High and wide.
Since Rangers appointed Steven Gerrard 3 years ago, that is a term that has been used regularly. That description, however, was used almost exclusively for the fullbacks while the ‘two number 10’s’ drifted in field.
Over the previous two seasons in particular there is no denying that the fullbacks being positioned high and wide brought the team a huge amount of success: 28 assists from Barisic and 31 assists from Tavernier over that time speaks for itself.
Occasional positional errors or being caught on counter attacks were easier to forgive when the level of attacking output greatly outweighed the defensive errors.
This season, however, hadn’t started the same. Rangers being caught easily on the counter or teams exploiting the high fullback position had been a problem since the season began.
Teams had made adjustments to combat the two number 10’s and high fullback set-up and despite conceding the first goal in 11 games this season (including Gerrard’s final 6 games in a row), there had been no change in the Rangers approach.
Then Van Bronckhorst arrived.
‘High and wide’ remains a very clear principle of the Rangers set-up but that description is now used for the wingers, be it Kent, Hagi, Sakala or Scott Wright.
Instead of drifting inside and leaving the fullbacks with the wide one-on-one situations, it’s now Rangers better and more dangerous dribblers getting those one-on-one’s to take advantage of and stretching opposition defences the full width of the pitch, which in turn is stretching the opposition defensively and creating more space for advancing midfielders to exploit while the previously marauding fullbacks hold a deeper position to prevent counters.
This brings us to Joe Aribo.
Already the stand out player this season before the change of manager, Aribo has taken full advantage of the extra attacking responsibility placed on him in the new set-up to be the midfielder that gets forward to exploit the space created, becoming as dangerous off the ball as he is on the ball.
With 3 goals in the first 23 games of the season, it’s been the one area of the Nigerian’s game that still has real room for improvement.
Under Van Bronckhorst that number is already 3 goals in 5 starts for Aribo, plus creating another. 4 direct goal contributions in 5 games sounds positive, but that’s only half the story of just how effective he has been with more attacking freedom.
Aribo confirmed this week that Van Bronckhorst has changed the style, asking him to play as the advanced midfielder, improve his numbers and ‘make forward runs to cause mayhem’.
It took only 5 minutes of Gio’s first game in charge to see an example of the set up and instructions.
Starting with Ryan Kent receiving the ball in an aforementioned high and wide area, we can see Aribo instantly begin to make his midfield run even from a wider starting position.
As Kent skips past his man, you see the run of Morelos to the back post occupy the two defenders while Hagi’s run to the near post forces the tracking midfielder to follow him, this leaves a massive gap centrally for the arriving Aribo to attack, which he does before rifling an early warning shot off the bar.
We didn’t have to wait long for the threat to appear once again.
With Kent and Hagi occupying their wide areas to stretch the pitch once again, Morelos this time dropped deep and dragged a defender with him. Aribo used that movement to time his run beyond into the space, arriving at the 6 yard line to meet Hagi’s inch perfect cross.
The pattern continued in the 2nd half.
With Patterson replacing Hagi, the wide position of the wingers remained the same, stretching Sparta and creating those openings for Aribo.
Once again Kent collects the ball in that wide position, this time attracting 3 Sparta players towards him. The space created is again attacked perfectly by Aribo running from midfield. A hat trick of great Aribo chances created via very similar patterns of play.
To top it off, the same pattern yet again with a slight variation.
Both wingers positioned wide, Morelos dropping in as Aribo this time spins off and attacks the wide space in behind. A perfectly placed pass finds Morelos, only denied this time by a very good save.
As far as first games in a new role go, it was a very promising start and a sign of things to come.
In the 4 games Aribo has started since we’ve seen him (and Scott Arfield when deployed together) play the advanced midfielder/runner beyond role at an extremely high level.
Within 15 minutes against Livingston, both Arfield and Aribo were on the scoresheet on the back of runs from a central position beyond the striker.
In Aribo’s case, it’s a brilliant display of his skillset. Not only the initial run beyond the front 3, but when the ball doesn’t arrive and is instead switched to Kent, Aribo hangs back allowing the forwards and Arfield to run beyond him and occupy the defenders before picking up the space at the edge of the box and curling a beauty into the top corner.
After scoring the opener against Dundee through a typical bit of individual quality, he then created the 2nd with another brilliantly timed run. Starting central, he collects the ball, attracts defensive players towards him before a pass and move into the space vacated by Sakala. Another perfect run leading to a goal.
Most recently, and most impressive of all, was the goal against Hearts yesterday.
With the patient build up style and the wingers positioning, we’ve seen a lot of the classic Goldson long diagonal out to left wing, including multiple times yesterday. What happened next was perfect a execution to take advantage of not only the width of the pitch but also the previous diagonals.
When Goldson received possession Aribo was occupying his more advanced position, in between the Hearts RB and CB, with the RB drifting inside to keep an eye on him.
However, as soon as Goldson lines up the long ball the RB immediately breaks wide expecting yet another cross field switch. Instead, Aribo uses that movement to burst into the space between RB and CB and get on the end of a perfect pass over the top from Goldson. A standard bit of Aribo brilliance to pull the ball out of the air and finish was the perfect end to a brilliant passage of play.
We’re only 3 weeks into the Van Bronckhorst era and already the team as a whole looks to be flourishing with a new approach and style, but none more so than Joe Aribo.
Already a brilliant player, he now looks to be playing in the perfect role to maximise his ability. So far we’re seeing the usual individual class, but the off ball runs have been a huge addition that has led to a massive uptick in final third arrivals and production.
For me, he had already been the best player in Scottish football this season, but that gap has increased significantly since the arrival of Gio.
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