Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Breakdown Of How Gerrard’s Rangers Side Tactically Outclassed Lennon’s Celtic This Weekend

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Bernard Ford
A Leicester City fan. Wants respect from the 'London based' media for clubs outside the bubble.

The Old Firm derby is undoubtedly one of the most historic matches in the history of football, and with each passing fixture, the hype surrounding the rivalry seems to heighten. The most recent one, which was played out last Saturday, is one that could have lasting implications on not just the season, but for years to come. Celtic have, without a doubt, been the dominant force in the last few years, but there is something in the works at the Ibrox Stadium which seems to be fuelling what can only be called a revolution.

Although many Rangers fans predicted a win on the weekend, nobody would’ve expected the level of dominance that the Bears actually did end up displaying. Not only did they completely outplay Celtic out on the pitch, but they also managed to tear Neil Lennon’s go-to setup to shreds with their tactical understanding of the situation. The Hoops have sort of been a one-trick pony since the start of the current campaign, and while it must be conceded that they’re far too overpowered in terms of squad depth for the other ten teams to cope with, Rangers are now a different sort of animal.

Steven Gerrard has gradually begun to instil his personality on the side, and the fight and desire that the players showed after going a goal up was the perfect example of just that. It’s easy to score a goal against the champions, and various teams have already done that this season. Keeping them out, however, was supposed to be the challenging aspect of the match. The Gers though seemed to be completely up for it right from the off, and that was largely down to the off-field work that was done prior to the fixture.

Breaking down a football match based on specific tactical aspects is never an easy task. Still, considering the difference in quality that the two teams showed, it wasn’t overly difficult to pick out the areas where Gerrard’s men came out on top. With a four-point lead to defend atop the league table now, albeit with the Celts having a game in hand, Rangers have the quality as well as momentum to finally end the Parkhead club’s dominance in the Premiership this season.

Here Is A Tactical Breakdown Of How Rangers Outclassed Celtic:

A Tactical Breakdown Of How Rangers Outclassed Celtic - Gerrard applauds
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – OCTOBER 17: Steven Gerrard, Manager of Rangers applauds his team during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park on October 17, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

A Tactical Breakdown Of How Rangers Outclassed Celtic


One of the many things that Rangers did miles better than their rivals on the weekend was off-the-ball work-rate. Every single member of the eleven was clearly willing to work their socks off for the sake of the team right from the off, and this trend carried on all through the fixture. It can be said with confidence that the Ibrox club were up for the task right from the opening whistle of the tie, and that is undoubtedly down to the work that Gerrard had done with the boys back on the training pitch.

The likes of Alfredo Morelos and Brandon Barker, despite not having the most influential of fixtures, gave it their everything in terms of defending the early lead that they got. Not just that, the contribution from the midfield players has to be given its due credit as well. Veteran midfielder Steven Davis set the tone for the team with good passing and movement, and over the course of the ninety, Glen Kamara finally showed the Ibrox faithful that he’s got the quality required to perform at such a high level.

Scott Arfield and Davis made a number of tactical fouls, all of which had clearly been worked on during the pre-match training sessions. More than a victory that was based on quality, Rangers’ win was actually a victory of the human spirit, and the entire team’s willingness to fight for their cause. Each individual’s desire to help out the player closest to him was apparent to see, and it played a large part in ensuring that the champions were kept at arm’s length all through the ninety.

A Tactical Breakdown Of How Rangers Outclassed Celtic - Gerrard greets his players
MOTHERWELL, SCOTLAND – SEPTEMBER 27: Steven Gerrard, Manager of Rangers celebrates with his players following their victory during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Motherwell and Rangers at Fir Park on September 27, 2020 in Motherwell, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The Midfield Battle

Despite having more numbers than Rangers in the middle of the park, Neil Lennon’s men struggled to take control of the ball in dangerous areas. Most of their possession was either in defence or around the halfway line, and although that might sound like they had a lack of creativity, the truth is that they were watched supremely well by a properly drilled Rangers midfield. Davis and Kamara, while maintaining their holding positions, were able to comfortably swing from side to side, thanks to the work-rate of the attackers.

The duo passed the ball around with oomph and panache because of the comfort levels they attained soon after kick-off. Celtic struggled to break through the disciplined line being formed by the Rangers attackers, let alone the midfielders and defenders. By backing each other up in all areas of the pitch, the Bears were able to control the midfield right from the off, and even with a numerical disadvantage in the area, the trend of the game was set within the opening quarter of an hour.

A Compact Setup

Another one of the most important issues that Gerrard had evidently addressed prior to the match was the amount of space that they had been offering to the ‘smaller’ teams in the division. Yes, their defensive record is the best in the league, but that was largely down to the solid work being done by their defenders itself, and not a team-wide effort. In this fixture though, there was an apparent difference in not just the initial setup, but the general approach as well.

A Tactical Breakdown Of How Rangers Outclassed Celtic - Tavernier and Kent
MOTHERWELL, SCOTLAND – SEPTEMBER 27: James Tavernier of Rangers looks on during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Motherwell and Rangers at Fir Park on September 27, 2020 in Motherwell, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

To ensure that Celtic weren’t able to exploit any spaces in between the lines, Gerrard tasked his players with an extremely compact setup. Their movement and cohesion made sure of the fact that they were never going to break down the middle of the Rangers team. The obvious threats of Mohamed Elyounoussi and Patryk Klimala were all but neutralised by this move, and it must be conceded that they played to counter the Celts’ weaknesses. They found the perfect balance between dropping and pressing and nullified everything that the home side tried to put together on this occasion.

A Game Plan Built To Beat Celtic

One thing that can be said with utmost confidence is that Steven Gerrard hasn’t been praised enough by the media for the result. To be able to tactically control a tie from start to finish, in what is undoubtedly Scottish football’s most-watched fixture, is an achievement that deserves massive plaudits. The Liverpool legend achieved this by preparing his team in the best possible manner, but more so by studying the weak links in Neil Lennon’s questionable Celtic setup.

The three-man back-line is a formation that, despite looking like a deadly one, tends to be a tad bit defensive. Why he uses it in a league where only one team have any real chances of challenging them to the title is surely beyond even the best of pundits. Even with the extra man in defence though, the Celts had been far from secure defensively. Yes, injuries didn’t help their cause, but they did have the option of moving to a back-four to try and counter the predicament.

A Tactical Breakdown Of How Rangers Outclassed Celtic - Goldson celebrates
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – OCTOBER 17: Connor Goldson of Rangers celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park on October 17, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

As expected by most fans and Gerrard though, Lennon decided to stick to his guns. For all the players that Celtic have lined up across the middle of the pitch, the one area where they have struggled over recent weeks is out wide. Asking the likes of Jeremie Frimpong and Greg Taylor to produce the goods against the ‘smaller’ sides is understandable, but doing the same thing each time and expecting a different result is nothing short of ridiculous.

The likes of Livingston and St.Mirren were able to score against the Hoops, and Gerrard’s men, being the rather strong team that they are, worked on these weaknesses and used them to their advantage. By allowing Jeremie Frimpong and, Diego Laxalt on this occasion, space to run into down the flanks, they ensured that there would be spaces out wide for the Gers’ attackers to pick up and exploit. Although the quality in the final third wasn’t the greatest, their general work was enough to tip the scales.

The Conclusion

Connor Goldson showed amazing intelligence to position himself well for both the goals, with the opener showing his understanding of how the Celtic back-line operates. None of that would’ve been possible had it not been for all the time that Gerrard’s men spent working on the training pitch. It was as if Rangers knew Lennon’s game plan better than Celtic did, and that’s exactly what was on show all through the ninety.

Old Firm derbies, historically, aren’t the most nuanced matches in Scottish football, with elements like aggression and momentum often playing the more important part. This time around though, thanks to the brilliant managership of Steven Gerrard, Rangers have managed to throw light on the actual situation in the Premiership. If this trend is going to continue, the remainder of the season is not going to be an entertaining watch for the Celtic faithful.

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