Sunday, 30 September 2018

ANALYSIS: Where did it all go horribly wrong for Steven Gerrard?

Sifting through the wreckage of today’s horrific display in Livingston is something of a port-mortem, but the fairest place to start is with the simple question; where did it actually go wrong?

Instead of moaning about this player or that player or this refereeing call etc, we’re going to take you on a tactical expose of just what Steven Gerrard and his team did wrong today, and just why the side failed so miserably.

First off, full credit to Gary Holt and Livingston – they set out with a very clear plan, a lot subtler than the usual ‘park the bus’ accusations we’re seeing – and their plan did a total number on the visitors – so we are not taking credit away from the deserving winners.

However, Gerrard, for the first time, truly made a lot of errors and failed to address any of the problems he saw in front of him, and we’re going to take you through a lot of what they were.

The first problem was the unnecessary rotation. Gerrard is now firmly guilty of breaking the flow of his XI by constantly changing the men he puts out. Eight changes from the midweek win was frankly absurd, and it flies in the face of his promises this summer of always playing those in form and those ‘hungry’. It broke continuity and it was a bad sign from the start.

Second was how effectively the home side blocked the flanks. A huge part of Rangers’ system this season has been wide play, be it crossing, cutting in, linking; Holt identified this quickly and made sure his fullbacks anticipated everything – and most things that got past them, the colossal Craig Halkett ultimately stopped in the middle. It rendered Daniel Candias, James Tavernier, Borna Barisic and Kyle Lafferty completely helpless – and Gerrard did nothing to alter the system to counter this.

Thirdly was Holt’s identification of Ovie Ejaria as the dangerman through the centre. The Liverpool loanee was excellent until Pittman (8) was assigned his marker. Suddenly the playmaker started playing deeper to get space and was rendered completely ineffective. Not much he could do in his own half. The second half saw Jacobs (7) instead assigned to him to allow Pittman more creative freedom – and still Ejaria was rendered obsolete.

So two and three made Rangers rudderless – unable to get any joy on the flanks, it was left to Ejaria to try and lockpick through the middle, and he was then snuffed out rather easily.

Fourth was the strength of Menga up front – he had the beating of most of Rangers’ defenders, and held the ball magnificently for his team mates to come in support – and his goal was a clinical reward for what was a MOTM display. We do wonder just what a difference the physical strength of Nikola Katic might have had as a deterrent.

And five was the strangulation and close marking of both Lafferty and Morelos – starved of service, they had zero to work with, and Morelos cut a frustrated figure as Gerrard hooked off Kyle in desperation.

Meanwhile Gerrard stood at the side biting his lips completely unable to contrive a solution to a well sorted plan and the right team sadly won.

He tried putting Ryan Kent on, and in his defence, Kent, along with the earlier display of Ejaria, was the best player for Rangers on the day, and he did provide a different threat. Or, in this match, a threat.

But the reality is Gerrard was well beaten in the dugout by a fellow borderline rookie manager with a far inferior squad, and while the players certainly didn’t live up to what we expect from our team, equally the tactics (which appeared to have no variation on previous recent matches) were rendering most of them useless anyway.

Gerrard is learning on the job, but this afternoon was a sore one for the Rangers boss. He was beaten off the pitch and on it, and if he is to be a domestic success as well as a cup and European one for this club, he will need to absorb everything even more rapidly.

It’s not a crisis, despite the stats which are now haunting Rangers today, but we do need to see something more tangible in the league, because, as things currently stand, this team and this manager will be unable to finish top three.

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