Tears on the Ibrox Turf

Prior to their final Group A Champions League match with CSKA, Rangers would take part in three Scottish Premier Division matches that would prove crucial in securing the title.

On Saturday April 10th Tommy McLean’s Motherwell would visit Ibrox, a side locked in a relegation battle that saw 7 points separating the bottom five sides. Rangers finally wore down a stubborn Motherwell back line in the second half, when John Brown scored a late winner to take home the two points. Aberdeen could only draw 1-1 away to Airdrie that same afternoon, which increased Rangers advantage at the top of the table to six points.

The following week Rangers faced Hearts at Tynecastle, a venue that they had drawn 1-1 at earlier in the season. Despite missing McCoist through injury Rangers would go on to win the game 3-2, with Mark Hateley and Stuart McCall combining to score a simply wonderful winning goal.

Rangers final league match before resuming European football came at home as they welcomed Partick Thistle to Ibrox. McCoist missed out yet again as the physio’s prepared him for CSKA, however his understudy Gary McSwegan was to get on the scoresheet twice adding onto a David Hagen opener to give Rangers yet another win. Aberdeen’s 3-2 victory over Hearts meant that there was still a 6 point gap in the Scottish Premier Division, however with only 4 games remaining and only 2 points for a win the title didn’t appear to be leaving the Ibrox trophy room any time soon.

Ahead of the 1993 season the Russian FA ditched the dual group stages of the Russian Premier League and instead opted for an 18 team round robin calendar more akin to the rest of European football. CSKA began with a 4-0 victory over Krylia Sovetov on March 8th 1993, but were granted dispensation to miss match week 2 to travel in preparation for their away Champions League match with Marseille. After CSKA’s 6-0 dismantling in the south of France they returned to league play with losses to Torpedo Moscow, Rotor Volgograd and FK Kamyshin before stopping the rot with a 0-0 draw at home to Okean Nakhodka to close out March. CSKA’s dismal form would continue into April as they prepared for their trip to Glasgow by losing 2-0 to city rivals Lokomotiv Moscow, leaving them in 15th place and firmly in the relegation zone.

Since CSKA’s last Champions League meeting with Rangers their European form mirrored the downward trajectory of their domestic results, with a creditable 1-1 draw against Marseille followed up with a 6-0 loss in Marseille and a 2-1 defeat to Club Brugge at the start of April.

With little to play for on Matchday 6 other than civic pride this youthful CSKA squad have the opportunity to play with a freedom that showcases their true talent, or as we saw in France could be on the end of a battering if they let their heads go down. Either way all eyes were glued on this match around the continent.

Starting Line Ups

Rangers Starting Line Up:

With Ally McCoist rested during the last three domestic matches he would return to an identical starting lineup that Walter Smith had fielded against Marseille on matchday 5.

CSKA Starting Line Up:

Gennadi Kostylev’s only changes to his CSKA side from Matchday 5 would see Sergey Kolotovkin and Vasiliy Ivanov make way for Sergey Mamchur and Yury Antonovich in the wing back positions.  

First Half Analysis

Setting The Tone

Rangers entered this match fully aware that to advance to the Champions League Final they had to better Marseille’s result in Bruges, or failing that hope that a significant goal swing in either match ate into the +7 goal differential advantage Marseille held.

If there was any doubt as to where Walter Smith had pinpointed CSKA’s weakness when heading into this match, David Robertson’s throw in after 50 seconds would soon remove any confusion. It had been evident in the first match between the sides that the CSKA back line had struggled to defend aerial duels, instead leaving their Keeper to race off his line and attack crosses for them. Rangers sought to expose any potential weakness at the earliest opportunity, loading the box with five attackers as Robertson’s howitzer throw in darted into the box with the flat trajectory of a corner kick. Richard Gough was the first player to attack the ball towering above his marker Bushmanov, who in the end didn’t even jump, but the Rangers captain’s header was thwarted by the CSKA goalkeeper who had remained on his line to make an impressive save.

By this stage CSKA were onto their 3rd keeper of the campaign after former No.1 Dmitri Kharine had departed for Chelsea and his back up Aleksandr Guteyev was removed from the side after his less than impressive outing against Rangers on matchday 2. In turn CSKA promoted 19-year-old Evgeniy Plotnikov to the starting lineup, who at the time was a Russian U21 international that would go on to have a stellar career in the Russian Premier League as well as a two-year stint in La Liga with Albacete.

Rangers Wide Area Attacks

In the previous match with CSKA Walter Smith had utilized a flexible 4-4-2 against the Russian’s more rigid 3-5-2, which saw Rangers wide men combine with their full backs to create multiple 2v1 overloads to deliver balls into the box. Smith would once again utilize many similarities within that set up, yet without his leading target striker he would have to get creative as to how McCoist could both lead the line and position himself in the box when it mattered most.

Left Wing Attacks:

Rangers left center back, John Brown, had the freedom to carry the ball forward into midfield whenever he wasn’t being actively pressed by Faizulin, serving as a trigger for Robertson, McCall and Huistra to rotate away from their CSKA markers. Robertson created the natural width by taking up an advanced wide position to receive passes nearer to the final third. The pre-game TV graphic had Huistra slated as the left winger in front of Robertson, but it would be Stuart McCall pulling into the left flank to receive the ball as Robertson provided penetration on the overlap. Huistra instead moved into a center forward position, facing the ball and drawing pressure from Gushin as McCoist pulled away to the back post to isolate Maliukov in a 1v1.

Right Wing Attacks:

On the right flank Dave McPherson was often the base of the attack making penetrative passes into Durrant’s feet within the advanced inside right channel. Trevor Steven frequently moved underneath Durrant to pick up play and make moves to goal, but we also saw Steven receive the ball in the flank from McPherson and dribble inside to goal using his left foot. The trio worked well as a group to ensure there was always a spare man to maintain possession, but also to ensure the attack kept flowing and the move didn’t become stagnant.

Durrant was listed as a second striker in the pre-match graphic, however his role felt more like an attacking midfielder who had the freedom to find the best spaces and link the game, all so McCoist could remain on the last defender.

CSKA Build Up

When the teams last met in Bochum Rangers had found success by dropping into a narrow defensive block without the ball, with McCoist and Hateley working to funnel any CSKA build up into wide areas where Rangers had numerical superiority. Walter Smith would choose to implement a similar defensive approach in this match, however CSKA had come prepared and would respond with a plan of their own. Instead of passing into wide areas Maliukov and Gushin were tasked with breaking Rangers lines by attempting to find an open attacker between the lines. Here we see Faizulin dropping to receive the ball with Karsakov stood unmarked between Rangers zonal lines of defense.

When Maliukov or Gushin were unable to penetrate forward Minko and Bushmanov displayed the quality to drop and find space in front of Rangers midfield press, before turning under pressure to play incisive split passes to once again break the Rangers lines. Positioned underneath the forwards Karsakov rarely checked back to pick up the ball, instead he moved horizontally between Rangers lines to offer himself as the combination pass in CSKA’s attacks into the final third. Karsakov’s positioning also prevented McCall and Ferguson from pressing forward to win the ball, with both constantly mindful of covering entry passes into the advanced midfield area.

In an attempt to compensate for the midfield being unable to push forward, Rangers back line would squeeze up to limit the area in which Karsakov, Faizulin and Sergeyev had to link. This did come with its risks, as evidenced when Faizulin raced onto a Minko through pass behind Rangers high line.

In the closing stages of the half Huistra would drop back to form a five-man line in Rangers midfield, leaving only McCoist on the forward line to engage with the ball. As a result, CSKA gained more territory in Rangers half and were able to use quick combination play through Karsakov to force multiple final third entries.

McCoist Target Man

What’s important to establish whenever doing any appraisal of Ally McCoist is that the perception of him only ever performing as a penalty box predator is doing his overall game a disservice. His movement outside the box is predicated on his elite anticipatory skills, which always seem to land him exactly where he needs to be at precisely the right time. He also has the physicality in which to play with his back to goal, as well as displaying a solid understanding of which type of pass is required to keep the move ticking along.

In this particular match his role was more of a hybrid link man, depending on the phase of play he found himself in. During moments of buildup, as mentioned in the earlier section, Huistra and Durrant did their best to link the play in the interior channels therefore allowing McCoist to attack the back post and play on the blindside of the CSKA center backs. During phases of transition Rangers were often breaking forward from a 4-5-1 defensive shape, so the only natural forward player was McCoist. As we can see from these clips there are situations where McCoist natural inclination as a target isn’t as strong as Mark Hateley, however there are many more where he maintained the flow of the attack resulting in a successful final third entry.

Where we should be critical of McCoist in the opening forty-five minutes is his failure to convert any of the chances created for him. Of his six attacks on goal he would only hit the target twice, both of which were tame headers that Plotnikov could pluck from the air. There are two missed chances in particular, both of which only a few minutes apart, that were totally uncharacteristic of anything we’d saw from McCoist all season. His body language afterward evoked more desperation than disappointment, which is perplexing given he had amassed 48 goals across all competitions by this stage of 92/93.

As Danish referee Peter Mikkelsen blew for half time it was clear Walter Smith would have to reset his side’s focus, with the pent-up anxiety of the first half etched on almost every player’s face. This task wasn’t made easier any easier with news filtering through that Marseille had taken an early lead in Belgium.

Second Half Analysis

While Walter Smith is a naturally pragmatic manager whose key strength lies in sensing the right moment to make a tactical change, even he must have considered buckling to the temptation of throwing numbers forward in search of an early second half goal. He would make a small tweak at half time, one which we would only realize after another astonishing start to the half.

Setting The Tone Part 2

Within the opening minute of the second half Rangers again found themselves within touching distance of grabbing the opening goal.

David Robertson once again launched a throw in toward the CSKA box, an attack which was initially cleared before falling to Ian Ferguson who looped a headed pass toward Ian Durrant inside the box. Durrant’s instinctive nodded pass to Trevor Steven produced a golden opportunity for the Englishman to strike on goal while unmarked, however his connection was driven down toward the turf causing the ball to bounce up and onto the crossbar. The Ibrox crowd were left stunned. Replays would show that Plotnikov had actually made contact with the shot taking it up toward the crossbar, however this was scant consolation for a team who felt they should be ahead in the game.

Rangers 2nd Half Attack Play

CSKA had started the second half by dropping their line of confrontation slightly deeper, sinking into a 5-3-2 shape out of possession. With Rangers beginning their attacks from a higher position both McCall and Ferguson were now better situated to dictate the tempo of play, using the movement of their wide players to prevent CSKA from simply blocking spaces and smothering the ball.

As the second half developed it was clear Rangers had shifted their focus to attack more on the right wing, with a number of slight tweaks to the players positioning. McPherson was now afforded greater license to break forward on the right flank, safe in the knowledge Stuart McCall would cover over should he get caught in transition. Trevor Steven was still operating off the right wing, but more frequently moved inside like an inverted winger to open the space for McPherson to overlap. The final adjustment was Durrant moving into a more traditional center forward position, taking up the right side of the attack as McCoist pulled over to the left to isolate Gushin at the back post.

CSKA Substitution

CSKA coach Gennadi Kostylev would make the first substitution of the match on 62 minutes, replacing striker Ilshat Faizulin with tenacious left midfielder Yuriy Dudnyk. In removing a striker Kostylev was perhaps taking away a natural central target, but what he gained was a better spread of pressure across the midfield line especially given frequently Rangers were attacking in wide areas. He re-positioned his team into a 4-5-1, with Karsakov frequently leaving the midfield line to join Sergeyev in attack.

Within 10 minutes of the substitution CSKA demonstrated that the switch had worked, showing a far better balance of their defensive responsibilities with creating attacks of their own. Looking as far back as the 2nd round in their famous win over FC Barcelona in the Nou Camp CSKA tended to excel when they could exploit the spaces afforded to them during moments of transition, so as Rangers continued to go in search of a winner CSKA certainly made this final twenty minutes a challenging period.

McCoist Chances

The second half saw a litany of chances fall to McCoist inside the area, but perhaps the most emblematic of his evening’s performance would fall to him on 65 minutes. Robertson collected a CSKA clearance on the halfway line before sending a lofted pass back in the direction of the Rangers attackers. Richard Gough was on hand to glance a header in the general direction of the goal and as luck would have it McCoist ghosted in behind Mashkarin to collect the ball inside the box. Clean in on goal McCoist took one touch to steady himself before applying a left foot strike toward Plotnikov’s near post. The entire Ibrox crowd stood in anticipation of the net bulging as the ball hit the back of the net, yet they were left utterly deflated as the strike flew past the goal only to hit the advertising hoardings of the Copland Road Stand. The grimace of dejection etched on his face spoke a thousand words, because even with thirty minutes remaining in the match it felt like their destiny had already been sealed.

CSKA Professionalism

While doing research for this match I was astonished to find out how young this CSKA starting lineup was, which renders their second half performance all the more impressive.

In addition to Plotnikov making a string of top class saves throughout the second half, just when Rangers were starting to build up a head of steam the professionalism CSKA displayed to slow down Rangers momentum showed a maturity well beyond their years.

Rangers Substitution

As the match entered the final 10 minutes Walter Smith would replace Trevor Steven with striker Gary McSwegan, a change that saw Rangers move into a 3-4-3 system with Robertson, Gough and Brown marshalling the defence, Huistra and McPherson providing the width either side of McCall and Ferguson, and McSwegan joining Durrant and McCoist up front.

The following clips help illustrate the lift in levels from McCall and Ferguson in the closing minutes, both of whom grasped the initiative by using the strikers to set up shots from distance as well as combining in midfield to supply diagonal balls into the box.

After three minutes of injury time referee Peter Mikkelsen brought an end to proceedings and with it Rangers Champions League dreams were over. Rangers had certainly done enough to give themselves the opportunity to win the match, however after a series of wasteful finishes their failure to score would see them fall at the final hurdle.

Data Report  

Value of Chances:

xG Timeline:

Looking closer at Rangers time line we can see that after a promising start they did take some time to adjust to CSKA’s increase in possession and stronger control of the game. The half time adjustments certainly regained any control that Rangers may have lost, bettering their 1st half shot total of 12 by recording 18 more shots on goal in the second half.

As CSKA went almost a full hour without a shot on goal it’s clear that Dudnyk’s inclusion in the second half, as well as the change in shape, gave the Russian’s far more balance in defense which resulted in more counter attacks on goal.

Chance Quality:

In Big Chanceterms Rangers would outperform CSKA 3-1, yet only one of Rangers Big Chances actually hit the target. Furthermore, when examining the timelines we see that both sides enjoyed a decent amount of larger upticks relative to their overall shot totals, which shows that despite finishing goalless this game created a significant amount of high probability chances.

Types of Chances Created

When examining Rangers key pass locations we can see the difference in how play was created on each flank, with crosses primarily delivered from wider positions on the left compared with more inverted crosses from the right side half space.

It’s perhaps not a surprise that Rangers dominance of possession would see the majority of their shots created from build up play, yet with a return of only 3 shots on target from their 15 build up attacks it perhaps speaks to Rangers bigger problem on the night. Their highest chance conversion would come from their 5 counter attacks, which resulted in 3 shots on target.

In terms of how Rangers created their chances 11 of their 30 attacks on goal came directly from crosses, with only 4 resulting in a shot on target.

Where Chances are Created

Rangers 21 shots inside the 18 yard box would in any normal situation be a fabulous return, however looking at the number of grey dots (Misses) it illustrates how few of those chances actually tested the keeper.

Rangers previous highest total of 10 Golden Zone shots was surpassed by almost double as they went on to record 18 against CSKA. They had also previously averaged a 48% success rate in converting golden zone shots on target, yet their return today was only 27% with 5 of 18 shots ending up on target.

When there is such a large disparity between xG a good place to form a better view of the attacking performance is the xG from shots on target. Rangers on target xG was 0.95 compared to CSKA’s 0.54, which not only illustrates how wasteful Rangers were but also underlines that the shots Rangers did put on frame actually carried a fairly low level of probability to begin with.

When analyzing set plays we see that Rangers recorded their highest xG of the campaign scoring 1.05 from six set play attacks, beating their previous total of 0.77 which came from two attacks in their second round first leg match with Leeds at Ibrox. Naturally the biggest difference between the two matches is Rangers scoring twice against Leeds, one of which was John Lukic assisted. What Rangers would have given for a slice of that luck in this 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 6 encounter Marseille would take on Club Brugge at the Olympiastadion in Bruges, Belgium.

The home side were dealt a blow after captain Franky Van der Elst and Dutch striker Foeke Booy didn’t make the lineup, with the Belgians already requiring a CSKA victory in Glasgow as well as a 4-0 victory over Marseille their chances of qualification for the final appeared ever diminishing.

Marseille fielded an almost identical line up to Matchday 5 against Rangers, the only change being Jean Christophe Thomas coming into central midfield for Franck Sauzee. Despite holding top spot in Group A it was felt rivals Rangers had the upper hand in qualification given their having home field advantage, yet any pre game apprehension was eased almost immediately as Marseille took the lead after only two minutes through Alen Boksic.

The Croatian striker had narrowly missed the target in the opening 40 seconds when his header flashed past the post after connecting with a Marseille freek kick from the edge of the area. Club Brugge’s attack following the Marseille free kick ran beyond Amokatchi trundling back to Fabien Barthez, who’s driven first time ball forward appeared to catch the Club Brugge back line by surprise as left back Borkelmans misjudged the flight of the ball completely. Luckily for Borkelmans Voller appeared to trip over his first touch allowing the Belgian defender to regain the ball, but no sooner had he picked up possession than another error turned play over to Jean-Christophe Thomas who’s first time pass found Boksic inside the Club Brugge box. Presented with a clear sight at goal the Marseille striker found the bottom left corner with a clinical right foot finish, giving Marseille the psychological advantage over both Club Brugge and Rangers. 

Given their advantage Marseille sat back for the remainder of the first half, soaking up pressure as Club Brugge moved forward then vigorously attacking on the counter through Abedi Pele and Alen Bokic who had narrowed into a twin No.10 position underneath Rudi Voller.

Club Brugge were without influential Dutch striker Foeke Booy, once again partnering Gert Verheyen with Daniel Amokatchi in attack. Given how frequently Verheyen dropped to link the play it soon became evident that Amokatchi would get isolated and was simply swallowed up by the athleticism of Boli, Angloma and Desailly. Club Brugge’s only notable chance in the first half came from Laszlo Disztl after the Hungarian defender connected with a Verheyen corner but Barthez stretched to save.

The second half would mirror much of the same rhythm as the first, with Club Brugge eagerly working to create crossing opportunities that would be batted away with expert precision by the Marseille defence. Entering the latter stages Marseille’s experience shone through as they began drawing pressure to win free kicks, used tactical fouls to break up play and generally kept Club Brugge at arm’s length when a final push could have brought an equalizer.

Marseille’s victory would see them secure top spot in Group A and qualify for the Champions League final after an undefeated run of games, as well as becoming the competition’s top scorers. They will certainly have their work cut out in the final, as they are set to take on runaway Group B winners AC Milan on the 26th April 1993 at the home of Bayern Munich, the Olympiastadion in Munich, Germany.

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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