Rangers to face ‘chess master’ Peter Bosz and his PSV machine

Rangers to face ‘chess master’ Peter Bosz and his PSV machine
Eindhoven's newly appointed coach Peter Bosz gives a press conference during his official presentation in Eindhoven, on July 4, 2023. (Photo by Jeroen Putmans / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo by JEROEN PUTMANS/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

And it’s back to the Champions League in a very hectic start to the season; and tomorrow marks the return of our dear old friend Peter Bosz, who must be thinking he won a Rangers season pass with the number of times he has led his teams to Ibrox.

For those with good memories Bosz led Bayer Leverkusen to a 3-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox in the Europa League. That game was played in March 2020.

Then he led Lyon to Ibrox, where he drew 1 – 1 (we lost 2 – 0 in Lyon) in 2021.

And our problem is he has set up PSV in almost the same way to the teams he previously managed. In fact, his tactics are so similar I decided to dust off the articles I wrote for Leverkusen and Lyon.

Previously, when we were unceremoniously dumped from the Europa League competition by Bayer Leverkusen, Bayer deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with two pivots.

In response, Rangers deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation, giving Leverkusen a one-man advantage in attack, (4 vs 3 strikers) and a solid 2 vs 1 advantage in their defensive line whenever we looked like we might be a threat (with 6 defenders against 3 primary attackers – with Rangers playing one striker and two wingers).

But Bosz has decided to dump these tactics and he now deploys a far more aggressive 4-2-1-3 formation, which gives him the flexibility to have one more player up front, but there is a catch.

With Bosz there is always a trick. Bosz loves to use his forwards to press forwards as one large group, dragging the defenders with them to the left, then to the right and then to the goal mouth, but what you will see, if you look very carefully is the wingers will suddenly step back for just one second from all this madness, and then stand quietly at the corner of the box. At that point the winger looks so relaxed you might think he has fallen asleep.

But when this is done right, the wingers will suddenly find themselves in acres of space, and the midfielders, who are all watching the chaos in the penalty box with amusement and are waiting for the gap to form will then just pass the ball to their number 11, Anwar El Ghazi, on the right wing, where he will then either have a very easy shot at goal, or he can choose to pass to the other PSV forwards, and have a nice assist.

As I mentioned the last time we played Peter Bosz, he sets up his team working as a complete team, which tries to destroy their opponents’ ability to pass out from the back and to quickly turn the ball.

But just watching a game, it is sometimes very difficult to see what exactly his teams are doing that makes it so tough for their opponents to break out from under their relentless attacks, but I found it can be reduced to just one sentence.

Peter Bosz sets up his teams to play chess. Yes, I did say that the last time, and it is still valid.

His teams like to operate in tactical groups, and I will elaborate this:

He permits one of their attacking line to tactically drag just one player in the opponent’s defensive line a few yards out of position.

Then the next stage develops. Another attacker will then pretend to attack the position that has just been weakened by this drag play.

This second movement now needs to be guarded against, because it is a real threat, and this causes the next line in the defence (which is occupied by the central defenders) to react to this perceived threat, and that now places them very slightly out of position…

Which then permits the real attack to finally take place. This is when a third player in this complex game of tactical chess will attack the weakened centre.

In the previous games we played against Bosz, this thinking literally three moves ahead was used time and time again, until our players just didn’t know whether we were coming or going, and when we did finally get the ball, most of our players were completely out of position….and it would take them several critical seconds to think and regroup, and to then try to work out what to do next…

But at this level a gap of just one second is usually a goal scored, or a chance missed, and during those long critical seconds, when we had to take the time to reorganize to get back into an attacking shape, Leverkusen had all the time they needed to regroup and then press us to get the ball back. That is why many teams find it difficult to break Bosz’s high press.

Bosz also set up his team in the previous times he played against us to carefully extinguish the threat from Tavernier. He did this by carefully marking the front players to prevent Tavernier making his usual key passes.

However, as I mentioned in our previous game against Lyon, all the steps Bosz took are completely useless if we can play out from the back in rapid series of passes, just like we used to do, all those years ago, under Warburton and his magic hat.

And this is why I had a huge big smile on my face after our win against Morton. For the first time in ages I actually seen a complete Rangers team that knew how to pass the ball quickly up the field, and that gave me confidence that we just might be able to do the double and get past this very good PSV team.

Breaking the high press, and putting PSV on the defensive is the entire key to breaking all of Bosz’s fantastic tactics. Put bluntly, he cannot play chess if we are playing snakes and ladders, and we are moving the ball around the park quickly.

We also must play with the potential to have at least two up front, with the ability to change our game rapidly to a 4-2-4 to have any chance against Bosz’s team. One lone striker up front against four strong defenders and two capable midfielders will give us no chance at this level. We saw that last year in the group stages, when I was screaming every single week that our tactics were all wrong, and our team was just too timid. The question is, will Michael Beale do the necessary tweaks?

There is no hiding it. This is going to be a tough match. If we play a simple high press, PSV will just lob the ball over our defenders and have their front line overwhelm us.

If we play a 100% defensive Giovanni-style game, we will be lucky if we have a single shot on their goal, because they defend in depth, and if Tavernier gallops slowly up the park every second play, and no-one is covering his run, they will punish us. Tavernier has to learn to trust this team and to allow his teammates to make some decisions.

In the end, it all depends on how we are set up, but unlike last year’s Champions League group stage where I sadly predicted we were going to be gubbed, I really feel confident about this game. My prediction is a famous 2 – 1 win for Rangers.

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