It’s His First Touch in Europe

Rangers entered Matchday 1 of the Champions League group stage in fine form having taken maximum points from three Premier Division matches. On Saturday 7th November Rangers would travel to Parkhead to take on a Celtic side which sat in 4th place and was coming off the back of a UEFA Cup exit at the hands of Borussia Dortmund following a 3-1 aggregate scoreline. Despite Celtic’s best efforts to drag themselves back into the title race, another Andy Goram inspired performance was capped off with an Ian Durrant winner to give Rangers the points.

Rangers followed that up with a 2-1 win over Dundee at Ibrox, avenging Dundee’s shock 4-3 victory earlier in the season at Dens Park. There was an international break for the next 10 days of November, during which time Scotland would draw 0-0 with a star-studded Italy at Ibrox in their 3rd World Cup qualifying match for USA 94. 

Rangers returned to domestic competition with a tricky trip to Tyncastle to face Joe Jordan’s Hearts side who sat 2nd in the table. McCoist’s goal in the 1-1 draw would take his goal tally to 32 in 26 matches. Amazingly out of those 26 games he had only failed to score in 5 of them.

We covered Marseille’s run to the Champions League group stages in this preview article but as the French champions travelled to Ibrox on the 25th of November 1992 their domestic form was fast becoming a cause for concern, not least in the eyes of owner Bernard Tapie.

Tapie had instituted a Director of Football to oversee the off field first team affairs with a Head Coach directly responsible for everything that went on within it, a structure that was certainly more common on the continent in these times yet perhaps not entirely necessary given Tapie’s ownership style. Fresh off a World Cup victory with West Germany in the summer of 1990 Franz Beckenbauer had been lured to Marseille primarily as Head Coach but would then take on the Director of Football role in January of 91, with Belgian coach Raymond Goethals coming in to work as Head Coach. In July of 91 Beckenbauer would take the decision to return to Germany perhaps having one eye on the Bayern Munich managers position, leaving Tapie to promote Goethals to Director of Football and hire Yugoslavian Head Coach Tomislav Ivic. Two months passed before Ivic would depart the south of France, a move which saw Goethals resuming his position as Head Coach. In the summer of 1992 Tapie would again attempt to move Goethals back to Director of Football, this time hiring former Marseille midfielder Jean Fernandez as Head Coach after stints at Cannes and Nice.

Fernandez had made a meandering start to the 92/93 domestic campaign embarking upon a run in the opening 10 games that had saw Marseille pick up disappointing draws against the lesser lights of Ligue 1 in RC Lens, Nimes and Le Harve. They would finally pick up their first loss of the season to perennial challengers Bordeaux on week 10, which they followed up with a shock 1-0 loss at home to FC Nantes. In the next three matches Marseille would record a win and a further two draws taking them into the international break in 5th position, at which point Tapie would wield the axe and bring an end to Fernandez short reign. Goethals would again return to take his place on the bench, a move that was now happening with almost clockwork regularity. His first match back in charge would see Marseille travel to take on RC Strasbourg. The club from the Northwest of France boasted a squad of future English Premier League stalwarts in Michael Hughes and Marc Keller, as well as future World Cup winner Franck Leboeuf. Despite Boksic and Sauzee putting Marseille two ahead after 60 minutes, an Eric Di Meco red card would spark a Strasbourg comeback with Leboeuf and Etame firing the home side to a 2-2 draw.

While there is absolutely no doubting the quality throughout Marseille’s squad their form heading into the Champions League group stages wasn’t exactly where they wanted it to be. It must also be said that Ligue 1 was a far more competitive league in this era, so perhaps European competition is exactly the distraction this Marseille side needed to help them rediscover their mojo.

Starting Line Ups

Rangers Line Up:

Walter Smith was handed a selection headache ahead of this opening game, with Ian Ferguson missing the match through suspension and Ally McCoist through injury. Smith would veer away from his favored 4-4-2 shape and into a more functional 4-2-3-1 with possession and 4-5-1 without. Mikhailichenko returned to the Rangers starting 11 in Europe for the first time since their opening Round 1 match with Lyngby at Ibrox. Making his debut would be 19-year-old utility man Neil Murray, partnering Stuart McCall in central midfield. Ian Durrant would take up a central attacking position for this match, serving as the link man between midfield and the lone striker Mark Hateley.

It’s also worth noting that Rangers bench, mainly due to the foreign player limit imposed on clubs and injuries, includes several young players who have recently been promoted to the first team (Pressley, Hagen and McSwegan). It also contains 35 year old first team coach David Dodds, who’s last professional appearance came in 1991.

Marseille Line Up:

Goethals would name an almost identical starting line up from the side that drew with Strasbourg, with the only inclusion being Rudi Voller’s return to the team after a short injury layoff. Eydelie would make way for the German and take up a position on the Marseille bench.

First Half Tactical Analysis

Marseille Roles & Functions

To better understand Marseille’s set up we must take a closer look at the default positions of their 3-5-2.

Their back three were positioned very narrow to begin with, and operated using an aggressive offside trap led by sweeper Casoni. On either side of the back three were Desailly and Boli, both of whom had supreme athleticism to defend in any situation, but also carried the confidence and ability to step into midfield with the ball.

Wing backs Di Meco and Angloma would spend most of this match in Rangers’ half, taking up the position of a traditional winger, using their athleticism and quality to make attacking crosses but also to defend higher up the field by pressing Rangers full backs.

In central midfield Deschamps and Sauzee worked tremendously well as a pair. Each could simultaneously break forward and combine with the forward players, but also provide defensive 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. Deschamps ability to cover ground was remarkable, both in moments of defensive transition to make an interception but also and in attack to carry the ball forward and supply passes to the strikers.

While this group of seven were functional in possession, much of their attack play came through their ability to instantly swarm the ball with pressure after every turnover or second ball in the Rangers half. This not only prevented Rangers from counterattacking, but it also allowed Marseille’s front three to use their skill in moments of chaos to create new attacks on goal.

Rangers Build Up Play

Rangers less aggressive 4-5-1 defensive shape saw them sit deeper than their opponents, therefore turn overs typically occurred closer to the Rangers goal. From here Rangers grew more frustrated as they lacked the quality in possession to evade the immediate pressure from Marseille. No sooner had Rangers won the ball back then they were knocking a long ball forward and turning it over again.

Marseille Opening Goal

The opening goal of the match would come on 31 minutes, after a further example of the instinctive and quick thinking of the Marseille forward line.

A long goal kick from Barthez was lofted into the Rangers defensive third, which Rangers defender Gough strode forward to attack. In what appeared to be a momentary lapse in concentration Gough misses the header entirely, which the Rudi Voller jumped onto and dribbled into the box. With Brown stepping across to press Voller, Gough should have picked up Boksic inside the box. Instead Gough went over to press with Brown, leaving Boksic free to receive a simple pass from Voller, which the Croatian slotted into the bottom corner.

Abedi Pele Effect

Perhaps the most influential Marseille performer in the first half, and the player Rangers struggled to pin down the most, was Ghanian attacker Abedi Pele. His default position was as an attacking midfielder behind the strikers, however his movement and close control allowed him to pick up the ball in a variety of spaces in an almost magnetic fashion. He did his best work when pulling into a wide right position, which allowed him to cut in and make attacking actions with his left foot.

Referee Sandor Puhl’s half time whistle came at a good time for Rangers, as Marseille were starting to really find their groove. While this wasn’t a particularly silky or elegant performance from Marseille, they carried the serebral threat of an attack dog throughout the first half. Rangers simply couldn’t get anything going in transition or build up possession, add onto this Richard Gough is visibly carrying an injury to get through to half time. Walter Smith certainly has his work cut out.

Second Half Tactical Analysis

With Richard Gough unable to continue, Smith’s first substitution was to bring Steven Pressley into the back line. The 19 year old was making his European debut for Rangers and would slot in at right back, with Dave McPherson moving to center back.

Rainfall throughout the day had caused the Ibrox field to develop a squashy sponge-like top surface. While the ball could still move freely, it was evident in the first half that a degree of extra pace was needed to complete a pass and an extra touch required to maintain control while on the dribble. Further rainfall occurred during the half time interval, continuing into the second half, with visible spray now appearing as the ball rolled on the turf. In what was a challenging surface for both sides, it now placed extra emphasis on each teams ability to play in transition as turn overs were inevitable.

Marseille Transitions

While Marseille continued to move the ball smartly through the thirds at the start of the second half, it was during moments of attacking transition that they continued to excel.

Within the opening ten minutes of the half there were numerous examples of Rangers midfield unable to engage the ball with enough veracity to prevent a through pass or cross, instead the midfield line placed more emphasis on tracking runners. This resulted in two lines of Rangers defence converging into one, leaving them especially vulnerable to through passes and runs behind the line.

On 55 minutes Rudi Voller would double Marseille’s lead after a failed Pressley clearance presented the German with a tap in. Pressley had to attempt the clearance as Goram wasn’t far enough off his line to collect the ball, but the entire situation was created through Marseille taking advantage of Rangers passive defensive shape.

Rangers Set Plays Threat

With Rangers unable to trouble the Marseille back line in open play, they were able to pose a legitimate threat during attacking set plays. It was noted by Ray Wilkins prior to the match that, despite his size, Marseille keeper Barthez was known to aggressively attack the ball at set plays. The first instance of this played out in the first half when he failed to beat Hateley to a cross, leaving Mikhailichenko with a chance to score. It was clearly in the mind of Trevor Steven in the second half, as it appeared his deep crosses were designed to pull Barthez from his line. Rangers two set plays in a 5 minute period lead to two clear chances on goal, the first of which resulted in a hand ball by Desailly that was missed by the referee. In what had been a frustrating night for Rangers, this was the first sign of a Marseille weakness that they could exploit.

Rudi Voller Impact

With Marseille two goals ahead the threat of Rudi Voller continues to grow with every counter attack. Flanked by the movement and skill of Boksic, and supported by the skill of Sauzee, Pele and Deschamps, Voller looks like he’s going to score with almost every attack.

Tactical Adjustment

On 75 minutes Walter Smith would replace Trevor Steven with striker Gary McSwegan, who like Pressley would make his European debut in this match. The alteration saw Rangers revert back to 4-4-2 with McSwegan partnering Hateley in attack and Neil Murray dropping into a wide right position.

The change would immediately pay dividends, with Rangers capitalizing on a rare moment of time and space in transition.

Durrant’s pass into space was a thing of beauty, setting up a wondefully flighted Mikhailichenko cross for McSwegan who headed the ball home like a seasoned professional. At 2-1 this gave Rangers a hope that only a few minutes previous hadnt appeared to exist.

The Turnaround

McSwregan’s goal hadn’t changed anything tactically or technically in this Rangers side, but what it did do was act as the catalyst of an energy release that propelled the team forward at light speed.

A few minutes later, a Marseille throw in was turned over and would reach the feet of Stuart McCall. Had this happened in the first half McCall would have been disposessed and Marseille would resume their attack. Now however, McCall wrestled Boli and Angloma off the ball before firing a cross that, while blocked, gained Rangers a corner kick. Rangers use of a short corner was initially cleared by the Marseille defence, now very much on the back foot themselves, however, Abedi Pele failed to maintain possession and was caught on the ball by Mikhailichenko as he attempted to dribble out of defense. With Durrant now in possesion he and McSwegan would combine to ressurect Rangers attack, which resulted in a low cross that fell to Hateley at the front post.

The noise that eminated from the stands as Hateley’s header crashed into the net was the culmination of disbelief, sheer joy and that gutteral roar of emotion that happens when we see the unthinkable. It would have been inconceivable to think the game was going in this direction after Voller had scored to make it 2-0, but with ten minutes remaining Rangers were back on level terms and very much in the ascendancy.

Marseille coach Goethals had been lining up a substitution prior to the Rangers goal, but upon the restart he would follow through with bringing on Jean-Philipe Durand to replace Alen Boksic. Durand was a right sided player, who typically deputised for Angloma at right wing back. This change appeared to be a switch to 4-4-2 by Goethals with Angloma and Durand doubling up on the right side, a move that was to prove a few minutes too late.

In the closing moments of the match Sauzee and Pele went close for Marseille from two set pieces, along with a heart stopping moment where the ball appeared to get stuck in the mud as a chance fell to Pele inside the box before Goram sweeped it up. As the final whistle blew it was an exhausted Rangers side who will no doubt leave the happiest, claiming a valuable point that will very much feel like it was two.

Data Analysis

Value of Chances

xG Timeline:

We can see from the timeline that Marseille were the more aggressive attackers overall, but to see they would double their shot total from 12 to 24 in the final 20 minutes makes this result all the more remarkable. Similarly Rangers would double their shot total in the final twenty minutes, going from 4 shots to 8.

Chance Quality:

We can see from the timeline Marseille recorded lots of smaller upticks, which denotes shots from distance or tougher angles to goal. With that said for the largest part of this match their probability increased, with Marseille starting to make good use of the space afforded to them inside the Rangers box.

While Marseille recorded three times as many attacks as Rangers, we can see that the distance in chance creation value (xG) is significantly reduced by the size of Rangers upticks. This signifies that Rangers fewer shots carried a higher value and probability, and more importantly landed when they needed them the most.

Type of Chances Created

7 of Rangers 8 attacks came from Key Passes, which shows us that Rangers required groups of players to fashion efforts on goal.  Conversely Marseille would create 16 of their 24 attacks from Key Passes, which shows us that of the remaining 8 attacks each were a direct result of a Rangers turn over in possession and Marseille taking advantage by shooting on goal.

Marseille enjoyed a varied spread of attacking patterns, but it was during counter attacks that they enjoyed the biggest conversion of chances (9 shots with 3 on target). The map above also illustrates how well Marseille fashion chances from the areas between Rangers midfield and defensive lines, providing their strikers with a greater percentage of shooting opportunities inside the box.

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 Rangers performance at both ends.

9 of Marseille’s 24 efforts would be blocked by Rangers players, with a further 4 efforts being saved by Andy Goram. This accounts for over half of Marseille’s attack play, and underlines how well Rangers defended individually.

Of Marseille’s 24 shots in the match, only 10 of those 24 came from inside the box. In comparison Rangers would hit 7 from the same area. Breaking this down 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 the same region. This leads us to consider that on the night Rangers made more of their chance creation purely from a probability perspective, despite doing so with an overall lesser output.

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 hit 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 skillfully setting up Alen Boksic for the opening goal of the match.

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 1 encounter Club Brugge would host CSKA Moscow at the Olympiastadion in Brugge.

With CSKA’s league now in shutdown until the spring they faced the task of European competition without any meaningful competitive games. It had been three weeks since their Barcelona triumph so while confidence would still be high this would prove to be a tough away trip for the Russians. Nigerian striker Daniel Amokatchi opened the scoring for Club Brugge after 16 minutes, racing through on goal after springing a failed offside trap before rounding the stranded Kharine to apply a simple right footed finish into an empty net.

Club Brugge didn’t stop there as they battered the CSKA goal with several excellent efforts, yet it was the performance of Kharine in the CSKA goal that saw the scoreline remain a 1-0. This was to be Kharine’s final match for CSKA, joining Chelsea for 400,000 pounds the following week.

After the opening round of fixtures Club Brugge would take their place at the top of the table, starting the tournament with the perfect combination of a win and a clean sheet.

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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