“No, I'm not happy. I think we were very close to writing history here.”

Philippe Clement, quizzed on TNT Sports immediately after Rangers’ 2-2 draw with Benfica in the first lef of their Europa League last 16 tie, was in no mood to celebrate last night. His side’s draw at the Stadium of Light was a fantastic result for a Scottish side but, as they had done with a 3-2 win away at Real Betis to reach this stage, the night was almost historic. A win would've been, according to the Belgian, “a miracle”.

Penned back twice by an Angel Di Maria penalty and Connor Goldson own goal, Rangers had been in front thanks to goals from Tom Lawrence and Dujon Sterling. 

Here’s how Rangers went close to a miracle in Lisbon - and why they can finish the job in Glasgow.


Aggression from the off and xG match

Speaking pre-match, Clement revealed his side had been instructed to attack from the first whistle rather than survive early pressure. “We can hurt them also and that can make them tremble,” he said referencing the agitated home crowd fresh from two derby defeats.

Attack Rangers did. Rather than use a lack of wingers as an excuse to sit deep in a back five, Clement’s team were aggressive in their pressure. Over the course in open play, Benfica only shaded the xG by a small margin of 1.82 to 1.38, as shown by the shot maps below.

Di Maria was, statistically, his team’s most dangerous player with an xG of 1.39 overall, although that total includes his penalty. Sterling’s goal, deriving from a 0.75xG chance, was the best opportunity of the game in open play while Lawrence’s opener, a header following clever build-up play on the left, came from a 0.09xG chance.

While Clement’s side were forced to survive a storm at points, they can feel aggrieved at the nature of both goals that hit Butland's net given how they limited Benfica’s chances. The hosts’ set-pieces ultimately lead to both goals but Rangers defended 14 corners well and could do little about the ball bouncing onto Souttar’s arm to concede a penalty.


Hitting Benfica in their weak spot

As the Rangers Review detailed pre-match in this scout report, Benfica’s weakness heading into the game was clear. Roger Schmidt’s side are vulnerable defending back-post crosses given each winger is tasked with limited defensive work while each full-back needs to get up and down, providing width in the attacking phase.

Here’s an example, in GIF form, from the last round with Toulouse. Notice the French side creating a two-vs-one down both flanks with Di Maria and David Neres doing little to aid their full-back.

Clement largely kept James Tavernier and Ridvan Yilmaz deep to guard against counterattacks but managed to, once in open play and once following a free-kick, create an extra runner at the back post to score both goals.

The opener was created following excellent work by Mohamed Diomande in the midfield, with Rangers having pressed high and forced Benfica into a long ball, not allowing them to settle, that Souttar attacked aggressively. Notice seven players in the opposition half.

Clement has often spoken of Diomande’s versatility. This is a benefit game to game but also, because of the varying roles and zones a modern midfielder must assume, within games.

READ MORE: Inside Diomande's rise and Ibrox transfer: Rangers kits as a kid, Koppen and a dream

Diomande doesn’t only win the ball deep but continues his run rather than sitting behind the ball. His movement is difficult for Benfica to track with Neves drawn towards the pass wide into Silva, who fakes a move inside to attack the outside.

When playing without natural wingers who will hit the byline, Clement's team often use these underlapping runs to reach the cutback zone.

Now, Rangers have a three-vs-three in the box, with Tom Lawrence as the spare man. Sterling pulls Fredrik Aursnes, the left-back, to the front post, creating space for Diomande to deliver onto the head of the Welshman, who times his run brilliantly instead of rushing into the box.

Sterling’s run at the back post would earn him a goal second time around. After Rangers counterpressed effectively to keep Benfica penned in from a wide free-kick, the ball is worked wide to Silva.

The Portuguese forward, this time isolated wide without an extra runner, manages to chop onto his right foot and hit the underloaded back post area as Benfica are attracted towards the ball where Sterling arrives.

It was an incredible pass, taking out six Benfica defenders and nutmegging Neves on its way through.

It’s no coincidence that each goal were created and executed at similar points - the Ibrox side exploited Benfica’s weakness ruthlessly.


Makeshift wingers but big performances

With no fit wingers, Clement was forced to find solutions on either flank and tellingly singled out Silva and Sterling for praise post-match.

“We’re missing a lot of players in the offensive positions so other players had to do the job. I’m very happy also with Fabio and Dujon doing that role really good in this game,” he said.

Looking at the pass networks, which chart the average passing position of each player, while Benfica saw more of the ball (67 percent to 33) and shaded chance creation, Rangers weren’t camped in their own box.

The visitor's legs started to go for the final 30 minutes and they attempted their last shot a minute after the hour mark, but Rangers were well worth the result.

Rangers’ slightly lop-sided shape, creating on the left with the excellent Silva and finishing moves on the right, is reflected in the origin of both goals. Silva had the highest On-Ball Value (0.5) of anyone on the pitch. In effect, he was clearly the most dangerous and effective player on the night.

Diomande, alongside Ridvan, also excelled while Jack Butland was called to make important stops. Arthur Cabral’s effort in the first half had a 73 percent chance of finding the net after it left the No.9's foot, but Butland sprang out quickly to prevent a sure goal.

While it felt as though a historic result was possible, a 2-2 offered to anyone in the Rangers camp pre-match would’ve been taken without hesitation.

In Lisbon, they were able to compete admirably against a much better-resourced opponent and, nearly, pull off a miracle. The platform is there to finish the job next Thursday in Glasgow.