Rangers’ solid if ultimately nerve-jangling win yesterday at Pittodrie highlighted the best, and on a rare occasion, the very worst of Rangers’ generally outstanding system.
As we know, Steven Gerrard and tactical guru Michael Beale have worked on this for well over two years, formulating this season a system which has been pretty much decimating everyone we’ve faced.
However, against Aberdeen, while not costly, for the first time its Death Star moment was fully exposed and we conceded a goal which demonstrated two major things:
1: How to score against Rangers.
2: How badly we miss Ryan Jack.
The goal we lost wasn’t even a lethal counter – it was a possession turnover, one which Aberdeen attacked and exposed the defensive unit and set up a goal from. But the talk of this one was so many fans attacking James Tavernier for being completely out of position.
This demonstrated fans’ misunderstanding of the risks of this system.
First off, Borna Barisic was in exactly the same slot high up, and made absolutely no effort to track back after the turnover of possession – yet Tavernier was the one slaughtered by supporters despite sprinting to get back.
Secondly, and this is the real nub – this is how Rangers play, and how we’ve played all season.
It’s all about two frankly world class full backs providing crosses, width and overlapping runs. They are out of position almost all the time in this setup, and Aberdeen were the first team this season to successfully nick the ball in the middle and effectively attack the exposed rearguard.
And that brings us onto Ryan Jack.
If Rangers have an insurance policy, it’s this man. He covers Tavernier constantly when the captain roams forward, but without him, no one was plugging that gap yesterday.
Steven Davis doesn’t have the legs to do it, being more creative minded and getting on a bit, but Jacko is all about covering grass and doing the graft.
Kamara does it for Barisic on the other side.
Without Jack, and on this occasion with Kamara caught for position (he was very culpable here) and Davis unable to intercept (albeit he did get back), the defence was left completely gaping.
It was a great lesson for us, seeing the best of our system with the goals, but the worst of it with that conceded effort.
It teaches us how much our defence is vulnerable when both FBs are so high up, and it teaches us Ryan Jack is a colossal miss and the sooner he’s back, the better.
But we’ll say this – it was neither Tav nor Borna’s fault. It wasn’t really anyone’s in truth.