Battling the Blau-Zwart

As the Champions League resumed play on Matchday 3 after a three-month hiatus, Rangers spent this break continuing their near total demolition of Scottish football.

Rangers returned from their match in Bochum against Club Brugge to face a tricky away game with Falkirk at Brockville. Despite the hosts taking the lead McCoist and Hateley combined to score a goal a piece as Rangers fought back to win 2-1. This was followed with a 2-0 win over St Johnstone at Ibrox, with defenders Richard Gough and David Robertson the scoring duo. Rangers closed out 1992 with a 3-1 away win at Dens Park against Dundee, with Hateley and McCoist scoring yet again as Rangers secured maximum points.

As was tradition Rangers faced Celtic in the New Year Old Firm Derby on January 2nd 1993, in a match which Trevor Steven’s only goal would see Rangers triumph 1-0 over their bitter rivals at Ibrox.

Dundee United were the next visitors to Ibrox only three days later, taking part in a match Rangers would win 3-2 after goals from Hateley, McCall and McCoist. Rangers would travel to Firk Park to open their Scottish Cup campaign on January 9th, beating Motherwell 2-0 to advance to the next round. Due to match cancellations Rangers next game would take place on January 30th, where they would take on Hibernian at Easter Road in a thrilling match which ended 4-3 to the light blues.

Rangers began February with an away trip to Pittodrie to face an energized Aberdeen side who were to be undone by a vintage performance by goalkeeper Andy Goram.

Four days later Rangers resumed Scottish Cup action with a 4th round away trip to Somerset Park to take on Ayr United, a match which Rangers would win 2-0 after goals from Ally McCoist and Dale Gordon. Rangers returned to league play with an uncharacteristic 2-2 draw at Ibrox against relegation candidates Airdrie and would follow this up with a further draw, this time 0-0 away to Dundee United at Tannadice. Rangers returned to winning ways to close out February, with a 4-0 thumping of Motherwell at Fir Park followed by a 2-1 win over Hearts at Ibrox.

By the end of February Rangers strike partnership had accounted for a remarkable 64 goals across all competitions, with Hateley’s tally at 22 and McCoist continuing at a frightening rate with 42 goals they certainly showed no signs of letting up. Rangers also enjoyed an 11 point lead over 2nd placed Aberdeen and a further 15 point lead over 3rd placed Celtic.

We covered Club Brugge’s run to the Champions League group stages in this preview article, but as Rangers travelled to Belgium on March 3rd 1993 Club Brugge found themselves in a precarious position domestically after 24 league matches.

Club Brugge Head Coach Hugo Broos had won the Belgian Eerste Klasse at the first time of asking in 91/92, narrowly finishing above rivals Anderlecht by just four points. 92/93 promised to be another close campaign, which proved to be the case after matchday 5 when the two sides met in Brussels. An Anderlecht squad containing Luc Nilis, Luis Oliveira, Philipe Albert and Peter Van Vossen would fail to score against Club Brugge, instead relying on an own goal from Rudy Cosey to open the scoring before Club Brugge’s Dutch striker Foeke Booy equalized on 53 minutes to share the points. While Anderlecht were at the top of the table the two sides were only separated by a point, a fact that remained the case all the way through to mid-October before Club Brugge embarked on a 6 game run without a victory which enhanced Anderlecht’s advantage to 9 points to close out 1992.

Club Brugge kicked off 1993 with a 2-1 win over Lierse but soon followed up with two defeats to Germinal Ekeren and Standard Liege which placed the champions in a perilous 8th position and 12 points behind leaders Anderlecht. A 7-0 goal blitz against whipping boys Boom FC threatened to spark a mini revival for Club Brugge who followed this up with a 1-0 win over Royal Antwerp, but complacency once again set in as they could only draw 1-1 with mid table Charleroi.  

On the Saturday prior to their match with Rangers, Club Brugge faced bottom side Lommelse SK at the Olympiastadion in Bruges. In what may have been viewed as the dream preparation for their midweek European tie quickly turned into a nightmare as Club Brugge found themselves 3-1 down after 60 minutes. The final 30 minutes saw Lommelse SK reduced to 9 men, during which time Gert Verheyen brought the score back to 3-2, before Stephen Van der Heyden scored a late penalty to draw the match 3-3.

In fourth position Club Brugge’s title defence was all but over, with some considerable work to do in order to beat Standard Liege out in the UEFA Cup qualification spot.

Starting Line Ups

Club Brugge Head Coach Hugo Broos would bring the experienced Rudy Cossey back into the defence, replacing young Australian international Paul Okon, and Polish midfielder Tomasz Dziubinksi came into the center of midfield replacing Stephen Van der Heyden.

Club Brugge Line Up:

Rangers’ selection issues were starting to mount up as they approached their 45th match in all competitions, the first of which being Richard Gough who would miss another Champions League matchday through injury. Scott Nisbet had featured in the previous weekends league win over Hearts and would maintain his place in the side, with starting right back Dave McPherson moving to the center of defense to partner John Brown. Ian Durrant and Ian Ferguson would also miss this match through injury, which saw Mikhailichenko and Neil Murray coming into the side as replacements. Pieter Huistra would make his first starting appearance in Europe since the first-round win over Lyngby, taking up a position in front of the injured Trevor Steven.

Rangers Line Up:

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First Half Tactical Analysis

Club Brugge Build Up

Club Brugge would become the third opponent Rangers would face in this campaign to use a 3-5-2 variant, a system that was widely used across continental Europe yet rarely penetrated British football. In Lorenzo Staelens Club Brugge have a center back in a contemporary mold, carrying a strong athletic physique while possessing the technical ability of a deep lying midfielder. Cossey and Querter are two traditional marking center backs that cover spaces well and are strong in aerial duels, yet both are equally solid in possession when passing into midfield or over longer distances. With Van der Elst at the base of the midfield, a player very much in a similar stature to Staelens, this gave Club Brugge four players who started attacks from deep. Given the solid structure behind them, this gave freedom to Dziubinksi and Verheyen to take up higher positions in the midfield, moving forward to stretch the central spaces in an attempt to receive passes behind Rangers midfield line. The central space was created due to the wide positioning of wing backs Borkelmans and Creve, both of whom had to be tightly marked by Rangers wide men due to their threat from crossing positions.

In the opening 30 minutes of the match Club Brugge used a similar pattern of play that began with a penetrative pass into the inside left channel, dragging Rangers midfield line of four across to press on the ball side. This narrowing effect opened up space on the Club Brugge right wing for Verheyen and Creve to to take advantage of their 2v1 or 1v1 to deliver a cross into the box.

Rangers Build Up

Walter Smith’s strategy carried many similarities with what we saw against CSKA in the previous Champions League outing, in that Rangers default position was to sit in a 4-4-2 medium block with a lower line of confrontation. While Rangers did find themselves with a numerical disadvantage in central midfield, during moments of turnover the formation provided two natural targets in which to play forward and enhance their chances of building forward in attack. Supporting McCoist and Hateley in attack was the penetrating runs of Mikhailichenko from the left wing, who despite being naturally left sided made movements inside like we had saw from Durrant in the matches with Leeds. On the right wing was Pieter Huistra who operated more like a traditional winger, but also being left footed was able to cut inside and provide quality deliveries to the back post. McCall was tasked with providing central support from midfield, something we saw lots of throughout the opening forty-five minutes.

Rangers failed to threaten the target as much as their hosts in the first half, but from these clips it was apparent they were trying to expose the spaces behind Brugge’s wingbacks in an attempt to find McCoist and Hateley inside the box.

Throw In Threat

In an era before access to endless video analysis, a side that came into a match with a strong threat from throw ins could test even the most organized of defenses. It was apparent from the start Club Brugge offered that very threat, with Rangers firing back with a chance of their own later in the half. On 44 minutes Creve shelled yet another attack into the box with Foeke Booy the target. Booy failed to get a good connection on the header and as the ball looped in the air Mikhailichenko was on hand to make a clearance. His attempted headed clearance also failed to get a good connection, inadvertadly hitting his left shoulder, which led to the ball falling to Tomasz Dziubinski next to the penalty spot. The Polish midfielder lined up a first time left footed shot that flew past a helpless Andy Goram into the bottom corner kissing the post, giving Club Brugge the lead right on the stroke of half time.

Second Half Tactical Analysis

Rangers Mentality Shift

As soon as the whistle blew to begin the second half it was apparent that Walter Smith had instructed his Rangers side to go on the offensive in search of an equalizing goal. Immediately the lines of pressure from Hateley and McCoist were lifted, pressing from the front and dragging Rangers entire shape 20 yards further forward. The midfield were now making more runs forward to support the attack in transition, with McCall continuing to lead the line but penetrative movements of Huistra and Mikhailichenko were now pulling Creve and Borkelmans back into defense. Even Rangers center backs were getting in on the act, as evidenced in these clips from John Brown and Dave McPherson both of whom illustrate quite how attacking Rangers’ mentality was in this second half.

Rangers fullback’s were now also getting further forward, having previously operated within a flat back four. On the right side Nisbet started deeper but his penetrative passes down the right flank allowed McCoist and Huistra to link up to create attacks. On the left flank David Robertson was carrying the ball with purpose, using his immense speed to create multiple attacking crosses into the box.

Club Brugge Counter Attacking Threat

While Club Brugge weren’t controlling possession like they had in the first half, they certainly carried a threat on the counter. Foeke Booy and Daniel Amokatchi are a highly dynamic strike partnership that breaks from the conventional target man / penalty box poacher image that was characterized in British football at the time. Both have magnificent pace and are highly proficient in dribbling past opponents before striking on goal. When we add onto this the guile and quality of Gert Verheyen in moments of transition, carrying the ball over distances and applying a killer pass, you have a potent attacking trio that were a constant threat given the increased space Rangers were having to leave in defense as they went in search of an equalizing goal.

As the match entered it’s 71st minute John Brown’s instinct led him to step into midfield to pick up a ball that had bounced loose from an aerial duel between Stuart McCall and Gert Verheyen. With Van der Elst unable to get forward quick enough to close down the ball, John Brown rolled a ball toward the edge of the box for Mark Hateley to latch onto. The Englishman’s attempt at a cross was blocked by Cossey, setting up a corner kick for Rangers. Mikhailichenko’s lofted left foot cross landed on the penalty spot without a Rangers attacker in sight, only to be half cleared by both Staelens and Booy who attempted a headed clearance. As the ball trickled toward the edge of the 18 yard box Stuart McCall drilled it back inside, which prompted Ally McCoist to check towards the ball as if to lay it back. As McCoist drew the eye of the recovering Staelens he provided additional space for Pieter Huistra to attack the ball unmarked at the back post. The Dutchman connected with the ball first time to almost pass it into the top corner past Verlinden and into the Club Brugge goal.

2nd Half Alterations

A few minutes after Rangers goal Hugo Broos made his first substitution of the match, replacing Peter Creve with Claude Verspaille in a like for like switch. Creve had played remarkably well in the first half but was largely anonymous throughout the second.

On 84 minutes Walter Smith would replace Scott Nisbet with Steven Pressley in another like for like switch, presumably as Nisbet was the only Rangers player on a yellow card and he wanted to remove any risk for dropping to 10 men.

The closing five minutes were played at a frantic pace, with one side pressing forward on the counter attack only for the other to dispossess and create an attack of their own in the opposite direction. Club Brugge arguably had the two best chances in the closing stages, with Staelens going close from a header at a corner and Verheyen striking from a clearance at a corner only for his effort to be blocked by David Robertson.

As Spanish referee Antonio Navarrete brought a close to an enthralling match, both sides leave with a point and a performance that they can take positives from.

Data Analysis

Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

With 12 attacks to 7 in Brugge’s favor in the opening 45 minutes we can see they not only had a numerical advantage, but more control of the attack play given the heightened xG. Rangers would have two main clusters of attacks in the opening half, whereas Club Brugge would attack more consistently.

The 2nd half saw a complete role reversal with Rangers recording 18 shots over the remaining 45 minutes and Club Brugge staying somewhat consistent with a further 11 shots on goal. It would be Rangers who attacked more consistently in the 2nd half (a shot every 2.5 minutes on average) with Brugge now moving into more clustered attacks and only recording 1 shot during the 55th and 80th minutes, arguably the most critical period of the match and more importantly when Rangers get their equalizing goal.

Chance Quality:

With both teams scoring over 2 xG from their 20+ efforts on goal it shows us the amount of high quality chances in the game. Rangers will be delighted with the away point, but will no doubt be disappointed to have only converted 1 goal from their 2.66 xG and 4 big chances (highest goal scoring probability) during the match.

Club Brugge’s attack play was a lot more economical, showing a better spread of chances overall. Yet with only one major uptick in the 2nd half (high probability chance) while in a winning position, they cannot help but feel they contributed to Rangers resurgence in the second half.

Type of Chances Created

We can see from the patterns of play that both sides gained most success from periods of build up, however each side’s differing tactical approach allows us to see where specifically they were able to create chances from.

With Rangers dropping off into two zonal marking lines of 4 we can see that Brugge were able to find spaces in wide areas, but also within the inside right and left channels that their superior midfield advantage afforded them. 16 of Brugge’s 23 shots came from Key Passes (passes into the shooter), Borkelmans being the lead provider in terms of deeper entries from the left hand side into the forwards. From Brugge’s 16 key passes the most frequently used method of feeding their shooters was a through ball, which also speaks to the threat that Amokachi carries in transition turned into 8 efforts on goal.

Rangers creativity differed from Brugge in that they were more progressive in their approach play. While Brugge were happy rotating the ball left to right before finding the time to move forward, Rangers used the positioning of Hateley and McCoist to stretch the field vertically and advance play a lot faster. They looked to play driven balls into the attackers feet, thus narrowing the opposition to press the ball, at which point they would spray passes wide and serve the ball into the box. Rangers most frequent shot creator came from wide areas, with 6 of their 17 key passes coming from a cross.

Where Chances are Created

Lets start by analyzing each sides performance in the Golden Zone (central portion of the 18 yard box). This game saw the highest number of shots from within the golden zone from each of the 5 Rangers UCL matches we have analyzed thus far, with 18 overall. While Rangers shots came closer to the oppositions goal, which isnt always necessarily easier to score, when we breakdown the GZ shots on target we see that both sides have a similar conversion rate (around 40%). Big chance conversion offers an interesting twist on the game, with Brugge scoring from their only created Big Chance in the match. Rangers however would only hit the target from 1 of their 4 Big Chances, with them missing the target from two and the final chance being blocked by a Rudy Cossey.

When we evaluate the quality/probability of the shots on target we see from Brugge’s 2.05 xG that only 0.62 xG came from efforts on target, thus suggesting that only 30% of the overall probability reached Andy Goram. Similarly from Rangers 2.66 xG only 0.79 xG came from efforts on target, again hitting the 29% mark in terms of efforts challenging the keeper. With both sides therefore only averaging around 70% chance of scoring we see that in fact 1-1 is a fair result given the circumstances.

Interesting Data

After five matches Rangers are now averaging 6.4 shots per match from inside the Golden Zone. While in this same metric we see their conceding on average 6 shots per match, when looking at the on target data it shows them leading their opponents 3.4 p/g to 2.6 p/g. Over such a small sample size of games this margin may appear minimal, but when we overlay where Rangers score goals we see that 6 of their 8 goals come from within the golden zone. Interestingly 2 of their 5 goals conceded have come from this area, which is to be expected given its high probability, but this data shows us how much of a threat Rangers have carried in their 5 games within this competition.

Who Created Chances

Ally McCoist would finish as Rangers best statistical attacker, taking part in eight shots on goal and three of which hitting the target. His personal xG for the match was 0.88 (33% of the teams overall xG).

Stuart McCall would finish as Rangers best statistical creator with 3 key passes, two of which turning into a shot on target, one of these being Pieter Huistra’s equalizing goal.

Daniel Amokachi was Brugge’s most threatening attacking force recording 8 shots on goal with a personal xG of 0.97. Of these 8 attacks only one would hit the target, so he will no doubt be looking to increase his conversion rates when the sides meet next.

Vital Borkelmans was Brugge’s best statistical creator with 5 key passes in the match and would be the driving force in creating much of Brugge’s attack play down the left hand side.

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 3 encounter Marseille would travel to Germany to face CSKA Moscow, with the Olympiastadion in Berlin providing the host venue.

Marseille’s only notable exclusion was Rudi Voller due to injury, he would be replaced by someone well known to the CSKA players in Russian international Igor Dobrovolskiy, who was also making his Champions League debut having joined the French champions in late December of 1992.

On the 28th minute Abedi Pele would spark a counterattack with a through pass down the right wing for Alen Boksic, in an almost identical fashion to Boksic goal from Matchday 2 against Club Brugge. The Croatian once again beat the advances of the recovering defender, but this time when he advanced into the box he provided a cut back to Abedi Pele who was coursing into the box at full speed. The Ghanian striker essentially slide tackled the ball past 19 year old Evgeniy Plotnikov in the CSKA goal, giving Marseille a 1-0 lead in the process.

Into the second half and despite the larger field and more cavernous atmosphere inside the Olympiastadion CSKA found a way back into the match. After a turnover in play in the 56th minute Ilshat Faizulin was fed the ball on the right wing before being immediately closed down by Bernard Casoni. Faizulin used the space behind Casoni to advance beyond his pressure with consummate ease, before dribbling into the box and applying a drilled finish into the bottom left corner past a helpless Fabian Barthez.

Both sides would continue to compete for the remaining 30+ minutes, with Boksic going close and Faizulin having a shot cleared off the line in the closing moments. This match would finish 1-1 leaving Group A on a knife edge as each side entered the second round of games on Matchday 4.

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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