Watching Rangers’ 4-1 win over Kilmarnock at the weekend, one detail stood out to the Rangers Review. Philippe Clement’s side were taking a lot of shots, and a lot of shots from distance.

That’s reflected in their shot map from the 4-1 win. The hosts managed 41 attempts, 25 of which were taken from 18 yards or more.

Of course, the fact that Kilmarnock played a large chunk of the game with 10 men afforded Rangers territorial control. However, this is not the first time Clement’s men have recorded such a high shot number. Nor is the sheer volume of long shots a one-off. On the contrary, Rangers are taking more shots from a distance than they have in a number of seasons. This goes against the proverbial modern football wisdom that long shots should be discouraged given, statistically speaking, the closer you are to goal, the higher the probability of scoring.

Over the past decade or so, long shots in football have gradually decreased. The reason for this shift is two-fold. Firstly, growth in analytics and the normalisation of stats like xG have impacted where players are encouraged to shoot from. Looking at the shot map above you can see a colour code that depicts the shot value, xG, of each effort that judges the probability of a shot finding the target based on its location, assist, angle and body part using historical data. A long-range 0.01xG shot should find the back of the net one time out of 100. The theory is that you probably shouldn’t try that shot too often.

Secondly, the influence of managers such as Pep Guardiola has pushed the value of possession far higher up the scale in football. As opposition blocks have become more organised and compact, the idea has grown that having the ball is the best form of defence, to prevent counterattacks, and enable your team to gradually chisel away and break down an opposition's defensive structure. As a defending team, there is no greater relief when protecting a result than seeing a shot fly over the bar from distance to aleviate pressure. Keeping the ball to prod and probe can have the opposite effect. Thus, why would you trade-off speculative shots that relieve pressure for control of the game and higher-value chances?

The stats back up the eye test - Rangers are taking a sizeable number of shots from distance compared to previous seasons. Is Clement neglecting modern footballing wisdom, or is there substance behind this idea?

Overall, Rangers have the third-highest average shot distance in the Scottish Premiership this season (16.29) up from the fourth-lowest (15.8) last season. They are by some margin taking more shots from outside the box than anyone else (6.37 compared to Celtic's 4.86 and up from their own average of 5.32 last season). The Ibrox side are also averaging the most shots per 90 in the league (21.37 up from 19.24 last season).

The graphs below, comparing those metrics to last season, illustrate that point.

The below graph charts Rangers’ rolling 10-game shot distance average since the start of the 2022/23 campaign. Clearly since Clement replaced Michael Beale the Ibrox side are shooting further from goal.

That’s the same when we look at all shots, not including penalties. Rangers are shooting more now than at any other point in the past two seasons.

Finally, look at how many shots from outside the box Rangers are averaging now compared to any time in the past two seasons. Clement’s Rangers are taking a huge number of efforts from outside the box in comparison to Beale's and, especially, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s football.

So, we can see that Rangers are bucking a trend of recent seasons by shooting more from a greater distance, but why?

Speaking after Rangers’ 5-0 win over Hearts in February, which featured two goals from outside the box, Clement said that “when, where and how” to shoot had been one of his key messages since succeeding Beale.

“It has been a constant message since the first day I stepped into the building,” he said to a question posed by the Rangers Review’s Stevie Clifford.

“It has been one of the key points to work on. To have a clear idea of when, where and how to shoot and how to make offensive actions so, we’ve been working on that a lot in the last couple of months with the whole team and it is now really in their minds how to do it and then you get more goals and efficiency.

“It’s repetition and working on those things and getting it in the head that it becomes something natural. It’s not something you need to think about. If you need to think it goes too slow and then you do the wrong things or your opponent can block you. So that is one of the things we have been working on for months already.”

Having watched this Rangers team in the two months prior to his appointment Clement decided that from day one, the location and timing of shots were key. Too often the slow pace of Rangers’ attacks and narrow structure left their play predictable. There was not enough movement ahead of the ball and too much play in front of the opposition’s defence. The slow pace and lack of repetition would mean, "It goes too slow and then you do the wrong things or your opponent can block you". There have been two main reasons behind a shot-heavy approach since.

Firstly, the style of football Clement wants to play and the type of defences Rangers face are informing the rise in long shots. In general, the Belgian has this side playing quicker football with more verticality, a propensity to turn defences and a greater focus on ball progression than ball possession. At times this can lead to too much chaos and too little control but overall it’s catalysed to an upturn domestically.

One former member of Clement’s backroom staff in Monaco told the Rangers Review back in October that the manager is “not obsessed about possession”. The 50-year-old’s football has been sorely impacted by availability and build-up play still requires plenty of finesse. Often you’ll see a lot of long balls flying about because, with this squad as it is, Clement can often only attack at the pace he wants in a direct manner.

When profiles such as Mohamed Diomande, Ridvan Yilmaz, Dujon Sterling and Oscar Cortes become more of a feature, comfortable in a variety of phases and functions, that should change. What’s more, up against low blocks shots from distance can bring a level of unpredictability and given the quality gulf between the Old Firm and the rest of the league, Rangers’ quality compared to opposition goalkeepers should in theory work in their favour.

In addition, as defences have grown more and more compact, teams are targeting space at the top of the box. Take it from Juanma Lillo, Manchester City’s assistant manager, speaking in an interview with the Athletic.

“Because teams try to play as far as they can from their own goal, when they break through the opponent’s defensive line they’re going so quickly that the players in the middle go ahead of the one who has the ball out wide. I used to say in Manchester that the last player to arrive to the box is the first one to be able to shoot. I tell that to my strikers all the time: the closer you get to the goal, the further you are from scoring. Every team is so concerned about defending and controlling the spaces close to their goal that there are now more threats from further away.”

Diomande’s strike in the aforementioned 5-0 win against Hearts is the perfect example of this trend. The away side are defending in a 5-3-2 as the ball is worked wide to Cortes. But, as Lillo explains, when the defensive line is broken Hearts lose their staggered positioning due to Cortes cutting infield and Ridvan running forward.

This means Diomande is the last to arrive and the first to be able to shoot. The most dangerous space for Rangers, having pushed the defence back, is now ahead of it. The midfielder has freedom at the edge of the box and by the time Hearts rush up to the ball, Diomande has momentum to sidestep Beni Baningime and fire through a defence that is forced to be reactive, rather than proactive. Diomande is in a more valuable position even though he is further from goal due to the positioning of the Hearts defence.

Tom Lawrence’s strike at the weekend, or Cortes’ against Hearts, feature similar themes. On both occasions it is the speed of Rangers’ attack that enables them to shoot from range but without a settled defence blocking their way and with a goalkeeper reacting quickly. Thus there are fewer defenders in their way and more space for defences to cover.

Teams like Brighton and Bayer Leverkusen have popularised artificial transitions. Baiting and playing through the press of an opposition to create space more akin to a counterattack in the opposition’s half rather than facing low blocks. Clement’s side are of course not comparable but what is similar is a desire to generate space to attack into wherever possible. Rather than always affording defences time to recover, populate the box and make blocks.

Clement does not have, especially in wide areas and the base of midfield, a squad of players who specialise in breaking down low blocks. That fact has impacted the volume of shots from range and placed greater emphasis on quick, direct attacks into space.

Secondly, Clement is calculating the value of second balls and not only thinking about the initial shot from range. Rather, how can an accurate shot that a goalkeeper can’t hold upset a defence and create high-value opportunities that, otherwise, his team may lack the poise or personnel to fashion against deep blocks?

That played out on Sunday against Kilmarnock and has also been evident in other fixtures. Let’s take Ben Davies’ strike first. A clever corner routine saw Rangers free John Lundstram at the edge of the box, which resulted in three Kilmarnock players rushing to close him down.

Meaning that, when Lundstram takes his shot Rangers have a six-vs-four around the Kilmarnock goal, a situation that would take much patience and poise to create but is made possible by controlled chaos. After Will Dennis spills his shot, Davies can react from close range to score.

Look at how Kilmarnock’s defensive structure is impacted by the threat of a shot, thus unloading the box and offering Rangers a numerical advantage from close to goal.

John Souttar’s late header was also scored from a second ball after Dennis saved from Lawrence’s long-range drive.

Davies’ goal derived from a 0.44xG chance after Lundstram’s initial 0.03xG shot. Souttar’s strike a 0.2xG header from Lawrence’s initial 0.02xG shot. The unpredictability of long shots can create space in a box that otherwise takes time and patience to generate. Shots from range are not isolated to upsetting and destabilising low blocks, however.

Against Aberdeen in a 2-1 win earlier this year, both of Rangers’ shots from range came following quick attacks. Rabbi Matondo’s opener was scored after Kelle Roos spilt the ball following a Ross McCausland shot from the edge of the box and a quick transition through the thirds.

And, after another quick transition later in the game, Todd Cantwell’s winner derived from a powerful Lawrence effort that Roos could only parry into the No.13’s path.

When asked on ESPN at the weekend if there were rules against his team taking long shots given the trend of control in high-possession teams last weekend, Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso said: “For sure, there are no rules, you want to give them the freedom and responsibility to take decisions. Mostly they are taking the right ones but there are no rules.”

This is translatable, perhaps, to how Clement sees the ‘rules’ around long shots at Rangers. The pendulum is swinging too far to one extreme at times but it is clear, in line with the manager’s football philosophy, that he values players’ ability to shoot from range in the right moments given their individual quality and ability to create high-value chances based on second balls. Clement doesn't want to give defences time to settle and favours progression over possession. In some instances trading off, as also seen at times to Rangers' detriment when moving from their defensive third directly into the final third, control for chaos.

Rangers’ xG/Shot of 0.09, the average xG quality of their efforts, has fallen by 0.01. The fact that four teams in the Premiership have a 0.10xG/Shot shows the negative side to this shot-heavy approach. It can devalue quality and lead to a relieving of pressure on the opponent’s goal.

However, it’s also true to say this intentional plan has brought direct and indirect benefits, as witnessed during the home wins over Kilmarnock, Hearts and Aberdeen especially.