Attila No More

Rangers entered Matchday 4 of the Champions League on the back of a three domestic fixtures, the first of which was an away Scottish Cup Quarter Final tie with Arbroath. In a match that would finish 3-0 to Rangers, there was certainly no room for squad rotation in this era as Hateley and McCoist found themselves on the scoresheet despite taking on a side from Scottish Football’s 3rd tier. McCoist would continue his remarkable goal scoring form in the following two matches, the first of which taking place at McDermid Park against his old club St Johnstone. Despite McCoist opening the scoring Rangers couldn’t capitalize on the advantage and in the second half Paul Wright equalized for St Johnstone to see the match finish 1-1. Rangers final match before resuming European football would come on March 13th 1993 as they welcomed Hibernian to Ibrox. By this point injuries had accumulated such that younger players such as Neil Murray, Gary McSwegan, David Hagen and Steven Pressley were starting to permeate the first team more frequently and in this match against Hibs would go on to play an important role.

If Rangers victory and subsequent 9 point lead wasn’t enough to assure Rangers fans the title was all but wrapped up, their nearest competitors would also drop points this weekend as Aberdeen drew 2-2 with Falkirk and Celtic lost 2-0 to Motherwell.

Since Rangers last meeting with Club Brugge on Matchday 3 the Belgians would see an upturn in their domestic form, turning in two victories in the Belgian Eerste Klasse. The first of which was a 2-1 win over RWD Molenbeek on Sunday 7th March, a game in which Vital Borkelmans opened the scoring before Daniel Amokatchi doubled their lead on the hour mark. The following week they would welcome Sporting Lokeren to the Jan-Breydel Stadion, when a double from Marc Schaessens, an industrious midfielder that has yet to feature in the Champions League, was extended by another strike from Daniel Amokatchi to give Club Brugge a 3-1 victory.

With 8 matchdays left in the Belgian Eerste Klasse it would appear the title belongs to Anderlecht, perhaps providing Club Brugge with the opportunity to fully focus on their European Cup ambitions starting with this crucial match at Ibrox.

Starting Line Ups

Rangers Starting Line Up:

Scott Nisbet until the start of 1993 had firmly been a back up member of the squad, however by this point in March he is now featuring regularly in the starting line-up. His inclusion began by deputizing for an injured Richard Gough, however in this match his inclusion is to cover for regular left back David Robertson as Smith had to shuffle the pack once more. Pre match it was predicted that Smith would move John Brown to the left of a back four, however as the game kicked off it was apparent that Brown would take up a wing back role within a 352. This left McPherson, Gough and Nisbet to marshal the defence in a back three. Trevor Steven was brought back into the line up, after his omission from the previous match in Belgium, taking on a right wing back role that he fit into seamlessly.

In central midfield Neil Murray would continue to cover for the injured Ian Ferguson alongside Stuart McCall, forming a defensive midfield partnership that was tasked with screening the back line and covering for the wing backs should they advance forward.

The dynamic Ian Durrant was placed as the link man in the midfield three, offering craft and technique in the middle of a highly competitive and congested central area, supporting the men of the moment Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist.

Club Brugge Starting Line Up

There were three changes to the Club Brugge side from Matchday 3, the most notable of which was Polish midfielder Tomasz Dziubinski, arguably man of the match in Belgium, dropping to the bench. His exclusion would lead us to assume he was carrying an injury, being replaced by the very capable Belgian international Stephan Van der Heyden.

Hungarian defender Laszlo Disztl, equipped with the most resplendent 80s mullet and moustache combination, would come in to replace Alex Querter in the Club Brugge back line. Disztl’s no nonsense defensive style would be the perfect foil in complementing Staelens and Cossey, who had impressed in the first match with their ability to pass the ball out the back.

The last change saw the energetic forward Foeke Booy drop out of the side, being replaced by midfielder Marc Schaessens who would slot into the right side of a central midfield 3. This change would see Gert Verheyen move into a more advanced forward position, alongside Amokatchi, however Verheyen’s ability to drop deep and collect the ball gave Club Brugge four players in the central areas of the field all equally adept at linking the game and creating attacks.

First Half Tactical Analysis

Club Brugge Build Up Play

A good place in which to start this analysis would be looking at the key differences in how each side built up their attacks in the opening 45 minutes. I should preface this analysis by stating, as will soon become evident from the footage below, that the playing surface at Ibrox on this March evening was appalling. A deluge of rain had fallen throughout the day leaving large parts of the playing surface, even by 1993 standards, almost unplayable.

Despite the field conditions suggesting it would be counter intuitive, Henk Broos set up his side to remain committed to their style of building attacks from the back. With Disztl dropping slightly deeper to sweep behind Cossey and Staelens, Van der Elst would be positioned in the deepest midfield position, thus forming a diamond structure in which to start build up play from. Given Van der Elst wonderful ability to take the ball in tight areas and move the ball quickly with both feet, this allowed Club Brugge to split any forward pressure from McCoist and Hateley. Alternatively, should Rangers choose to sit off and allow the Brugge back line to have the ball, Lorenzo Staelens was equally as capable in carrying the ball out and finding forward passes.

One specific pattern of play, that became a feature in the 1st half, saw Brugge shift the ball from left to right, finding right wing back Peter Creve. Unlike the natural inclination of a player in this position, Creve wouldn’t use his natural width to move forward, instead he would dribble diagonally into central midfield. As Creve advanced with the ball it engaged a series of movements from Club Brugge that tested Rangers defensive resolve off the ball. Creve’s inside right teammate, Marc Schaessens, made a penetrative forward run that drew pressure from Stuart McCall, a movement that was supplemented by striker Amokatchi running in behind the Rangers back line and Gert Verheyen dropping between Rangers’ defensive and midfield lines in search of the ball. On the far side of the field Club Brugge’s Stephen Van der Heyden, a left central midfielder, moved out to the wing thus doubling up with, left wing back, Vital Borkelmans against Rangers’ lone wide man in Trevor Steven.

This series of movements was designed to pull Rangers players away from pressing Creve, giving him time to pick out the one option who had been left unmarked. It’s not often that a side use their right wing back as the play maker, but in this instance, it illustrated that the Brugge Head Coach, Henk Broos, had foreseen that Rangers would concentrate their defensive focus on the center, thus opening space in which to initiate attacks from wide areas.

Club Brugge Transitions

The Belgian champions were an interesting side. On the surface they are a team that like to play in a measured build up fashion, using short passes to pull the opponent out of position and then use their technical prowess to create shooting opportunities. In Henk Broos however, they have a pragmatic coach who has the experience to resort to plan B when required. In the previous encounter we saw the threat Club Brugge posed from long throw ins, most notably in the opening goal scored by Dziubinksi, a trait that possession based teams in the modern era may see as beneath them. In this tie we would see another side to Club Brugge’s attack play, something that melded their technical ability with sheer athleticism.  

In the opening exchanges Rangers aggressively pushed forward against their opponents, leaving Club Brugge with space to exploit. The lead protagonist in exploiting this space was the young Nigerian striker, Daniel Amokatchi, who was on hand to carry the ball or latch onto an incisive through pass.

Amokatchi would be supported in attack by Gert Verheyen, a midfielder now playing in attack and who had been a standout performer in the opening game in Belgium two weeks prior. Alongside the threat Verheyen would pose in creating attacks for Amokatchi, he too would find himself in some fantastic positions in the first half. Luckily for Rangers he would pass up this golden scoring opportunity, a miss that would inevitably come back to haunt Club Brugge at the match’s end.

Rangers Build Up

Walter Smith had proven himself to be a pragmatic coach at this level, showing throughout the tournament that, while he had favored a 442 system, he was able to adapt his style and strategy to what was required for that individual match. While Rangers didn’t have the technicians available to them that Club Brugge had, in McCoist and Hateley they had a deadly strike force capable of winning games on their own. Add into that mix the talent of Ian Durrant, now operating in a central position, Rangers boast an attacking trident that have amassed 73 goals for the season (McCoist – 45, Hateley – 23 and Durrant – 5).

It would be easy to deduct from the opening exchanges that Rangers were playing a long ball style, yet when we consider the variables that went into their attack play its perhaps more nuanced than that. Clearly Hateley’s aerial ability was a major threat, so to get the best from his ability to isolate defenders in the air it required a quicker tempo to Rangers forward play. Added to this Club Brugge were leaving themselves exposed frequently, with so many attacking runs from their midfielders and strikers, therefore it made perfect sense to seek opportunities to expose the Belgian’s back line in transition.

When starting their attack play all three Rangers central defenders would spread the width of the field and pepper the ball into the attacking third from a variety of angles. Their primary target was to find the head of either McCoist or Hateley, with the next phase of the attack seeing the strikers lay the ball wide to the wing back on their side. From here John Brown or Trevor Steven, depending on which wing, could the whip the ball into the box for the opposite striker, who were also joined by the late runs of Ian Durrant.

Just as the game was about to enter its 40th minute Andy Goram scooped up an overhit Club Brugge forward pass and as his Belgian opponents retreated into their defensive shape he would loft a punt halfway into the opposition half. McCoist would drop to attack the ball, tracked by Rudi Cossey, getting the feintest of touches to flick a header onto Hateley. From here Rangers go on to score one of the most delightful goals you will see in this years competition. Hateley was on hand to attack the 2nd ball, setting a pass back to Trevor Steven who is taking up an inside right position. The Englishman’s subsequent through pass absolutely inch perfect, being only bettered in skill from the eventual goal scorer. Durrant controlled the ball in his stride and applied a quality finish into the bottom right corner past Verlinden.

Just a few minutes later Goram would launch a similar attack into the opposition half, but its outcome led to an altogether more disappointing outcome. Mark Hateley challenged to get on the end of Goram’s long ball, doing so while being flanked by Disztl and Cossey from the Club Brugge defense. A clash would ensue between Cossey and Hateley, with the Polish referee deciding the Rangers forward had committed violent conduct and would be shown a red card. So close to half time the ramifications of Hateley’s exclusion would only be felt in the second half, yet the immediacy of the decision left an otherwise delighted Rangers support and coaching staff feeling cold and confused. One man who didnt have any time to dwell on the situation was Walter Smith, who had 15 minutes to decide on how he would adjust his side.

Second Half Tactical Analysis

Despite Rangers finding themselves down to 10 men, Henk Broos and the Club Brugge staff had some thinking of their own to do at half time. Having had the lion share of possession and Gert Verheyen missing two glaring opportunities, they will be left questioning how they found themselves 1-0 behind. Broos chose to come out swinging in the second half, moving Lorenzo Staelens into midfield, and adjusting to an even more aggressive diamond 442 shape. Staelens had the height and build of a top class boxer, but his ability to pass the ball and find spaces to combine were as good as anyone on the field this night.

Rangers would return to the field with no personnel changes, but Walter Smith had adjusted to a more familiar back four system. John Brown moved to left back within the back line, and Durrant would take up a left wing position in the midfield four.

Club Brugge Second Half Attack Play

Stylistically Club Brugge no longer had the space behind Rangers to counterattack, so their approach play had to be quicker and offer more penetration. With the likes of Amokatchi, Verheyen, Schaessens and now Staelens, given more license to attack it would provide a massive test of Rangers resolve. With the 2nd half only 5 minutes old Rangers fears of an early Belgian revival had become a reality.

Andy Goram raced out of his box to prevent an Amokatchi attack and launched a lofted pass down field to Ally McCoist. Amazingly McCoist found himself with only Laszlo Disztl to beat, with the Hungarian defender presumably being caught on his heels as his side attacked forward. As McCoist attempted to dribble forward and strike on goal, Disztl clumsily pulled at McCoist who crumpled to the ground before getting a shot away. The Polish referee didn’t feel there was enough contact so waved away McCoist claims, much to the dismay of a very audibly upset Rangers crowd. The subsequent clearance resulted in a Brugge throw in, which began the switch of play to the left wing that we had saw so many times in the first half. The difference this time however was the extra man Club Brugge were able to place in midfield, and his ability to break through the Rangers back line.

With Borkelmans and Van der Heyden overloading Trevor Steven on the wing, Scott Nisbet was drawn wide to assist in pressing the ball but allowed Van der Heyden to move inside. Van der Heyden then linked up forward Gert Verheyen, who was left completely unmarked by Richard Gough standing ten yards off his man, which afforded Verheyen time to return the give and go with a rolled pass to the top of the box. Quick thinking from Van der Heyden would see him slip a through ball to Staelens, who had broken the Rangers back line with a perfectly timed run. McCall had been covering Staelens throughout the move, but as he stepped to block Van der Heyden’s pass he allowed Staelens to run through unopposed, giving the Belgian time to apply a clinical finish past Andy Goram.

Rangers Defending

Club Brugge’s goal had now given them forty minutes in which to find a winner, something that the momentum swing and man advantage would suggest was inevitable. Yet despite the flurry of attacks on the Rangers goal, it was the Scottish Champions who appeared to grow in confidence with each successful clearance.  Dave McPherson’s second half defensive display was inspirational, making crucial blocks and interceptions just when Rangers needed him most.

Throughout the second half McPherson’s performance heralded a paradigm shift in Rangers’ mindset. They’d went from a side who had stood against the tide, but were now beginning to create waves of their own. Using the guile of Trever Steven and Ian Durrant, both of whom would start wide but move inside to curate attacks, were now combining with Murray and McCall as Rangers gained higher territory in the Club Brugge half. This quick ball movement not only pulled Club Brugge out of their defensive positions, it also gave license to the Rangers full backs (Nisbet and Brown) to advance forward and provide attacking width on the overlap.

This was a brave move from Walter Smith’s side, but further illustrated the self-belief that lay at the heart of this team’s success. On the stroke of 70 minutes Rangers would again create a counter attack after a Club Brugge move that broken down, this time due to an offside decision against Amokatchi. With Club Brugge caught on their heels, not for the first time, Stuart McCall exemplified Rangers fighting spirit by latching onto a through pass played into the channel. Some intricate footwork allowed him to evade the challenge of a recovering Gert Verheyen, now back in midfield, which resulted in a cross for McCoist but was punched clear by keeper Verlinden. As Durrant picked up the ball from a throw in he fed a pass into Trevor Steven, who’s ability to twist and turn saw him evade the pressure of Van der Heyden and Cossey, before swinging a ball into the box. Unfortunately, his effort was deflected off an unsuspecting Stuart McCall, but the ball would fall to Scott Nisbet who connected with a strike that turned into the most important of his Rangers career.

The evolution of this Nisbet strike is a fascinating one. I’m certain it started out life as a tackle, moving into a cross territory as he made a clean connection, yet ended its trajectory as a bouncing shot with all the spin and power of a Shane Warne Right-Arm Leg Spin. The Club Brugge Verlinden had shown himself to be of reliable stock throughout both matches against Rangers, however this effort completely caught him off guard. As he advances to claim the ball it catches the turf, leaving him utterly stranded as it bounces over him and into the empty net.

The noise that emanated from the stands at Ibrox Stadium as Nisbet wheeled away in celebration was in part one of total delirium at seeing their side regain the lead, yet it also contained the tacet realization that they could be watching a side capable of going all the way. This was a support conditioned by anti-climactic European exits, yet what they saw in front of them was a side playing with genuine belief.

The STV commentator Gerry McNee would mention after Nisbet’s goal, “People say Rangers have carried luck in this tournament, and they certainly have at times, but my goodness that was an incredible moment.” For many this match seemed as if fate was on Rangers side, and their performance in the final twenty minutes would do little to erode that conviction.

While Club Brugge continued to probe for the remainder of the match, recording six more shots on goal in the process, Rangers remained defensively resolute and closed out the contest with an impressive 2-1 victory.

Data Analysis

Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

What’s clear about the timeline is that despite Club Brugge’s far superior possession, Rangers have held their own throughout this game in terms of chance creation. What’s especially impressive is that while the equalizing goal serves as a catalyst for Club Brugge to increase the frequency of their attacks, they’d record 9 attacks after this goal to Rangers 5, Rangers were still able to maintain a consistent flow of shots and grab themselves the winner. 

Chance Quality:

Despite Club Brugge creating two big chances (statistically higher levels of goal probability) in the first half, and recording more attacks overall, Rangers found themselves with a higher xG headed into half time. Rangers increase in momentum can be found in the bigger up ticks on their trend line, gradually increasing as Durrant knocks home the opener on 40 minutes.

In the second half we can see Club Brugge claiming the attacking momentum, which was only natural given the circumstances, which saw their trend line grow through chances with a higher level of goal probability.

Type of Chances Created

Club Brugge’s counter attacks accounted for just under 50% of their overall chance creation value (0.84xG of the overall 1.93xG). This shows us just how dangerous their counter attack play was in the opening stages of the game, with 5 of the 7 efforts coming in the opening 25 minutes. With that said 5 of Club Brugge’s attacks from build up play ended up with a shot on target. Undoubtedly a very strong team in possession.

Rangers use of set plays to bolster their attack was impressive, with free kicks and corners returning an xG of 0.6 (just over a third of the total xG value). Rangers 8 open play attacks were all created by build up play, even if there was a direct pass thrown in there for good measure. It also illustrates how effective both strikers link the game for their teammates, leading to the delivery of a cross or through balls into the final third.

Club Brugge’s spread of key passes shows the threat they carried from a variety of positions, however more importantly is how close each of them are to Rangers 18 yard box.

Rangers key passes were slightly further from goal than their opponents, but with 8 of the 15 shots coming from crosses, and 7 of these attacks resulting in a headed chance on goal, it shows us that Rangers saw an opportunity to test Club Brugge’s aerial ability and did so with great effect.

Where Chances are Created

This game recorded 17 shots from inside the Golden Zone (the central portion of the 18 yard box) with both sides finding their opening goal from this region.

Despite Rangers having a lower shot total overall (15 shots to Club Brugge’s 20), they would outshoot their opponents by 10 shots to 7 inside the Golden Zone, further illustrating at how effective Rangers were in creating chances of high probability. With that said Rangers did miss the target more times than Club Brugge, which is something that Walter Smith will be looking to rectify in his sides next outing in Marseille.

In looking at each sides post shot xG date (xG taken from shots on target) it returns as Rangers 0.68 vs Club Brugge 1.07. This informs us that 44% of Rangers xG came from shots on goal, and Club Brugge 55%. Thus making the 2-1 scoreline in a remarkable outcome for Rangers, given all the information to suggest Club Brugge carried the bigger threat.

Who Created The Chances?

Ally McCoist would finish as Rangers best statistical attacker, taking part in four shots on goal with one hitting the target. His personal xG for the match was 0.46 (29% of the teams overall xG).

Trevor Steven would finish as Rangers best statistical creator with 6 key passes, two of which turning into a shot on target. One of these key passes that converted into a shot on target was Steven’s sublime pass to Durrant, creating the opening goal of the game.

Gert Verheyen was Club Brugge’s most clinical attacker recording 5 shots on goal, all of which hit the target. His personal xG for the night was 0.61 (30% of the teams overall xG).

Stephen Van der Heyden was Club Brugge’s best statistical creator with 4 key passes in the match, 3 of which turning into shots and target. Most notably he would set up Lorenzo Staelens with a pinpoint through pass for Club Brugge’s equalizer.

Competition Data

After four matches in this years Champions League Rangers found themselves on 6 points, second only on goal difference to Marseille who on matchday 4 had recorded a resounding 6-0 win over CSKA. During these four games Rangers accumulative xG comes in at 7.45 scored and 7.41 conceded, which is impressive considering they have been outshot by their opponents 82 to 64 collectively. The trend lines suggesting that while Rangers are conceding too many shots, thus leading to higher xG from their opposition, they are starting to increase their ability to record more high percentage probability attacks at the other end. This can be best illustrated by Rangers attempting 34 Golden Zone attacks in the four matches, with their opponents only doing so on 21 occasions.

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 4 encounter Marseille would host CSKA Moscow at the Stade Velodrome. So far in the competition Marseille had scored 8 goals in their three home matches, which despite the difference in levels of opponents illustrates that the French champions relish performing in front of their raucous home crowd.

Rudi Voller was re-instated into the Marseille starting line up for this match, with Casoni dropping out as Head Coach Raymond Goethals shifted to a 4-3-3 and placed Jean-Phillippe Durand in midfield beside Deschamps and Sauzee. CSKA welcomed Denis Mashkarin back into the line up as well as new signing Sergey Mamchur making his European football debut.

In the opening moments of the match Jocelyn Angloma would make a driving run down the right wing with the ball and into the box before being upended by a recovering CSKA defender. Sauzee applied a thunderous finish of the resulting penalty to put Marseille 1-0 ahead, and would double his scoring tally on 34 minutes after a cute backheel from Voller rolled into his path before applying a clinical left foot finish. On the stroke of half time Abedi Pele picked up the ball on the right wing just inside the CSKA half, before dribbling past any advancing defenders and skillfully rolling the ball into the bottom corner to put Marseille 3-0 ahead.

The second half only got worse for the Russians as Marseille showed no signs of displaying any sympathy for their opponents. Franck Sauzee added a fourth on 49 minutes with a rasping drive from 25 yards into the bottom left corner, which was followed up by an opportune headed finish from Jean Marc Ferreri who capitalized on a goalkeeping error to make it 5-0. Marcel Desailly rounded off the scoring to make it 6-0, applying a strikers finish after a Deschamps effort landed at the feet of the French defender in the 6 yard box.

Rangers victory that came against the odds keeps them in touching distance with Marseille, however the significant goal difference certainly gives the French champions the edge as they both prepare to meet on Matchday 5 at the Stade Velodrome.

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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