So Just What Went Wrong Against Livingston?

Another poor result away from home in the league on Sunday has generated many a reaction from the fans. The result was poor, but the performance was what really disappointed most. The team looked nothing like they have in any other match so far this season as they struggled to create chances or defend with composure. Livingston fully deserved the win, which isn’t the way these sort of points are normally dropped.

There have been fingers pointed at individual players. The management team have taken some criticism for their team selection. What might have been “one of those days” at another time was a worry as Rangers still search for that first away win in the league this season.  So just what went wrong? What do the statistics tell us that we may not have been able to identify on first glance anyway?

Since the international break, Rangers have played with a high tempo and real freedom in the attacking areas. On Sunday, every player seemed to take an extra few touches before moving the ball, and then be forced to make a poor decision. An example of this was Connor Goldson. Livingston left him with time on the ball and he was certainly taking too long to move it. This season, he’s averaged around 7 long passes a match. Against Livingston, he played 13. He also averages around 46 passes per match, and in this one he played 77. Interestingly, he played 78 against St Johnstone, another team who let him have time and space but closed others. This may be something to keep an eye on. When teams set up to be hard to break down and concede possession, they’ll almost always leave one of the centre halves free and close the space of every other player. Opposing teams may have identified Goldson as the player most likely to slow things down in our side.

Goldson’s defensive partner on the day, Joe Worrall, received a lot of criticism from fans for his performance. One thing worth noting, though, is that he did try to raise the tempo of the match throughout, often driving forward with the ball. It rarely worked though as options in front of him were limited. He made 81 passes, so both him and Goldson combined made 155 passes of the 562 which were attempted by Rangers. They had by far the most touches of any Rangers player though, with 95 for Goldson and 90 for Worrall. The next highest was Arfield on 66. In a match where you’re chasing a deficit for so long and looking to raise the tempo, it’s concerning that the defenders saw so much of the ball.

As has been pointed out though, it wasn’t the centre halves who cost us on Sunday. Going forward, we were poor. Of 82 entries into the final third, Rangers had 8 shots on goal. Of those 8, 4 were on target, but only one drew a decent save from Kelly. Rangers would normally average 11 or 12 shots per match so far this season, and that figure is skewed by red cards and tricky away matches. This was a very poor effort from the team.

In terms of average positions of the players, Morelos and Lafferty were both very close to each other centrally. Coulibaly and Arfield also took up pretty much the same space, and Candeias and Ejaria were a little wider and further forward. The real width came from Tavernier and Barisic, with the latter being able to get further forward more often. When you look at the positions they took up, this was very much a narrow 4-4-2, with a gap centrally between midfield and attack. With Livingston defending deep, they’d have wanted Rangers to play that way. It’s easier for a centre half to deal with a striker facing their own goal than it is to handle a midfielder running at you. With Lafferty and Morelos playing as they did, Livingston had fewer runners from deep to contend with.

This was where Livingston excelled. There were 16 duels between Halkett and Morelos and Halkett won 13 of those. Morelos won only 2, with one being deemed neutral. That’s a particularly low rate for Morelos who would normally give defenders a much harder time. Morelos was involved in 44 duels overall, but Lafferty only 17. Of course, Lafferty was only on the park for 66 minutes, but given both were playing very high up the pitch, you would have expected the experienced striker to have a higher number than he achieved.

In fact, Lafferty really wasn’t in the game at all. He had 14 touches in 66 minutes. There were no shots on goal, and only 9 accurate passes. In many respects, starting Lafferty meant a change of approach from Rangers. For him to be as ineffective as he was hurts the team more than just one player not having a good day would normally.

It was bravery on the ball which seemed to be the biggest issue going forward, though. Rangers made only 4 through passes in the match. Three of those were from Ejaria, and one was by Kent (the pass from Arfield to Barisic wouldn’t be deemed a through ball in this case). In terms of dribbles, Kent had as more in his second half showing than any other player aside from Morelos. Of 28 crosses, 11 came from the byline. Given the way Livingston defend, that’s the sort of ratio they’ll like to see. When a team is playing with attacking intent, you expect a high number of ball losses in the opposing half. Candeias had 9, but no other player got over 4. The passing was clearly conservative, and there weren’t enough attempts to take on the Livingston players and make things happen.

This was a poor showing, and the statistics give a real indication of the problems. We changed shape and approach from the recent home matches to accommodate Lafferty, and his contribution was poor. Ryan Kent, who only played half of the match, had as much attacking influence as any other Rangers player on the day. The passing was mainly in deep areas, and not enough of the crosses came when the Livingston defence could be turned. The only encouragement is that this was very much out of the ordinary. We’ve not seen the team play that poorly under Gerrard so far. I’d imagine both the management team and the players will have learned a lot from the defeat. We’re rapidly running out of matches where we can afford to drop points, but hopefully we’ll never see that sort of approach and insipid attacking again this season.