A Long Way From Moscow

Rangers entered Matchday 2 of the Champions League group stage having taken part in two Premier Division matches. The first of which was a routine victory over newly promoted Partick Thistle, a match in which Gary McSwegan continued his goal scoring form by adding to a Trevor Steven opener and a rare Dave McPherson winner to give Rangers a 3-0 win.

The following midweek would see a full card of fixtures in Scotland, with Rangers travelling to face their opponents from last years Scottish Cup Final, Airdrie, at Broadwood Stadium. The home side would take a surprise lead in the first half, but a John Brown goal late into the game would salvage a point for the champions as the match finished in a 1-1 draw. Thankfully for Rangers they were able to maintain their 7-point lead at the top of the table as Aberdeen and Celtic played out a 2-2 draw at Parkhead the following evening.

We covered CSKA’s run to the Champions League group stages in this preview article but as they met Rangers on December 9th, 1992, CSKA were stuck facing European competition without any meaningful competitive league games to fill out their week. The newly formed Russian Premier League had finished at the start of November and would not resume until March of 1993, so CSKA’s 1-0 loss to Club Brugge on Matchday 1 was their only competitive game in over a month. To compound matters for CSKA UEFA would rule that they were not permitted to play their home matches in Moscow throughout the remainder of the Champions League, with the official line being that no stadium in Russia was deemed useable during the severe Russian winter. They were instead decamped to Bochum for this opening “Home” match of the tournament and would play their remaining games at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

Starting Line Ups

CSKA Moscow Line Up:

CSKA coach Gennadi Kostylev made four changes to the line up that opened on Matchday 1 against Club Brugge, the first of which was Sergey Guteev coming in to replace Dmitri Kharine who had earned himself a move to Chelsea only a few weeks earlier. Highly rated 19 year old defender Denis Mashkarin was replaced with Sergei Fokin, Mikhail Kolesnikov was replaced with Valeri Minko, and perhaps the most notable exclusion was midfielder Aleksandr Grishin who made way for Dmitri Karsakov.

This was a very youthful CSKA side with all three central midfielders under 21 and Ilshat Faizulin leading the line who had just turned 19.

Rangers Line Up:

Richard Gough had failed to shake off the groin injury that had forced his half time substitution against Marseille, so Walter Smith would revert to a similar line up he had used in the away match against Lyngby back in Round 1. Dave McPherson moved from right back to center back, with Trevor Steven dropping back into the right back slot. Ian Durrant would complement Steven on the right-hand side, however instead of Huistra, Smith with select Mikhailichenko to come into the left midfield position in front of David Robertson. Rangers would receive a major boost prior to the match with Ally McCoist and Ian Ferguson returning to the lineup, both of whom had been integral to Rangers success so far this season.

First Half Analysis

CSKA Counter Attack Threat

If CSKA’s performance in Barcelona wasn’t evidence enough of their qualities on the break, Rangers were given a firsthand example in the opening minute when Sergeyev was presented with a glorious opportunity to take the lead.

Rangers Defensive Shape

In Rangers last match against Marseille they faced a side set up in a 3-5-2 formation which often left them exposed centrally. CSKA would also set up in a 3-5-2, albeit with a deeper lying midfielder in their central 3 instead of a number 10 like Abedi Pele had played, nevertheless Walter Smith was tasked with altering his side’s defensive strategy to ensure their overall shape was more compact.

As the game began to settle CSKA would play at a much slower pace than Marseille, moving the possession with a patience that was designed to create gaps in Rangers defensive shape before applying a penetrative pass. Smith’s strategy was to have Rangers defend in a mid-block, using zonal pressing within two lines of four and screened by the strikers. The midfield worked laterally to cover the spaces in front of the back four to negate any passes into an advanced CSKA midfielder, which was supported by McPherson and Brown being given license to aggressively press forward onto a CSKA striker should they drop deep to receive the ball.

Rangers Overloading the Flanks

If Rangers were working to defend a numerical disadvantage centrally, in attack they were certainly looking to create one down the flanks. With Robertson’s searing pace and Steven’s pinpoint crossing Rangers have two full backs that offer a lot going forward. Add onto this the quality that Mikhailichenko and Durrant offer from wide midfield, and you have two partnerships that can be highly effective on each wing. CSKA displayed an inability to handle Rangers wide attacks purely because of the lack of defensive support they provided the wing backs Guschin and Kolotovkin. Instead, their center backs favored trying to defend aerial duels inside the box should the cross go unblocked.

During attacks when deliveries were placed into the box it became abundantly clear that CSKA keeper Aleksandr Guteyev also liked attacking the ball during aerial duels. We saw numerous examples of him racing off his line to claim crosses, something that on thirteen minutes would prove disastrous for the Russians as Rangers capitalized on Guteyev missing a cross completely to go 1-0 ahead.

In finding a goal so early in the match Rangers were able to establish a lower line of confrontation, remain compact as a collective and force CSKA to break the down. Despite being a goal behind CSKA rarely looked anxious and continued to carefully curate their attacks, gradually increasing the speed of their combinations as the ball moved closer to Rangers goal. Bystrov was the lead orchestrator of starting play from the back, often using wing backs Kolotovkin and Guschin as the entry points in which to move the ball forward, both very adept at using combinations to move the ball inside from the flanks. In midfield the pairing of Bushmanov and Karsakov worked creatively to combine and find space, with Minkov holding at the base and playing simple five yard passes.

CSKA would have the ball in the net in the first half, after a promising counterattack that came as the result of a turnover by Rangers in central midfield found its way to the creative attacker Faizulin. His square pass to the top of the box was met by Bushmanov who’s strike deflected off Sergeyev and past Andy Goram into the Rangers net. The linesman instantly raised his flag however, citing that Sergeyev had strayed offside before he got the touch.

Referee Kim Milton Nielsen, the tall Danish official who would famously show David Beckham the red card at France 98, would bring an end to a forty five minutes that had saw both sides threaten but Ian Ferguson’s opening goal was all that separated them.

Second Half Analysis

Neither coach would make any changes at half time, however it was clear that CSKA would have to lift themselves to breakdown a resolute Rangers side.

CSKA coach Kostylev would wait until the hour mark to make the first changes of the match, replacing Minko in midfield for the young and exciting Grischin, and bringing on Ivanov to replace Guschin on the right side. As the second half wore on CSKA altered their approach play to favor the left wing, using Kolotovkin and Faizulin to build attacks as the rest of the attackers filled the box.

From these positions Rangers stood firm and did well to build attacks of their own. Through Durrant and McCall Rangers had two players who could carry the ball forward and link with Hateley and McCoist, both of whom used all their experience to hold up play, draw fouls and generally allow Rangers to get up the field. When in the CSKA half Rangers again attacked well down the wings, with Robertson and Steven providing quality deliveries into the box.

For the majority of the final stages of this match CSKA moved the ball with purpose by rotating play from side to side, but never truly carried themselves as a team capable of penetrating the Rangers defensive structure. This image below illustrates what large parts of the final twenty minutes of this game looked like, with Rangers growing in confidence with each turnover and subsequent counter attack.

What’s apparent is that while CSKA have a group of players who are very competent in possession, they excel in situations where the opponent has the ball and they can counter attack from defensive positions of their own.

From a Rangers perspective this was a very mature European performance, a display of real character when it mattered most. The two points gained from the win also maintains their standing as joint group leaders with Marseille, a fight that should they wish to win will require every effort in every game.

Data Analysis

Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

Despite enjoying more of the ball possession CSKA failed to make it count, with Rangers dominating the overall attacking flow and generating a higher goal probability. While Rangers spent much of the night in defence they were actually the more consistent attackers, with CSKA condensing their attack play into smaller clusters and often shooting multiple times during the same attacking pattern.

Chance Quality:

When the overall number of attacks are relatively similar (16 to 15 in Rangers favor) it makes judging chance creation quality far easier. We can see that Rangers enjoyed bigger upticks in their timeline, which tells us that their individual attempts carried far higher probability, therefore accumulatively had a better chance of winning. An effort from McCoist inside the six-yard box, after a Guteyev save from Trevor Steven, would give Rangers their highest ranked chance in the match. Unfortunately for McCoist and Rangers the shot would miss the target, but it signaled a change in attack flow and Rangers would remain on top for the remainder of the match.  

Type of Chances Created

In looking at the patterns of play that generated the most attacks it’s apparent that each side were at their strongest when starting an attack and gradually building up play. CSKA used a short passing game which focused on working the ball up the field and shooting from central positions, whereas Rangers favored a combination play approach through the wings which ended in a cross into the box. When we overlay each teams approach against the shot completion it tells us a different story, as CSKA would only generate 1 effort on target from their 11 build up attacks. Rangers however would work the goalkeeper 6 times from their 13 efforts on goal.

By looking at the locations it also shows us that Rangers were creating key passes (passes that result in a shot) closer to their opponents goal, with a total of 7 inside the final 3rd. CSKA would create 6 key passes from within the same zone, however we can see from the size of the dots (Sized based on shot location goal probability) is that Rangers chances carried a higher threat.   

Where Chances are Created

What’s impressive from Rangers attacking performance is that they recorded 8 golden zone shots (from the central portion of the 18 yard box) from their 16 overall shots on goal, with 4 of these shots forcing the keeper to make a save. Conversely, CSKA would only see 3 of their 15 shots from the same region, with only 1 shot testing Andy Goram.

When we break down the xG further we see that only 21% of CSKA’s xG came from shots on target, whereas Rangers saw 40% of their xG come from efforts on target. Ultimately both sides have underperformed against their expected goals score, but we can see from the shot distances and the probability of those locations that Rangers performance certainly deserved the win.

Who Created Chances

Ally McCoist would finish as Rangers best statistical attacker, taking part in six shots on goal one of which being Rangers only Big Chance statistically speaking (his miss from the 6 yard box nearing half time). His 6 attacks would generate 3 efforts on target and his personal xG for the match was 1.02 (49% of the teams overall xG).

Alexi Mikhailicheko would again finish as Rangers best statistical creator (did so during the opening game with Marseille) with 4 key passes, two of which turning into a shot on target.

CSKA shared out their attacking intent in this match, with substitute Aleksandr Grishin registering the most attacks, however in terms of potency Oleg Sergeyev recorded their highest personal xG with 0.64 (43% of the teams xG rating).

Yevgeni Bushmanov would create the most CSKA attacks in the game and was unlucky with a strike that was ruled out for offside. Given the lack of conversion in front of goal only one of these would result in a shot on target.  

Match Simulator

We fired up the RFA Match Simulator to replay the match 1000 times, and in doing so calculating the accumulative win percentage based on the probability of each shot. Here are the results:

Elsewhere in Group A

In Group A’s other Matchday 2 encounter Marseille would host Club Brugge at the Stade Velodrome. Marseille would be without the injured Rudi Voller for this match, with Club Brugge welcoming back Plovie and Disztl to their backline.

In the early moments of the match Didier Deschamps carried the ball into the Club Brugge half before finding Alen Boksic inside the final third. The Croatian dribbled the ball into the box drawing a foul from the recovering Vital Borkelmans to give Marseille a penalty inside the opening minutes of the match, which Franck Sauzee would slot away with ease to put his side 1-0 ahead.

Moments later a Jean-Jacques Eydelie corner flew across the Club Brugge box before kissing the post and landing right to the feet of Alen Boksic, who applied a clinical right foot finish past Verlinden to double Marseille’s lead.

On the 25th minute Marseille would quash a Club Brugge attack down the middle of the field, sparking a counter attack that saw Jean-Christophe Thomas play a channel ball for Allen Boksic to run onto. The powerful Croatian forward glided past Laszlo Disztl on the wing, settling himself as he dribbled into the box on an angle before applying a left foot finish to give Marseille a three goal advantage.

Club Brugge managed to build a more solid defense throughout the remainder of the match by keeping the score to 3-0 by the end, however this Marseille performance was very much a signal of intent as to their capabilities if in fact anyone was still in doubt by this stage.

Rangers victory in Germany proved to be crucial in maintaining their forward momentum in the competition, especially given as their next match is also on the road against Club Brugge.

About the Author

Picture of Alistair Bain

Alistair Bain

Alistair is a native of Hamilton, Scotland, and an A License qualified coach with vast experience in the football industry. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alistair's resume includes a variety of roles within football clubs in Scotland, England, and the United States.

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