Given the incredible last few weeks where we clinched the Championship title with a 1-0 win over Dumbarton, the Petrofac cup being secured at the fourth attempt in a convincing 4-0 win over Peterhead and a victory over our fiercest rivals Celtic to reach the Scottish cup final, it seems a fitting time to have a look at what Mark Warburton has brought to us and what we can look forward to.
In a football and tactical sense, he has revolutionised us and propelled us into the 21st century at long last. Smart technical footballers are key and every single player must be comfortable taking the ball in tight situations and playing short passes.
Rangers sides have been renowned for a long while of being direct, 4-4-2 sides, albeit made even more defensive over recent years in a rigid 4-5-1 with long balls played to a big target men and players being played out of position on a regular basis.
What Mark Warburton has done is implement a fluid 4-3-3 which demands the two wing backs push high up to create overloads and overlap opportunities and allows the wide men to cut inside to create problems. The false nine drops further back to drag the opposition about and with a number 10 of the quality of Jason Holt always buzzing about looking to create key chances.
Whilst we still have our defensive issues, it is night and day compared to the start of the season when St Johnstone ran riot. Since that defeat, there have been tactical changes whereby when one of our full backs bomb forward, the other usually stays further back - making it a 3 at the back - and allows for far greater protection and cover. We were also caught out a few times early in the season by simple balls being launched in behind and their striker being able to run on to a one on one opportunity.
Warburton countered this by having our high defensive line dropped to a more natural starting point. if there was any criticism of Warburton before he joined the club and in the early days after he did, it was people saying that he is not flexible enough and is tactically naive. However, those two points show he understands the limitations of this current side and how best to counter this limitation whilst sticking to his trusted 4-3-3 and style of entertaining football.
If we take a look at the recent Old Firm game, which was a stunning display - we ended the game with 9 shots to Celtic 33 and 3 shots on target to Celtic 10. However, we also boasted an incredible 63% ball possession - reviewing the game Celtic were definitely the more desperate team and often chose to take wild shots from outside the box but the absence of Harry Forrester and Martyn Waghorn were pivotal reasons we lacked a great threat going forward at times.
It's not to say we didn't go forward with the ball, we did time and again but often went for the safe option and it is statistically proven that both Forrester and Waghorn are the Rangers players who take the most shots per 90 minutes. The Rangers board will need to support Mark Warburton in player recruitment in both identifying players that can improve the quality but also boost player depth, which was worrying.
On a more positive note, Dominic Ball has made the holding midfield role his own, and he backed that up with an outstanding display in the Old Firm game, where he stood up and countered the challenge of two established international footballers. An anchor man is exactly what we need in this system - Andy Halliday has earned differing reviews - against Celtic he was outstanding further forward and proved a lot of doubters wrong, but I think all parties will admit the holding role is not his preferred role.
Whether it is Dominic Ball, Matt Crooks or another signing, the defensive midfield role is certainly one area we need to earmark for improvement going forward. After that I would be looking at a fast and solid centre back - it may be harsh on Danny Wilson, who I feel can be a solid defender when he concentrates fully but if we have a fast centre back coming in, we could afford to play a higher defensive line.
What does a defensive line have to do with anything? We see this constantly with the best sides in world football. If they wish to play possession orientated football in a 4-3-3 system, they will often have a high line and press aggressively - this limits the time the opposition have the ball and tightens the space they have to play in leading to a far greater number of mistakes made or long balls played.
This is high risk football and requires full concentration and 100% trust in what the manager demands. As Mo Johnston mentioned at half time of the Old Firm game: "I think I'm watching Barcelona." It isn't a coincidence fellow bloggers and supporters alike have said the exact same thing.
However, I would conclude that this current squad, as impressive as it has been, is limited in areas to be able to implement certain features of the 4-3-3 possession-based style that I believe Mark Warburton will want to put into practice but by bringing in a few key players in key player roles. An evolution of his brand of football helped by some new additions could see us move on to the next level tactically.
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