Life at Rangers for Tom Lawrence has not gone to plan so far.

In December when it looked as though the injury issues of a debut season were finally behind him and a run of games would follow, the Welshman lasted less than 20 minutes before being forced off at Tynecastle. Starting successive games in a deeper midfield role under Philippe Clement, would another opportunity arise?

On Tuesday night against Aberdeen Lawrence, and Clement, were able to pick up where they left off. While the 30-year-old was a surprise inclusion in the midfield his performance more than merited a start. It showed why the ‘six and a half’ spot occupied on the night could suit him and solve a long-standing problem - Rangers’ attacking balance in their midfield when facing a deep defensive set-up and creative profiles ahead of the block.

Take a look at the shape of the midfield in the home side’s passing network, charting the average passing position of each player. Notice John Lundstram slightly off his usual place in the centre (as the defacto No.6), Lawrence higher from the right (as the No.6.5/No.8) and Cantwell in position at No.10.

Lawrence did indeed see far more of the ball high up the park than Lundstram, but it was what the midfielder did before joining attacks that caught the eye. 

Take a look at Lawrence’s attempted passes from the game, with red indicating a successful effort and yellow an unsuccessful one. Notice repeated switches to the right, square passes to centre-backs moving onto the ball and passes into the final third largely from the right.

Now look at the areas where Lawrence received those passes. He was often picking the ball up in the conventional No.6 slot before moving forward himself to provide an extra passing lane through the lines once the ball reached that zone.

Rangers have, for a long time, lacked a natural, creative profile at the base of midfield. Lundstram is in excellent form under Clement and enjoyed another strong 90 minutes against Aberdeen, but in possession, he’s more likely to keep the ball than break lines and lacks the ball-playing tendencies of a Lawrence or back-to-goal press resistance of a Nico Raskin.

Thus, in a game where the opposition largely sat back and asked Rangers to break them down, Clement’s side benefitted from having a midfielder alongside Lundstram and behind Cantwell who could set the tempo in the middle and, crucially, then go and join play in the final third once those lines had been broken. 

It was this detail exactly that freed up Cantwell to make a second-striker run and get free in the box to score Rangers’ eventual winner.

Let’s see what it looked like in action - all of the below Wyscout images are provided in GIF format to show the sequence of each move. 

In this early example, Lawrence initially moves forward from his No.6 slot after spotting a gap higher up the pitch, but John Souttar chooses to recycle the ball before picking out his teammate who can drive forward between the lines and move to the left.

Now, Lawrence has created an overload with Ridvan Yilmaz and Rabbi Matondo. The trio escape pressure with a third-man move setting Lawrence on his way in front of the Aberdeen defence. This attracts Graeme Shinnie’s attention away from Cantwell, who can run behind and nearly find Cyriel Dessers with a cut-back given that Shinnie is forced to close down Lawrence, providing an extra problem in the midfield. 

Notice the key themes outlined above. Lawrence plays forward to break lines, receives between them, creates an overload and then keeps moving forward with the attack which frees up Cantwell to make a second-striker run. 

Here’s another example just taken from after the half-hour mark. Lawrence is again the deepest midfielder on the ball and after picking out James Tavernier, continues to run forward instead of simply offering a lateral return pass. He’s looking to progress play wherever possible. Again, notice the crucial point here - Lawrence is natural in the next phase of play after moving up from the No.6 position, receiving in the final third and driving forward in acres of space. Tavernier’s loose pass, however, breaks up the move and the chance is gone.

Plenty more examples were littered throughout the game. In this scenario, just before half time Lawrence stops a counterattack and then plays a give-and-go with Dessers at the edge of the box to create a dangerous attacking opportunity while joining the box as Ross McCausland crosses.

It’s important to point out that at times Lawrence strays too far towards the risk category with his passes. At one point Clement could be seen remonstrating over an overhit cross. Does he have the engine in bigger games to play a deeper role? That’s also an important consideration.

However, he also feels in line with the fast, vertical, attacking style that Clement is after. Rangers will need to be wary moving forward that their search for chaos doesn’t leave them without control but in the short term, direct attacking play is working.

All of the outlined themes came together for Cantwell’s winner. Again Rangers played forward quickly into the middle of the pitch where Lawrence was high alongside Cantwell and Fabio Silva. This allowed the No.13 to hit the box untracked, as he had done early on for the aforementioned cutback, to score a vital winner. 

Lawrence attempted the most shots of any player in the game with six efforts. While it’s always tempting to pull out the xG charts when numbers like that arise, given long-distance efforts have a lower probability of finding the net, Lawrence’s technique is up there with the best at the club. His strike was too strong for Kelle Roos to save and Cantwell did the rest.

A presiding theme of Philippe Clement’s tenure at Ibrox so far has been finding surprising solutions. Who saw Dujon Sterling’s emergence in midfield, for example?

It’s unlikely that Lawrence is the long-term answer in a deep-lying role for Rangers but in domestic football moving forwards this season, the meeting with Aberdeen demonstrated he can offer valuable solutions in the centre.

For a long time, the balance of the Ibrox side’s midfield has been criticised as overly cautious - but no such complaints could be levelled watching Lawrence’s interpretation of the deep-lying role on Tuesday.