Analysis: Rangers' wing play in focus

By ForeignRangersFan | Guest Contributor

Frustration has become a byword of our club in recent years. As such, I genuinely don’t understand why there are fans out there who are pulling their hair out over Pedro and our players.

Dropping points in agonising ways that tell us nothing about the quality of our team (through an early, potentially spurious red card and against two banks of five, both at home) is arguably the most quintessentially modern-Rangers way to go about starting a campaign that I could imagine. Maybe they have longer memories than I do.

Following what could be termed 'peak Rangers performances' I looked at our team sheet and found one of my greatest points of frustration thus far this season: our wingers. To be fair, these are still early days in the campaign and as such this is by no means a condemnation of what could potentially be a sterling attacking unit.

I'll focus on the 180 minutes they have had together on the pitch as our starting winger options: the first game against Motherwell, the first half against Hibs (where the red caused us to drastically reorganise) and the first half against Hearts (before Windass’ injury devastated our structure).

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Much like the UK political arena, the left-wing is one of our biggest difficulties. I am just going to come out and say it – Windass is not a left winger. He’s got great tricks and pace, yes, but he is not a left winger. This comes through in the fact that he consistently has poor decision making.

As a central attacking midfielder, he is more used to shooting or passing in advanced situations, rather than crossing. As such, he has taken six more shots than Candeias and made 10 fewer crosses. While hitting the woodwork may seem impressive, it’s a whole lot less impressive than if he had chosen to cross that resulted in a goal. He also doesn’t track back the same way Candeias does.

I like Candeias, he is more of a 90’s style hard working right midfielder than flamboyant right winger. He tracks back, he pressures the opponent and keeps his arms behind his back. He may give away more free-kicks than Windass, but at the same time his presence there is forcing errors in the opposition’s offensive play. As a winger we want a larger nominal value of total tackle attempts, rather than an impressive success rate of one out of two.

Candeias has Windass beat on both fronts there. The goal we conceded against Motherwell also originated from Windass’ initial error (and Wallace’s, to a lesser degree) where neither of them picked up Tanner, who crossed for Heneghan. It was despairingly similar to a goal we recently conceded in Luxembourg, if such a fever-dream has not yet been excised from recent memory.

Noughts and Crosses

The flanks are core to Pedro’s style of play this season, a tactical format that could best be described as: “Fast attack flank-focused build up”. That buzzword nonsense is staying because I read dull articles for about two hours to figure out what to technically term it. If I had to suffer, so do you.

Play primarily starts from the base triangle of Foderingham, Alves and Cardoso, spreading outwards and looking to release the pace of our two full-backs. Teams have quickly grasped this style of play and try shut it down. This is where our very own ‘water-carrier’, Ryan Jack, becomes invaluable to the foundation of our team. He creates an alternative outlet to release pressure from our backline and onto the flanks. 

From the full-backs, the wingers now start to enter the equation. Pedro seeks to overload the opposition backline, especially the full-backs, with quick injections of pace and through-balls – transitioning from high-passing (slow build up) to fast-paced play.

In the defensive phase of both, our wingers sit deep and wide, often close to the halfway line (so long as the opposition are attacking the opposite flank) to serve as a quick release for Foderingham.

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It looks a lot worse than it is. All that's saying is find a man and mark him, and track his runs. I personally prefer man-to-man marking over zonal.

Now from here we see a deviation in the style of play implemented by Pedro. The first was on show against Motherwell and, given our shortage of left wingers, I prefer this one. Windass also worked it better so I’ll give an example from his flank.

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Wallace is released by Alves on an offensive run.

Option 1

Windass cuts inside and Wallace plays the through ball before overlapping around the outside. If Windass continues straight forward, Miller can either move into the box or drop a little deeper to help overload the opposition right back. Either way he should be outnumbered. From here Wallace or Windass can cross depending on the opening.

Option 2

Windass cuts inside with the ball as does Candeias, who runs to the edge of the box. From here he provides a pivot off of which Windass can pass to open space and thread a through ball to Morelos or Miller.

Option 3

Candeias can continue the run up the right wing, stretching the opposition defence thinner and creating space for Windass to shoot or lay off a through ball over the shoulder for Morelos or Miller.

I like this approach because it allows for Windass to more appropriately utilise his core skills (through balls, shooting) that he can’t otherwise implement on the flank. This tactic provides more options to our forward line and makes them unpredictable. The cross runs from Candeias and Windass also create havoc for marking defenders to track, especially if the strikers run in the opposite direction. It’s one of our most complex tactics and one that even utilises our striker’s assets better (speed and intelligence).

The alternative was implemented against Hibs, it was not as aesthetically pleasing but it was potentially more effective.

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This system is based around pace and quick counter-attacking football. Hodson is released by Alves and plays it to Windass. Windass then beats the opposite full-back (which he is quite good at), and look to get a cross in (which he is not good at). In the match he passed to Hodson who fired a shot off.

Alternatively, Miller can drop deep and help open a third option to play the ball off, after which Hodson again underlaps the winger – where he finds space between the full back tracking Windass and the centre back tracking Miller. Hodson can then cross, shoot or pass. Unfortunately, Hodson is not as technically proficient as Wallace and lost the ball twice in these scenarios, where we had the opportunity to really put the opponent under pressure.

The most recent game against Hearts was similar to the Hibs game.

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However, due to how deep Hearts dropped Pedro called for Candeias and Windass to pull even wider to pull open some spaces. A good idea usually, except he kept the defenders on the overlap (as they were in the Motherwell game). This led to scenarios with extreme congestion as players were looking to run into the same areas. Add to that the fact that Kenny was dropping too deep to get the ball and you ended up with this: 

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Candeias is proving to be an interesting signing. An assist already, and provided the free-kicks for the Dorrans goal and conceded penalty as well. He is arguably our best set-piece taker. He's a hard worker, and God loves a trier. Windass is more stop-gap. You can see he wants to prove his worth to the fans, but it isn't quite working. I have also not even begun to breach the lack of defensive cover that Wallace could use that he does not provide.

Alternatives to those two? We have the Disappearing Duo of Dalcio and Dodoo. I would like to see Dodoo get another run but rumours abound over his attitude. Dalcio was unconvincing for me against Progres but I am more than willing to see him given another shot - in the second half of a game we're comfortably winning. I would like to see Dorrans tested out on the left, if he cuts inside like Windass.

He is a more cultured and intelligent player. The new signing Nemane is apparently more for the youth side, and his greatest achievement of his career thus far is two assists in a 4-0 drubbing of Celtic in the UEFA Youth Championships - if he's the next Robben or, hell at this point I'd take the next Andros Townsend, then great. As it stands though, he is an unknown quantity - and also primarily a right winger. That tells me we could use more cover.

If you enjoyed this and would like to see more in-depth analysis of the World's Most Successful Club™, you can find me on Wordpress here, Facebook there and @KylEnsign on Twitter - where I do weekly coverage of Rangers matches in excruciating detail. You'll love it.