Steven Gerrard’s remarkable Rangers defence

Steven Gerrard Rangers

Celtic didn’t manage a single shot on target against Rangers on Saturday. With no supporters allowed in stadiums right now, there’s not much in terms of home advantage. That said, it’s very rare to see a visiting team to Parkhead control the Bhoys in the way Steven Gerrard’s men did. 

The hosts had the majority of the ball, 57 per cent to be exact, and they played over 100 more passes. But possession doesn’t always tell the story of a match, especially when so many teams cede it in order to carry out their in-game tactics. 

Touch maps for Celtic and Rangers.

As evidenced in the touch map, Celtic had very few touches in the opposition’s penalty area and only two in the six-yard box. Rangers, on the other hand, had many more touches centrally. If you include those on the six-yard line, the Gers had three times as many touches in that part of the box, despite seeing less of the ball. 

Celtic aren’t the first team to be starved of chances against Rangers and they certainly won’t be the last. Gerrard’s side have conceded just three goals in the Scottish Premiership this season and two of those arrived in a 2-2 draw with Hibernian.

Remarkably, they’ve kept nine clean sheets in their 11 matches this term. Last season, Rangers conceded, on average, 0.65 goals per 90. That figure now stands at 0.27. 

Statistics for Rangers in the 2020/21 Scottish Premiership

This is no fluke, either. In open play, the opposition are averaging just 0.47 expected goals while the post-shot metric, which takes into account where the effort goes on target, is 0.38.

A mixture of good luck and superb shot-stopping has meant Rangers have bettered these averages, and 11 games isn’t a small sample size. This sort of defensive performance could well be sustainable. 

The key to it is how aggressive they’re being.

Data visualisations for Rangers in the 2020/21 Scottish Premiership.

The average position map shows a high centre-back pairing and full-backs that are essentially wide midfielders. Such a set-up helps Rangers press the opposition.

In many ways, their approach is similar to that of Liverpool’s. The Reds utilise a high defensive line, safe in the knowledge that anything played over the top will be swept up by Alisson and any aerial battles tend to be won by Virgil van Dijk. In Connor Goldson and Filip Helander, Gerrard has two centre-backs that have won 72 per cent of their aerial duels this season. 

You’ll also note that the distance between centre-back and centre-forward is fairly minimal. The fact they’re so compact allows them to pick up second balls and hunt in packs effectively and efficiently.

Not only does this help Rangers press the opposition, but it also allows them to catch the opposition offside. No team in the Scottish Premiership has caught players offside more than the Gers this season. 

Repelling the opposition higher up the pitch automatically means teams aren’t able to sustain attacks and carve out high-quality chances on a regular basis, and it’s why Rangers have such an impressive defensive record.

Rangers' shots conceded map for the 2020/21 Scottish Premiership.

Currently, they’re facing one shot on target per match and only five of those shots have had a post-shot expected goals average of over 0.25. That suggests Rangers are putting pressure on opponents to either rush them into taking shots or simply being quick enough to block these efforts.

If this continues, they’ll be one of the best defensive teams in history and Gerrard might finally get some credit for his tactical nous.

All the graphics and visualisations in this article use Wyscout data and were produced in the Twenty3 Content Toolbox.

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