Here at the Rangers Review, we love to try and understand as much about each game as possible. That’s why we’re launching a new series called ‘Rewatched’.

After matches without one clear overarching tactical narrative, this article will be your go-to for the game’s deciding details.

To start, we’re taking a closer look at Aberdeen 1-1 Rangers including Borna Barisic’s role, what went wrong for Bojan Miovski’s opener, throw-in routines and more


What went wrong at the opener?

Clement’s primary frustration after the final whistle was the time it took his side to dominate duels and control this fixture. Handing Aberdeen an early chance for Miovski to score made a tricky game all the more challenging. The home side pressed aggressively from the start and went man-for-man against Leon Balogun and Connor Goldson, but it was not until the second half that the visitors really started to control territory and became a little less direct from back to front. The concession of an early chance showed why they didn’t want to risk losing the ball in midfield, without a player capable of driving forward on the half-turn progression through that area against a high press was tricky enough.

The first Aberdeen attack, resulting in a strong one-v-one save from Jack Butland, originated from the hosts' aggressive pressure in one such moment.

Here, as Goldson moves forward and looks for a passing option, with his front three wide (Abdallah Sima is not even in the picture) and not open to receive a ball, Aberdeen’s front two are dangerously poised. Goldson finds the feet of Tom Lawrence who is closed down by Nicky Devlin from his blindside. Perhaps the pass should’ve been played onto Lawrence’s left (back) foot, so he could've shielded possession from Devlin and moved forward, with the right-back instead finding an open angle to intercept.

Equally, Borna Barisic and John Lundstram were guilty of reacting too slowly to the threat of a turnover.

From the reverse angle, we can see why Rangers were cut open easily by one pass, they’ve lost the ball while set up to attack, allowing Aberdeen’s aggressive press to regain possession and launch an attack into space. The visitors don’t have numbers in the middle to press the ball-carrier because they’re structured to play over or around the block in midfield. Without Barisic (not even in the picture below) and Lundstram shifting over to the right quickly to recover, Balogun must stay with Miovski on the right and Ester Sokler can steal in behind Goldson with Rangers too high to play an offside trap.

The concession of a goal minutes later featured similar themes. Below, you can see that the Ibrox side are in a hybrid marking system as Kelle Roos kicks from right to left. They’re man-marking in midfield and defence with Tavernier and Lundstram dropping behind their men having reacted to the direction of Roos’ kick.

The issue? Whether by luck or design, Roos’ kick is short into open space behind the midfield. Jose Cifuentes cannot cover given his man-marking duties a line ahead and Goldson does not drop with him man, allowing an uncontested contact.

Goldson can prove vulnerable in these types of scenarios when pulled into defending the space ahead of him. In this instance, he doesn’t react to the flight of the ball changing and by the time Solker heads the ball, Goldson's body is facing the wrong way to win a foot race with Miovski.

The goalscorer is technically Balogun’s man but the Nigerian seems to stop slightly as the ball heads in Goldson’s direction but his partner is watching the ball and not aware of Miovski.

Taking this screenshot in isolation, it’s obvious who wins the race from the trio’s body positions.

The good and bad of Barisic

The Croatian full-back often chose to cross in moments when the home side were well-stocked defensively and, uncharacteristically, shoot when they were not. Balogun’s first-half header was an example of Barisic choosing the right moment not to cross, however, and had the net bulged he’d have played a respectable part in the goal’s creation.

Below, after a corner from the right-hand side, Lawrence rolls the ball back to the Croatian who, instead of swinging in a cross in first time, places his sole on the ball and finds Sima instead.

Why does this matter? The reverse angle shows us the two contrasting images this action creates, a matter of seconds apart.

Take the first image, where Barisic elects not to cross. Aberdeen have a five-vs-three at the back post and there’s limited space for a floated cross between the defensive line and Roos. Not only does the presence of a marker block the likelihood of a cross from Barisic, but the defence are front facing with time to set themselves and attack any delivery.

Seconds later, as Barisic elects to find the extra pass, Sima's awarded with an unopposed crossing position and nobody to block a clipped effort towards the back post. Suddenly Rangers are three-vs-three at the back, the gap to float a cross into has increased considerably and the defensive line is destabilised having been attracted towards the ball. It must now defend backwards instead of moving towards the ball.

Balogun has a free header, from which he should score.

That decision-making often felt isolated, however. On more than one occasion the left-back opted to shoot from these types of areas in the second half and cross into busier penalty boxes when there was a spare man and space to hit.

Barisic’s crossing numbers in the league are down by around one per game. He’s playing three fewer backwards passes and five more forward passes, aided by a greater number of runners beyond. To this writer, he was one of the most important players in a recent semi-final win over Hearts but at Pittodrie, limitations came to the fore.

Danilo and better front-three movement

The structure of Rangers’ attack changed after the break. Generally speaking, they started to find a little more success playing through the middle. This was also a byproduct of limited space behind the Aberdeen defence and greater territorial control. Their long pass share dropped by two percent after half-time.

Danilo also dropped off the front more frequently to help offer a route through pressure, while Sima drifted across the front and Cantwell operated closer to the pair. There was sufficient central numbers to counterpress and occupy the three Aberdeen centre-backs.

The Brazilian started to move deeper and occupy this gaping central space at points which, in turn, helped move his side up the pitch.

A narrower front three after the break helped fashion moments like this when, continuing the frames from above, Danilo could provide a link for the defence and then run onto a pass in behind - with Sima occupying one centre-back and Cantwell the other.

This appeared a more common pattern after half-time although Clement’s introduction of two wingers perhaps suggested that after a good spell from 50 to 70 minutes, the manager recognised a need for greater width towards the end.

Any other business?

Recently, Rangers scored off the back of a defensive throw-in and early on, we saw them use an offensive throw-in far better than has been common in past years. All it took was a simple rotation and a deft touch from (you guessed it)Danilo to work an opening as Lawrence tested the keeper. Why throw the ball aimlessly down the line when it could just create a high-quality chance, attacking into space that won’t be available in open play?

Rabbi Matondo provided an encouraging cameo performance. Last week, the Rangers Review published a long read on the steps he needs to take to transition from substitute to starter.

We know Matondo is dangerous in space, but what about against the low block? The Welshman created the corner which earned a penalty and Sam Lammers’ late, headed chance through the same means -as outlined extensively in last week’s article - hitting the byline and finding high-quality cutback areas instead of trying to work onto his right foot and shoot from range.

Instead of cutting inside (outlined in red) to attack busy areas, Matondo was able to access the spaces (outlined in yellow) that turned the Aberdeen defence. 

As Clement mentioned in midweek, the winger can be an interesting player to ‘break down the wall’ of a low block.

Stay tuned for more 'Rewatched' next week...

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