Marching On Together

Since our last update Rangers would take part in two domestic matches, the first of which being the League Cup Final against Aberdeen at Hampden Park. Rangers would open the scoring after only 14 minutes with a goal best remembered for Theo Snelders chesting the ball into the path of Stuart McCall. With the new pass back ruling just taking effect that summer, Snelders appeared almost paralyzed with indecision after David Winnie’s block had deflected toward the Dutchman causing him to question whether he was allowed to catch the ball. He ended up doing neither and it fell to Stuart McCall to apply a first-time finish. Aberdeen would equalize through a sweetly struck Duncan Shearer effort to take the match to extra time, but on 114 minutes a David Robertson cross was turned into the Aberdeen net by Gary Smith awarding Rangers a 2-1 victory and a 7th League Cup title in 10 years.

A week later Rangers resumed league action with the visit of Motherwell to Ibrox, with the Lanarkshire side becoming only the fourth team to score at Ibrox all season. Another McCoist hattrick was finished off with a goal from John Brown to give Rangers a 4-2 win, taking McCoist’s tally to 28 goals in 22 appearances. After 15 matches Rangers lead stood at 6 points at the top of the table, with their goal difference serving as a significant buffer should any other team begin to narrow the gap.

Leeds domestic form continued to falter with a run of three games without a win. On October 24th Leeds would travel to Loftus road to face QPR in the Premier League, where they would lose 2-1 thanks to a Les Ferdinand winner in the second half. On October 27th Leeds resumed their League Cup campaign with the second leg of their second-round match with Scunthorpe United. A match that had been moved by the FA due to Leeds participation in the playoff match with Stuttgart. Leeds held a 4-1 advantage over their 4th tier opponents after the first leg yet would conspire to keep their winless away form intact with the match finishing in a 2-2 draw. Leeds would close out a dismal October with a Premier League match against Coventry City at Elland Road, a match that would finish 2-2 and see Leeds drop further down the table to 12th position.

Starting Line Ups

Leeds Line Up:

An injury forced David Batty’s exclusion from the match, causing Wilkinson to reshuffle the midfiled with David Rocastle coming into the right wing position, Gordon Strachan moving to the left and Gary Speed moving into central midfield alongside Gary McAllister.

Rangers Line Up:

Walter Smith would also make only one change with Trevor Steven dropping out due to injury. Replacing Steven is Dale Gordon, who has played his part so far this season scoring twice in the 8 matches he has featured. Gordon is a hard-working wide player that will be important in terms of tenacity and ability to quell the attacking threat of Strachan.

First Half Tactical Analysis

Rangers Opening Goal

The opening exchanges saw both goalkeepers launch multiple long balls forward for their respective target men, testing the opposition back line like the early sparring in a boxing bout. In the third minute Andy Goram would again loft a punt into the Leeds defensive third, with Ian Durrant coming in off the wing to flick on a headed pass to Mark Hateley. With the ball taking just one bounce before it’s next contact, Hateley unleashed a 20-yard half volley that whistled passed John Lukic, catching Leeds like an upper cut out of nowhere. This strike would not only give Rangers an early 1-0 lead but would ultimately frame how the remainder of the match played out tactically. It gave Rangers a greater margin to protect and placed even more emphasis on Leeds to attack with intent.

Leeds Build Up Play

Leeds suddenly found themselves in a similar predicament to their first-round tie with Stuttgart, in that only a flurry of goals would drag them back into contention.

Initially in the panic of the opening moments their defenders and goalkeeper launched a succession of direct passes into either Chapman or Cantona, but as play began to settle we saw what Wilkinson’s attacking strategy would be. At Ibrox Strachan and Speed had frequently moved inside from the wings to narrow their support of the strikers in attack, yet in this match the supporting movements served to open up the space underneath Chapman and Cantona. Strachan took up the starting position of a traditional wide man on the left wing and as soon as he picked up the ball it served as a trigger movement for the left back Tony Dorigo to overlap on the outside. Gary Speed added to the confusion in Rangers attempts to quash this attack play, making penetrative runs forward through the inside left channel. Quite often the forward runs of Dorigo and Speed actually pulled pressure away from Strachan on the ball, allowing him to dribble diagonally and use the quality from his right boot to serve a cross or strike on goal.

Rangers Defending

Irrespective of what their opening goal did to the game, Rangers were always going to be forced to defend their box throughout the first half. Luckily for the Ibrox side their entire backline and goalkeeper were more than a match for everything Leeds threw at them in the opening forty five minutes, turning in some heroic defensive performances.

Rangers Counter Attack Play

During the first leg at Ibrox David Batty quietly went about his work as the defensive midfield anchor, breaking up play before feeding the ball to the more creative forces around him. More importantly his role at the base of midfield is to protect the Leeds backline during moments of transition, specifically in stopping the final pass from an opponent who may look to expose the space behind Leeds defensive line who notoriously squeezes up very high.

It was therefore inevitable that his absence would see Leeds suffer in moments of defensive transition, especially with his replacement Gary McCallister more of a cultured creator than a combative midfield destroyer. Rangers stellar defensive performance increased the number of turn overs in central areas, which combined with Leeds throwing extra numbers forward resulted in large pockets of space for Rangers to expose.

As the referee brought an end to what was a breath taking opening forty-five minutes, Rangers found themselves with a 1-0 lead on the night and a 3-1 lead on aggregate.

The teams returned for the 2nd half with neither manager making any changes in personnel, however if Leeds approach play was designed to be creative in the first half the second the second half was far more industrial by comparison.

Second Half Tactical Analysis

Leeds Attack Play

The video clip below is emblematic of a large percentage of the play in the second half. Gone was the space for Leeds to use smart rotations and combinations on the left wing, instead they reverted to lots of direct balls into Rangers defensive third in an attempt to simply grind them down.

Lukic started play with a simple direct pass into Cantona or Chapman, who would flick a headed pass onto the players who congregated around him to attack in the second phase. This was a pattern that Leeds had used to great effect during this time in English football, however in Rangers they faced an opponent who almost appeared to grow in confidence with each defensive action. Not only were Gough and Brown winning their duels with Chapman and Cantona, but the resultant clearance was given life in which to attack as Leeds only remaining players were Newsome and Whyte, both of whom struggled to gain any authority on McCoist or Hateley throughout the night.

In all of the thousands upon thousands of goals I have witnessed in my life this could be up there as one of the best. Durrant, McCoist and Hateley move in a synergy that appears almost telepathic, culminating in a wicked cross to the back post that is finished off with cutting accuracy. This not only furthered Rangers advantage to 2-0 on the evening and 4-1 on aggregate, it was a body blow to Leeds fragile confidence that would make any notion of a comeback frivolous at best.

Tactical Changes

On 63 minutes Wilkinson would make a double switch, with former England international Steve Hodge coming on to replace David Rocastle and Rod Wallace entering for the departing Chris Fairclough. These changes would see Leeds now line up in a 3-5-2 formation, which at times morphed into a 2-3-5.

Rangers only change in personnel would come on 72 minutes when Alexei Mikhailichenko replaced Dale Gordon, with the Ukranian slotting into the left of the midfield four as Ian Durrant moved over to the right side.

Rangers Defensive Display

While it’s possible to find nuance within Leeds direct attacking style, the same can be said of Rangers defensive strategy in the final 30 minutes of this match. “Parking the bus” is a profoundly lazy slogan applied to teams who sit back in a low block, with the assumption that it is somehow easier to defend from this shortened distance to your goal.

Not only did Rangers have to face multiple crosses and long passes per minute, should they win back possession they now had the task of escaping the five Leeds attackers who swarmed the ball immediately to win it back. Rangers inability to build any form of sustained possession in the second half wasn’t down to a lack of quality, it was a team resolutely working together to be as adaptable as possible in stopping their opponents from scoring.

This required Rangers midfield and defensive lines (4 and 4 with a striker dropping to screen) to work in constant unison, stepping up to press the Leeds midfield, shuffling across to block the cross, as well as dropping back to attack long balls into the box and collect the 2nd ball. This utterly exhausting series of movements is so mentally and physically draining, it exemplifies how bonded this Rangers team are that their ability to block the ball appeared magnetic. Richard Gough, John Brown, Stuart McCall and Ian Ferguson were at the heart of Rangers defensive 4-4-2 structure, each of which rarely lost a tackle, missed a header or let their mark run free all evening.

Leeds Throw In Routines

We saw in the first leg how effective Leeds can be from corner kicks, given the quality the have in Strachan’s delivery but also due to the size and athleticism of the players attack the ball. This also extends itself to throw ins and in the second half we witnessed just how dangerous they can be in thee situations.

The Final Stages

On 85 minutes the dam finally broke and Eric Cantona would strike to make the score 2-1 on the evening and 4-2 on aggregate. This was to be one of his final goals for Leeds United, with the Frenchman departing for Manchester United only a month or so later.

Atfer Cantona’s strike Leeds would have another chance in the closing stages, as a Cantona flicked pass reached Rod Wallace 8 yards from goal. In what looked like a certain equalizer for Leeds, Andy Goram yet again came to Rangers rescue capping off what was easily a man of the match performance.

It perhaps speaks of how quaint football was in 1992 that no away fans had been allowed into the stadium for fear of violence, nor was the match shown live in Scotland due to the rights purchasing agreement within the ITV regions of the time. Yet the elation felt by everyone associated with Rangers, no matter how the received this news, reverberated around the continent like a warning siren. Was this the moment that Rangers were about to realize their potential as a European force to be reckoned with?

Overcoming the English champions at any time is impressive, not to mention an English champion that had knocked out the German champions en route to the 2nd round. Rangers now found themselves in an elite pool of 8, with three opponents standing in their way of European Cup glory. Sure it was a longer road than normal to the final, but if Walter Smith’s side could display this level of belief in every match they certainly gave themselves a chance.

Data Analysis

Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

Leeds ball possession in the opening 30 minutes didn’t result in the number of actual shots on goal they would have wanted, so their switch to a more direct route brought with it a significant increase in attack play. Leeds second half performance best illustrates the increase in intensity, with them recording 14 of their 21 shots on goal within that period.

Despite living on the backfoot for much of this match Rangers attacking performance is everything you would want from an away game in Europe. Their goal return underlines how clinical Rangers were, but they gave themselves a platform by maintaining a good attacking rhythm throughout the match, making sure Leeds were constantly mindful of their threat.  

Chance Quality:

Leeds second half attacking performance is arguably the most threatening from both sides across the four halves of this round, given the frequency of attacks but also the size of upticks (probability %). We also cannot downplay how influential Andy Goram was in the prevention of these attacks turning into goals.

Rangers overall chance creation value is less than Leeds, which is probably best explained by the lack of times they managed to penetrate the Leeds box. We must also assume that the shots from distance carry a fatigue factor, especially given the Rangers players were defending for such long periods and therefore not always able to get forward and support the attack in numbers.

Type of Chances Created

Based on Rangers general style we can see they favored counterattack play from deeper central areas and the left wing. We can see by the size of the dots (sized by chance value) that their ability to create chances was high, especially in moments of transition when decision making, and incisive technique were required.

Watching Leeds, we’d assume crosses were a big part of their attack play, however only 3 of their 21 shots on goal came directly from a cross. They instead profited from the chaos that comes from knock downs and headed passes (typically flick ons from Chapman – 2), through passes (from Strachan and McAllister – 3), and a simple set back pass to create a shot (4 overall).

Where Chances are Created

Leeds attack play shows us that they have almost a 50/50 split in xG from chances during open play and set pieces. While they would have 9 set play attacks to 12 open play attacks, the relative probability is significantly lower from set plays. This illustrates the the prowess Leeds had from set plays and how strongly they relied on them. Rangers on the other hand were in complete contrast, only recording an 8% probability from their 3 set play efforts.

If we finish by examining chances inside the box we can see that performance inside the Golden Zone (Central portion of the 18 yard box) was vastly different. Leeds would record 11 of their 21 shots inside the golden zone, with Rangers only turning in 3. Within those three efforts Rangers would create two big chances (A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal and there is low to moderate pressure on the shooter) both of which fell to McCoist and the latter, albeit slightly more difficult being a diving header, he would convert to make it 2-0. Leeds would create their own big chance in the golden zone on 34 minutes, a chance that Goram made a terrific save from a Cantona strike.

The final and telling statistic from either sides xG comes in the form of xG on target. When analyzing the value of shots on target we see that only 48% of Leeds xG actually tested Andy Goram (2.35 xG vs 1.15 xGOT). Where as the value of Rangers shots on target would account for 75% of their overall xG (0.96 xG vs 0.72 xGOT).

While nothing is guaranteed in football, when a side is as clinical as Rangers, stops its opponent from converting the majority of its shots inside the box and their keeper has an outstanding performance, sometimes outcomes like these seem utterly predetermined.

Who Created Chances

Ally McCoist would finish as Rangers best statistical attacker, taking part in 3 attacks on his own and creating 2 more for his teammates. His 3 attacks would generate 1 goal, and his personal xG for the match was 0.50, which equates to 52% of his teams overall attacking value.

Ian Durrant would finish as Rangers best statistical creator with 4 key passes, two of which turning into shots on target and a goal assist with a headed pass to Hateley before scoring Rangers opening goal of the evening.

Eric Cantona was Leeds United best statistical attacker, recording six shots in the match four of which hit the target and returned one goal. His personal xG for the night was 0.58, which was marginally above Leeds second most influential attacker, second half sub Rod Wallace who recorded 0.57 xG from his four attempts on goal.

Leeds United’s best statistical creator was Tony Dorigo, with two of his three key passes turning into 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:

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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