Scottish Premiership 2019/20: Rangers vs Hamilton- tactical analysis
With the 2019/20 Scottish Premiership campaign now over and with the new date for the start of the 2020/21 season. Each of the clubs will be looking back and evaluating their team’s performance looking on areas to improve upon/work on before the start of the new season. The main focus for many is always the title race and this season at the top Celtic and Rangers fought valiantly before Rangers were unable to gain points in crucial games as Celtic opened a 13 point gap and won the title.
As part of a match analysis series, we will look back into these crucial games specifically dissecting Rangers’ league losses in the 2019/20 campaign evaluating the areas that enable teams to overcome The Gers. The first match analysis piece analysed Rangers loss to Celtic, we also analysed Rangers 2-1 loss to Kilmarnock, which leads us onto analysing the next and final crucial game which resulted in a Rangers 0-1 loss to Hamilton. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the tactics of both teams, and discuss how Rangers were very wasteful and missed a huge opportunity to win the game.
Rangers set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation for this game a change from Gerrard’s usual 4-3-3. Along with the formation change he also made three changes to his side that lost 1-0 to Hearts in the Scottish Cup in their last game. The Rangers manager rejigged his midfield as Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield dropped out of his side and was replaced by Glen Kamara who started as a pivot and Ianis Hagi who played out on the right-wing. In attack, Ryan Kent made way for Hibs loanee Florian Kamberi who started on the left-wing.
Brian Rice in the opposite dugout set up his Hamilton team in their usual 4-4-2. The visitors made three changes their side who drew 0-0 with Motherwell in their previous game. Rice made two changes to his backline as Jamie Hamilton came into the heart of defence replacing Johnny Hunt. Scott McMann came into the left-back position which saw Scott Martin move up in a more advanced left-midfield position displacing David Templeton from the team. Hamilton’s last change was in the form of a young prospect Lewis Smith who operated on the opposite flank replacing Will Collar who dropped to the bench.
Hamilton’s disjointed press
Hamilton set out their stalls early in this game as they looked to put Rangers under pressure in their build-up phase as they looked to work the ball out from the back. Rice looked to get after both Rangers centre-backs by instructing both his strikers to aggressively press onto both defenders. Looking to either force Gerrard’s side into a mistake and cough up possession winning the ball in advanced position or make their defenders hit an aimless long ball forward under pressure.
However, Hamilton’s pressure was unsuccessful as both Rangers’ full-backs dropped and created an angle to support their centre-backs aiding in the build-up phase. Both centre-backs were able to find the full-backs with cleaner passes and thus were able to easily evade the first line of pressure from the visitors. We can see this in full effect below as both the Hamilton forwards try to press the Rangers centre-backs. Conor Goldson is in possession and is calm and composed on the ball despite the pressure being applied.
His calm and composed nature is down to the fact that James Tavernier has dropped back into space on the right which creates a favourable angle for Goldson to hit a clean pass breaking the first line of pressure, Tavernier could then look to turn out, engage and pull the second line out of position and progress the ball further forward.
Tavernier was able to turn after receiving the pass in space in this way as there was little to no pressure applied upon him. The problem was that both forwards pressed aggressively but this was not followed up by midfield line who were very deep with their starting positions at times in their own half as the ball beat their first line. Hamilton’s press was disjointed and disorganised as each line did not move up in tandem as a unit to try and collapse the space between the lines.
As a result of this, both Rangers double pivots are free in space and can be easily accessed as we can see below. Rangers are able to build up with ease and play the ball into the middle with Tavernier making a pass to Kamara in space with no real pressure applied onto them, he is then able to turn and assess the situation with time as Hamilton’s midfield lines starting position is too deep making them reactive to this passing action.
It is therefore too late to close the space in time to put the Rangers midfielder under pressure to affect and disturb his play giving him more time to make a more informed decision on the ball to progress his side forward. With this disjointed setup, Hamilton has failed to shut off the central areas for Rangers to play through and so they are able to progress the ball with ease.
Preventing Rangers building up and accessing the central areas were such key factors in disrupting Rangers’ rhythm which resulted in some part to Gerrard’s side suffering losses as outlined in the previous analysis pieces.
Rangers’ fluid attacking shape
Rangers were also able to threaten and play the ball into the final third and this was certainly aided by Hamilton’s disorganised press however the main factor was down to Rangers positional structure and set up. Gerrards side’s 4-2-3-1 structure naturally created numerical superiority against Hamilton’s 4-4-2 formation in the central area of the pitch. Joe Aribo was operating between the lines in the advanced attacking midfield position creating height in Rangers midfield.
Aribo’s positioning created a decisional problem for Hamilton’s two central midfielders; either they have to drop deeper closing the space for Aribo to operate in between the lines leaving more space for Rangers double pivot or push out on Rangers double-pivot leaving more space in behind for Aribo to receive the ball in. We can see Rangers positional structure in the tactical board below showing the numerical advantage in the central area.
You can also see above the dilemma both the Hamilton central midfielders had, however, they did not deal with this all too well as their starting position was far too deep to apply pressure onto the Rangers double-pivot when they received the ball. The Hamilton midfielders reacted to close the space and apply pressure but could not make up the ground quickly enough.
The action was very reactive from the Hamilton pair in the middle which resulted in them being caught in between and poorly positioned in no man’s land. This provides time and space to the double pivot but also opening up more space for Aribo to operate in and receive the ball. Rangers were able to repeatedly access the free man with relative ease breaking Hamilton’s second line of pressure, enabling him to turn and bear down directly on Hamilton’s defensive line.
Gerrard’s tactics ensured the free man always changed as the Rangers forwards would interchange positions with Aribo, majority of the time it was Hagi who would drop in this position from time to time making it difficult for Hamilton to pick up and prevent the free man receiving the ball in between the lines. Overall Rangers attacking shape and movement was very fluid as they set up in a 2-3-5 attacking shape with both the full-backs providing width, stretching Hamilton’s defensive line.
The Rangers left-winger and right-winger Kamberi and Hagi could invert as a result operating in the half-spaces as inside forwards. They provided great support and structural connection between them and Alfredo Morelos forming good link-up and quick combination play which troubled Rice’s side. Coupled with this was the fluid movement from the forward players, interchanging positions opening up and creating space to attack and create opportunities.
The Rangers forwards were able to pin the Hamilton defenders from their starting positions in the move, Hamilton tended to follow their man almost man-marking them in response to trying to prevent Rangers gaining a free man as aforementioned instead of passing the Rangers players on when they began to fluidly interchange positions this resulted in Hamilton’s defensive line being pulled out of position and becoming disorganised creating huge gaps for Rangers to exploit, as we can see below.
The move below shows Rangers are on the attack and have easily progressed to the final third with Hagi dropping out to receive the ball in the right-half space which results in his marker Hamilton’s left-back following him into this area. Aribo from his central position moves out of position recognising Hagi wants to cut on to his left and move inside. The Nigerian international’s movement attracts Hamilton’s two central midfielders pulling them out of the central area creating acres of space to access both Kamberi and Morelos positioned on the last line.
Hagi does well to evade the pressure creating space for him to move inside and create an opportunity. Kamberi recognises he is being tightly marked and times his run well as soon as Hagi moves inside, he drops off Hamilton’s defensive line to receive the ball. The ball is then played into Kamberi and just before he is about to receive the ball Morelos spins out and moves into space out into the massive gap in the defensive line (created from Hagi’s first movement out to receive the ball which started the final third move).
Kamberi has the vision and awareness to play a through ball into this space, a fantastic move which provided great movement and good link-up and quick combination play which sends Morelos in with a 1v1 with the keeper but he, unfortunately, he can not finish the move with a goal as he squanders the opportunity.
Wasteful Rangers are punished
Missing clear cut opportunities became a trend in this game as although Rangers were causing problems with their fluid attacking movement and creating opportunities they were unable to convert these chances when they arose. They missed numerous goal-scoring opportunities before and after the half time interval through a mixture of good saves from Reading loanee Luke Southwood but ultimately it was down to poor finishing from the Rangers forwards who lacked composure and were incredibly inaccurate with 16 shots not hitting the target with 75% of their shots coming from inside the penalty area.
We can see illustrated in the image below how wasteful and poor Rangers finishing was from clear cut chances. As the ball has been played to the back post to Tavernier who has come off the right-wing to get in the box and is in acres of space. The majority of the goal is open as the keeper is out of position and Tavernier is less than six yards from the goal.
Tavernier has a huge window to finish in which to put Rangers 1-0 ahead but he lacks any composure and swipes at the ball skying it over the bar resulting in a horrible miss. On the other side, Hamilton was more clinical and punished Rangers after they missed the chance above and Morelos hit the crossbar, Hamilton with their first real threatening attack force a save from Allan McGregor in goals Rangers fail to clear the ball and although very fortunate Hamilton score on the 56th minute to punish Rangers not capitalising on their chances.
In response to going a goal up Rice looked to defend and hold onto their lead as he instructed his team to fall back and play in a deep low block defending their own box as they looked to keep compact and minimise the space. Gerrard’s response was to bring on more attackers and his side tactics were to get the ball wide and cross the ball into the box which resulted in Rangers increasing their crossing by 150% from the first half, a clear response from going a goal down.
Analysing further the proceedings after conceding the goal, Rangers attempted 35 attacks down the wide channels up until the 94th minute when the final whistle blew. We see from the graph below the results from Rangers trying to access the wide areas and put crosses into the box in a bid to trouble Hamilton’s defence in order to grab a goal back to get themselves back in the game.
As we can see above Rangers were not very successful using this attacking method as only 11.43% of their crosses were accurate finding a teammate in the box. Hamilton did extremely well in preventing the majority of Rangers attacks from the flanks from being crossed in an impressive 45.71% of their crosses being prevented. Both Hamilton’s full-backs when the ball made its way into the wide areas were extremely aggressive and tackled ferociously to stop Rangers from getting in a favourable position to cross.
The Hamilton full-backs were also helped by both their strikers as Rice instructed his forwards to drop deep and double up on the Rangers wide players. Gerrard’s side became very one dimensional after conceding and Rice countered this predictable attacking strategy by overloaded the wide channels creating a 2v1 and so Hamilton was able to overwhelm them preventing or putting them under enough pressure so the cross in is rushed and poorly executed which resulted in the 42.86% inaccurate crosses as we can see in the image above.
We can see the defensive set up of Hamilton below as Rangers try to attack down the right through Kent. Hamilton is aggressive in the wide channel with the Accies striker coming back to create an overload forcing Kent back. The Rangers winger does well to retain possession and cuts in on his left foot but he is put under enough pressure that his cross is poorly executed not beating the first man as Hamilton is able to defend and clear the ball in comfortably.
We also see in the move above there is nobody positioned in the central area to either attack through the middle of the pitch as they did so well before conceding the goal or to receive the ball in this area to draw out bodies from Hamilton of the box making it more favourable situation increasing the chances of picking out a Rangers man in the box.
Rangers rarely ever accessed the central channels to attack in the final third after conceding the goal but when they did they were extremely successful as we can see in the graph below. From the three attacks had from the central channel Rangers were 100% successful in the attack leading to a shot on goal, as Morelos had two clear cut chances one going just wide of the post the other being saved by Southwood from point-blank range. The third attack resulted in a shot from Hagi which deflected and hit the crossbar.
In comparison when Rangers attacked from the wide areas it only resulted in 9% of the attacks in this area leading to shot on goal, as we see above. This highlights how ineffective Rangers were from the wide channels in terms of chance creation as it became very predictable and opposition was set up very well to defend attacks starting from these areas.
Rangers dominated possession and controlled the game as they were able to progress the ball into an advanced position easily evading Hamilton’s disorganised press. Rangers were able to access the middle with ease as a result and with great fluid movement from their forward players were able to open up spaces in Hamilton’s defensive line and create opportunities as shown in this analysis.
The problem with Rangers was they were extremely wasteful showing a lack of composure in front of goal ending the game with an xG 3.5 and coming away with not scoring a single goal shows how poor they were and frustrating for the fans and Gerrard to witness. Rangers’ wastefulness was punished as Hamilton grabbed a goal. Gerrard’s emotions took over it seems and instantly changed his tactics to attack down the wide channels which were very unsuccessful.
Gerrard’s game management in this game was poor. He had 35+ minutes in the game to get a goal. His side was creating chances by accessing the middle of the pitch but after the goal, he became too impatient and didn’t trust his own process, and with his change of tactics straight after conceding turned his side that was causing problems with their play to a team that was very one dimensional and predictable, this is an area he fell down on in this game. Losing this game created the huge 13 point gap and essentially handed Celtic the title and a Champions League place.