Rangers 2-2 Marseille
UEFA Champions League Group A Matchday 1
November 25th, 2020
Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow
By Alistair Bain (@allybain)
Rangers Tactical Set Up
Rangers manager Walter Smith was handed a selection headache as Rangers began their first ever venture into the newly formed UEFA Champions League. Ian Ferguson would miss the match through suspension, meanwhile Ally McCoist and Richard Gough would face late fitness tests to be declared fit for the match, with Gough the only player to be declared fit. This altered Rangers traditional 4-4-2 shape into more of a functional 4-5-1, with Mikhailichenko, Durrant and Steven all supporting underneath Hateley who would serve as the lone target man. McCall would be partnered by 19 year old utility man Neil Murray in midfield, however Gough passing a fitness test would allow Smith to field his preferred back four alongside Andy Goram in goal.
Due to the attacking threat of Voller and Boksic Rangers center backs would be tested to the limit throughout the match, therefore defending in 1v1 situations would prove pivotal. To reduce the central spaces and support their central defensive pairing, full backs Robertson and McPherson would have to move narrow and remain compact in an effort to zonally mark any movements from the strikers into the central channels. This therefore placed more onus on Steven and Mikhailichenko to track back and defend the advancing moves of Di Meco and Angloma respectively, as both Frenchmen would frequently get forward from wingback in an effort to cross the ball into the box.
Throughout the game Rangers dropped into two defensive banks of 4, with Durrant often dropping in to make it a line of 5, with a view of compacting the central spaces and making life hard for Marseille’s creative players to find shooting opportunities. While the French champions would have too much quality for Rangers in a creative sense, quite often still finding a way to shoot in tight areas, on multiple occasions the likes of McCall and Brown were on hand to make key interceptions or block the shot all together. Andy Goram would also perform very well adding to his already impressive string of saves from the earlier rounds with Leeds.
Counter Attack Play
Moving from defence to attack proved to be a real struggle for Rangers throughout the first two thirds of this match. Their defensive shape and individual defensive quality enabled them to create multiple turn overs in possession, but a mixture of poor decision making and movement off the ball rendered much of these turn overs as opportunities for Marseille to quickly win the ball back.
Build Up Play
In order to gain more rhythm to their attacks they were forced to use restarts, goal kicks/set pieces/throw ins, as a means of gaining territory higher up the field and forcing Marseille onto the back foot. In Mark Hateley Rangers have the perfect target striker, not only can he link the play in the air and on the ground, but he is also clinical in front of goal when presented with an opportunity. While Marseille were ferocious in their forward press and collective defending, Rangers lacked the quality to build the ball through the thirds so relied heavily on the presence Hateley had when leading the line.
Supporting Hateley from the wings we would see two players perform very different roles. On the left Rangers fielded Alexi Mikhailichenko who was tasked with creating width in moments of transition to combine with full back Davie Robertson, but also someone who could progress the ball quickly on the dribble and show individual quality to beat a man and cross into the box.
On the right hand side Trevor Steven would form a tighter defensive relationship with McCall and Murray, at times operating as a defacto center midfielder, but in doing so he would create an opportunity for Durrant to spring forward as well as offering quality on the ball. His greatest quality on the night came in his crossing as evidenced in his set pieces and balls into the box from open play. It was clear that Rangers were looking to create a 1v1 duel with Mark Hateley and the French keeper Barthez, a challenge that almost brought Rangers a penalty in the second half.
While Rangers would rely heavily on Ian Durrant to provide the creative spark in this match, it wasn’t until a second half substituation and a role change that would see him deliver a performance worthy of man of the match. In the opening exchanges he would look to advance forward and do most of his work alongside Hateley on the break, either through runs into the box to get onto the end of a flick on or by collecting a play and opening the game out to Mikhailichenko on the flank. Once Walter Smith brought on Gary McSwegan, and moved Durrant back into a central midfield position, it was then that Durrant began to pull the strings and served as the catalyst for Rangers come back from a 2-0 deficit. Almost instantly Rangers found an answer to their issues in moments of counter attack, finally they were connecting attacks more freely and Durrant was able to demonstrate his quality when playing forward passes from deep.
Marseille Tactical Set Up
Back 3 Influence
In Desailly and Boli Marseille had two of Europe’s most elite defenders, both equally combative in defence and possessing all the athletic capabilities to defend zonally or in 1v1 situations. Allied to their individual destructive play they both displayed a calmness and quality on the ball that allowed them to step into midfield and not look a beat out of place. With Casoni positioned a few meters behind them he would marshall the back line and employ an aggressive offside trap that even caught out Rangers despite being positioned only marginally within the Marseille half.
Midfield Roles & Functions
Despite Di Meco and Angloma being placed at left and right wing back respectively, they would spend most of this match in the opposition half serving more as out and out wingers. Both possess a high level of athleticism and quality on the ball, giving them the ability to make forward runs and cross first time, but also the opportunity to defend higher up the field to prevent Rangers from attacking the spaces in behind them.
In central areas Deschamps and Sauzee worked tremendously well as a pair, working simultaneously to break forward and combine with the forward players, but also provide cover for the back three in moments of transition. Sauzee is naturally the more attack minded of the two, and with a sublime right foot also enjoys a strike from distance as well as an effort from set plays. Deschamps ability to cover ground was remarkable, both in moments of defensive transition to prevent an attack, but also when carrying the ball forward to create an attack on the counter for his own side.
The graphic we have used to illustrate the Marseille line up is far from representative of the role that Abedi Pele played as the creative force for the French Champions. While I am sure there was direction as to where Goethals would like Pele to operate, his ability to play between the lines and work to serve the striking duo, of Voller and Boksic, saw him take up positions across the entire width of the field throughout the match. In addition to his support play Abedi Pele was as adept in fashioning chances for himself and was highly unfortunate not to have gotten himself on the scoresheet in this game.
While Boksic would open the scoring with a thoroughly clinical first time finish past Andy Goram, Rudi Voller served as the focal point in almost everything Marseille would create in this match. His ability to pull into wide areas and dribble into shooting positions inside and around the box was exceptional, and in doing so he would also create opportunities for his teammates who had moved into the spaced now vacated by the defenders Voller had attracted. His attacking nous was best illustrated by his movement to follow in the mistake made by Rangers defensive substitute Steven Pressley, an opportune moment that the German striker would pounce on to give his side a two goal advantage.
Value of Chances
We can see from the timeline that Marseille were the more consistent attackers in this match, dividing the majority of their attack play into two clusters at the start and end of the game, with a decent return taking place at either end of half time. Conversely Rangers would fail to register a shot on goal for almost 40 minutes, between the 31st and 67th minutes, which makes their comeback all the more remarkable considering Marseille’s dominance at 2-0. Despite Rangers turning the tide and getting themselves back into the match, Marseille actually record 13 of their 24 attacks in the final 30 minutes which shows they certainly didn’t sit in and hold onto their lead and in fact attempted to regain it when at 2-2.
While Marseille recorded three times as many attacks as Rangers, we can see that the distance in chance quality is significantly reduced by the size of Rangers upticks. This signifies that Rangers shots carried a higher value and probability, while Marseille attacked more frequently but did so from areas that gave Rangers a better chance of preventing a goal. The small repeated upticks not only signal multiple attacks within the same shot pattern, but also shots from distance that carry a lower threat.
Type of Chances Created
Rangers would create all 7 of their 8 attacks from Key Passes, which shows us that Marseille made very little errors in possession, but also that Rangers required groups of players to fashion efforts on goal as they didn’t have an individual who could do so. Marseille however would create 16 of their 24 attacks from Key Passes, which when we delve deeper shows us that of the remaining 8 attacks 5 were a direct result of a Rangers turn over in possession and Marseille taking advantage by shooting on goal. The most notable of these would come on 55 minutes, when Rudi Voller would take advantage of an initial John Brown turn over and subsequent Steven Pressley mis placed tackle, to score the 2nd goal of the match.
Rangers most frequently used method of creating attacks came from Crossing, which we can surmise by looking at the chance creation map above, with 5 of their 8 attempts coming from a wide area. Only 2 of these 5 would end up as a shot on target, but to Rangers delight both efforts resulted in a goal.
Marseille’s chance creation has a sprinkling of key passes from crossing positions, but their most prominent route to creating an attack came through a successful switch of play or a short lay off prior to the shot. Marseille’s intricate interplay between the forwards and midfielders saw them fashion 9 efforts from inside the central portion of Rangers half, but where things became a problem is that only 1 of these 9 chances lead to a shot on target.
Where Chances are Created
When analyzing the attack play from this game it is as fascinating as it is baffling. On a surface level we can see that Marseille recording 24 shots to 8 would suggest a level of dominance that labels the scoreline as flattering in Rangers favor, however when we drill down deeper it perhaps suggests something more impressive about how Rangers played.
9 of Marseille’s 24 efforts would be blocked by Rangers players, something in itself that suggests how well Rangers defended against a strong Marseille side, a further 4 efforts would be saved by Andy Goram which accounts for over half of Marseille’s attack play. Of their remaining 11 shots 9 would miss the target completely, and of course two would hit the back of the net. There is something telling about the quality of Marseille’s strike play overall that leads us to ask could they have been more clinical on another night?
While again we cannot understate how impressive the creation of 24 shots are in a match, the fact is Marseille would only land 10 of those 24 from inside the box shows us how speculative many of the shots were. In comparison Rangers would hit 7 from the same area, and to delve further we also see that only 3 of Marseille’s 10 box shots would come from the Golden Zone (Central portion of the box and the highest probability) where as Rangers would record 6 of their 7 box shots from inside the Golden Zone. This allows us to consider that on the night Rangers made more of their chance creation, purely from a probability perspective, as they did more with an overall lesser output.
When we look at Attack play broken down by “patterns of play” we can grade the quality/probability of the attack play further, and in the analysis we see that just over 50% Rangers shots came from open play, where as Marseille would see 92% of their shots from open play. Clearly there is a greater chance of scoring during an attack that is created in moments of free play, however with Rangers creating 2 big chances in the match (chances as defined by Opta as having the highest level of probability) Marseille would only create 1, which would actually land at the feet of a fortunate Rudi Voller after a Steven Pressley error, this suggests that again Rangers are perhaps doing more with the attacking output they are creating.
Clearly the balance of play fell in favor of Marseille, with them enjoying far more regains of possession, better ball progression throughout the field and more importantly a higher xG and shot output. Yet as we look back on this game as a contest Walter Smith clearly got something right. Perhaps it was the move to put Durrant back into midfield? Maybe it was Marseille’s missed chances affecting their mentality? What we can derive however by looking at the numbers is that both coaches have a very clear way of approaching football matches, and it will be interesting to see if this continues to illustrate itself throughout the group stage games.
Who Created Chances
Mark Hatelely would finish as Rangers best statistical attacker, even though he would only take part in two shots on goal in the match and create two more for his teammates. His 2 attacks would generate 1 goal, and his personal xG for the match of 0.35 (35% chance of scoring).
Alexi Mikhailicheko would finish as Rangers best statistical creator with 3 key passes, one of which turning into a shot on target and a goal assist with a splendid cross in for Gary McSwegan to score on his European debut.
Rudi Voller was Marseille’s best Attacker and Creator in the match. He would shit 6 shots of his own, two of which landing on target and getting himself a goal. He would also record a personal xG of 0.76, not too far off the entire probability of the Rangers team. In a creative sense he had 4 key passes which lead to 3 shots on target and 1 goal, skillfully setting up Alen Boksic for the opening goal of the match.