Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi – A Deadly Duo

The roles of Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi are often described in two different ways: wide forwards or two number 10’s.

In reality, they are both.

Given a high amount of attacking freedom, you’ll see both players taking up positions all across the pitch. They spend time in wide areas linking up with overlapping fullbacks, they drift centrally into the hole between midfield and defence, they also switch sides with one another fluidly and given the two-footed ability both possess the threat of going either way makes them very difficult to predict.

Regardless of which area they are operating in, both are producing at an extremely high level, but they do it in very different ways.

Kent does his damage in much more direct fashion. Making use of his acceleration and dribbling, Kent does most of his damage by driving at defenders or with runs in behind.

Hagi goes about his business in a more technical fashion, it’s his ability to find the space between the lines that really stands out. Constantly finding those 5 yards to operate, his vision and technical ability allow him to create danger.

So, just how effective have they been?

Hagi leads the league in assists with 9 (0.42 open play assists per 90), plays over 1.5 key passes per game and has already totalled 17 goals and assists in his first full season at the club. A goal contribution every 126 minutes.

Kent, meanwhile, is sitting on 20 goals and assists so far, already comfortably surpassing last seasons tally of 12. He is playing 1.2 key passes per game himself, with a goal contribution every 160 minutes.

We’ll take a look at the positions they both like to take up, how they utilise their qualities and also how they so often link up with one another to great effect.

First up, Ianis Hagi:

We’ll start with the main danger area for the Romanian: drifting centrally into the hole between the midfield and defensive lines. It’s a movement he makes constantly and from that position he creates danger in a variety of ways.

The biggest threat presented by Hagi when he finds his way into that space between the lines is his ability to spot runs and play a killer pass:

Hagi’s threat from the central area is also given real variety through his willingness to shoot from distance and his ability to do so with either foot.

However, these central areas are only half of the equation.

Hagi also provides a real threat from the wide areas, once again his ability to use either foot makes him very difficult to defend.

These are just a few examples of Hagi’s individual involvement, we’ll get into his link up and understanding with Ryan Kent a little later.

Before that, we’ll have a look at Kent himself.

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Much like Hagi, the two-footed ability possessed by Kent makes him extremely difficult to defend. When you add in his lightning quick acceleration and direct running, he can be a nightmare for opposition.

Unlike Hagi, however, Kent’s main danger area is the wider position where he can isolate defenders and use his speed to drive towards goal, equally dangerous going outside and cutting in.

These areas are where Kent creates real danger for the opposition, often drawing multiple defenders which also helps create space for others.

However, the ability to play quick give and go passes or simply go past players also carries over when Kent moves into central areas, be it in the final third or just his ability to drive forward and advance the team into dangerous areas.

The other area Kent offers that differs from Hagi is the early runs in behind, made more effective thanks to the excellent distribution from Connor Goldson.

All season long we have seen the Goldson long ball through to Kent be highly effective.

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Another thing that Hagi and Kent do is link up brilliantly together.

They have developed a wonderful understanding with one another on the pitch and work together to create danger in every phase of play.

In counter attack situations, we see a regular pattern of play carried over from last season where one drops deep and the other breaks in behind. It’s more effective when it’s Hagi playing the pass to make use of Kent’s pace, but it’s been highly effective in both scenarios.

When it comes to the final third and breaking down the usual low block, you need a little bit more invention from your attacking players and this is where Hagi and Kent shine, both individually and as a duo.

The link up and give and go between both players is a regular feature and one that can carve open even a packed final third.

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Now, let’s look at the crucial part both play that doesn’t get as much attention: their defensive work.

Rangers are setting records defensively and have been water tight at the back for most of the season, that’s because the entire team defend as one unit.

The midfield and forwards are just as important to the defensive solidity as the players at the back: their pressing, discipline to maintain shape, cutting off passing lanes and tracking of runners is a huge part of the defensive game plan.

Here we see the standard set up employed, all 3 forward players have their pressing instructions, moving with their man, shuffling across as play gets switched.

When our forwards are narrow (as in the first example) they press up while cutting off the passing lanes into central midfield while our midfielders behind support them by pressing the wide options.

However, when the forwards are pressing into wider areas (as seen in the second example) the midfielders instead cover the central areas to remove those passing options.

This is a basic structure that is carried out consistently, it requires a lot of discipline and work rate to maintain week in, week out.

However, no defensive structure works on its own. When teams beat the press, or go long and play off of second balls, the work rate and energy to track runners and close space is just as impressive.

Ryan Kent here presses the initial defender, sprints back 20 yards to force the wide man backwards then continues his press to take away the return passing lane. That is pure effort and desire to help the team.

That work rate to help the team is thankfully matched by Hagi on the other side, here you see the Romanian track his man 50 yards, intercept the pass and allow James Tavernier to clear any danger.

This Rangers team is just that, a team.

Everyone is playing a vital part to the success of the season, but this is just to highlight the work all over the pitch done by two players who at times catch some unfair criticism.

To have them combine for 37 goals and assists by this point of the season is a great contribution in itself, but when you factor in the overall play, the tireless work rate and the defensive effort of both, there can be no doubt that they are absolutely justifying their price tags.

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