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Rangers: The Party Crashers

 

Rangers look set to win their first top-flight league title in 10 years, with the Gers unbeaten and having dropped just six points with 14 games remaining. Ahead of their meeting with Ross County on Saturday, we look at some of the reasons behind their success in 2020-21.

By: Matt Furniss

Following another Celtic slip up in midweek, Rangers find themselves with an astonishing 20-point lead in the Scottish Premiership with just over a third of the season remaining. Granted, their Glasgow rivals have two games in hand, but it would take a monumental collapse to prevent Steven Gerrard’s side from picking up their first top-flight title in a decade.

Should Rangers hold off Celtic, then it will end a period of dominance for the Bhoys in the Scottish top-flight. Neil Lennon’s side have won nine consecutive league titles in Scotland and were hoping to break the all-time record with a 10th in succession this season, but their city rivals, desperate to stop them, had other ideas.

 

 

The Gers have dropped just six points from their 24 league games so far in 2020-21, with three away draws including a 1-1 at Motherwell in their last match. They are only 14 games away from an unbeaten league season, which would see them become just the fourth team in Scottish top-flight league history to do so. The only team to do this in the modern era were Celtic in 2016-17, as they stormed to the title by dropping just eight points all season.

 

 

Gerrard took over at Rangers in the summer of 2018, after they endured successive seasons in third place. His first two seasons saw them improve and end as runners up behind Celtic, but 2020-21 has seen the Gerrard project really come to fruition.

 

Looking at top-level goal and shot data, it’s evident that Rangers have not only improved season-on-season in attack, but they have eventually become the tightest defensive side in Scottish football over the three years.

Overall within the top 30 ranked European leagues, Rangers are the side with the tightest defence, conceding just seven times in 24 games at a rate of 0.29 a game.

This has been the result of a well instructed defensive unit that have allowed opposition teams a league-low 0.54 xG per game and only 41 shots on target in 24 matches.

 

*Data correct as of January 21st 2021

One of those defenders has really impressed in 2020-21, but more for his attacking output. Amazingly, Rangers right back James Tavernier has scored 11 goals and assisted eight more – both joint-league highs for the competition this season, although the goal tally has been padded slightly with six goals from the penalty spot.

One difference for Rangers this season has been the spread of goals in the side. 17 players have scored a competitive goal for the club in 2020-21, with seven of those netting at least five times. In each of the last three campaigns, Rangers have seemed overly reliant on the goals of star striker Alfredo Morelos. The Colombian comes with a questionable temperament having picked up a combined seven red cards in 2018-19 and 2019-20. He joined Rangers in June 2017 and has since scored 87 goals in 166 competitive games for the club.

 

 

In each of the last two seasons, Morelos has scored 26.1% of Rangers’ goals in all competitions and looked close to leaving for Ligue 1 side Lille in the summer. However, he remained in Glasgow and Gerrard was also able to add to his attacking roster with the arrivals of Cedric Itten and Kemar Roofe.

Roofe has particularly been impressive in his short time at Rangers, with 12 goals in 21 appearances that includes 10 in the Premiership. The former Leeds United and Anderlecht striker has the best minutes per goal ratio (103) and shot conversion rate (30.3%) of the 10 players with more than five goals in the competition in 2020-21, but this comes as no surprise with him finding the best positions to score.

 

 

He has averaged an open play xG/90 of 0.68, which is higher than any Premiership player this season and has outperformed his xG by two goals. The teammate to create the most chances for Roofe this season in the league is Ryan Kent (6).

Kent has been linked to a move to Premier League side Leeds United and a call up to the senior England squad and has been one of the biggest reasons for Rangers’ brilliant season so far.

When asked about how important he was to his side earlier this season, Gerrard told the press:

“He’s aggressive as a winger, which is rare. I’m a huge fan of Ryan Kent. He can go again, for sure, and it’s imperative that we keep him at this football club if we stay true to what we all want, which is success.”

 

 

Kent’s attacking metrics certain display his aggressive wing play, with the 24-year-old topping various categories. His top-level numbers of five goals and six assists in 24 games and averaging a goal involvement every 173 minutes on average might not be record-breaking, but his underlying numbers show how much of a threat he is to opposition defences – in particular, his ability to run with the ball at his feet.

 

 

Looking at ball carries; a metric that looks at players to run at least five metres with the ball in a move, Kent is a standout in the Scottish Premiership.

41 of his 400 ball carries have ended in a Rangers shot, with 25 of those attempted by himself and 16 attempted by a teammate – 13 more than any other player in the league and the only player to have been involved in as many goals as Kent following a carry is Hibernian’s Martin Boyle (5).

With the attacking talent on display in Rangers’ side this season coupled with the best defensive record in Europe, there seems to be nothing that can stop them from securing their first top-flight title since 2010-11. After Celtic’s domination of the 2010s, with Gerrard at the helm it looks like it could be Rangers who will dominate Scottish football in this decade, if they can keep their highly rated players and manager that is.

 


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