made one really important save but that’s why he’s here.”

Discussing the Rangers defence, Beale started by referencing the top end of the park. Clearly, in his mind it was passivity and depth that handed the hosts momentum.

“We had big opportunities, and we were much better in the second half because we changed our mentality. John [Souttar] and Connor [Goldson] won their duels with the strikers and that had a big impact on the team. Nico Raskin, Jose Cifuentes and Ryan Jack did well throughout,” he continued.

“I told Tav and Borna to play higher up the pitch because that’s our style and the best way for us to play.”

The half-time message Beale delivered was more focused on his own team than the opposition. Despite the chances they’d conceded and the open spaces seemingly available for Servette to attack, Beale wanted his side to push up, act the aggressor and take back the territory previously held by the hosts.

After the break, it would be the aggression of either full-back that decided the tie. Combined with Souttar and Goldson winning their battles and a firmer hand in possession, the visitors who took control.

Rangers had still created a good quality of chance before the break with Danilo’s backpost effort the pick of chances, coming in at 0.45xG. Although home truths were necessary in the visiting dressing room, Beale would also have rued two fantastic opportunities missed over the course of the tie - including Lammers’ 0.57xG miss in the first leg.

A shape change also helped matters. The move to a 4-3-1-2 from a 4-3-3 offered better coverage across the middle of the pitch, with Raskin and Cifuentes able to jump out and press the full-backs while providing their own greater cover on the flanks.

Raskin's running was worth two players and you sense that if the final whistle hadn’t been blown he’d still be hammering up and down the Stade de Geneva turf now with the boundless energy he possesses. Cifuentes switched off for Servette’s opener but recovered well - it was his pass that created Danilo’s opening, Rangers' highest-value chance of the game. Todd Cantwell excited throughout at the top of midfield in a free role, creating a late chance for Cyriel Dessers who clipped the post.

As the game’s pass network shows, Beale’s side stuck to a growing theme of building play and overloading the right-hand channel. Don't be fooled into thinking pass networks always need perfect symmetry or an equal share across the pitch. Infact, as the coloured circles show it was Barisic and Raskin who boasted the highest OBV (On-Ball Value) despite the game largely taking place on the right. 

In the end, it was Tavernier’s strike soon after the restart that sealed progression. After taking a corner that evaded Cantwell, the Rangers captain kept his position on the right. In a move strikingly similar to his header against Celtic in April this year, the right-back stayed quietly in the blindside of Cognat (No.8), a much smaller individual who wouldn’t be marking Tavernier at a corner or in open play. Because this was the second phase of a set-piece, meaning the move after an initial delivery, Servette were disorganised and Rangers were ruthless.

Over the course of the two legs, the xG finished 5.1 to 2.27 in Rangers' favour. As Beale concluded post-match, they were the better side for three of the four halves played to set up another play-off with PSV.