IBROX -- Premiership side Dundee were Rangers' opponents in the Scottish Cup sixth-round tie, as both sides went into the game in confident mood. Rangers had opened up a 14-point gap at the top of the Championship, and Dundee had held Celtic to a 0-0 mid-week draw, despite fielding a weakened team. Dundee promised to be a step-up in class for Rangers, but a tactically naive performance ceded space for Rangers in all the right areas; the only thing left was for Rangers to take advantage of it.
Dundee lined-up in a 4-2-3-1, with former Ranger Kane Hemmings leading the line. The potent attacking-three of Loy, Stewart and Harkins played in behind, with McGowan and Ross providing a solid midfield base. McGinn, O'Dea, Konrad and Holt made up the back-four, with Bain playing in goal.
Ostensibly, Rangers played their usual 4-3-3, but with certain player-roles creating a 4-2-1-3. A back-four of Tavernier, Wilson, Kiernan and Wallace played in front of 'keeper Foderingham. Ball came into the defensive midfield role with Halliday playing alongside; Holt made up the midfield three. McKay, Miller and Forrester led the line.
Rangers started aggressively, with a four-man press yielding early rewards. Wide-men Forrester and McKay pressed high, with Holt joining Miller in a central area to force Dundee into a mistake. Sloppy control from the full-back allowed Forrester to steal the ball within 10 seconds, before taking on his defender and unleashing a powerful near-post strike past the helpless 'keeper.
What was clear from the off, was that Dundee were more interested in attacking than defending. Loy, Hemmings, Stewart and the central Harkins were fairly aggressive, creating a 4-2-1-3 in attack. Loy was always worried about Tavernier and was forced to sit a little deeper, but Stewart on the right-wing played very high and narrow, looking to link-up with Hemmings.
This positive approach from Dundee could have caused problems, but Halliday and Ball created a solid defensive midfield block, cutting out forward passes; Wilson and Kiernan were quick to sweep-up if any balls did get through. The proactive defensive tactic was very successful, resulting in the ball being won back early.
Dundee couldn't get the ball for the first 30 minutes. The aggressive front-three were never quick enough to track back. Both Forrester and McKay held wide positions, stretching the back-four. This created space in the channels for both Tavernier and Wallace; which both exploited with clever, penetrative under-laps.
Rangers dominated possession by overloading the midfield. With the Dundee front-three (and Harkins) slow to track back, the defensive duty fell to the two defensive midfielders. However, they were never sure who they were marking. Halliday and Ball played deeper, making the Dundee midfielders come to them. When they didn't, Halliday and Ball had free reign to pass forward, with Halliday in particular playing several perfectly-weighted through balls for McKay. When the Dundee midfield did press, they left space for Miller and Holt.
Miller and Holt were always elusive, drifting into any free space. Miller looked to be playing a false-9 role, as he never played up-top as a focal point, but instead drifted about in the hole and both channels. With both playing in the half-spaces, Rangers were able to move the ball smoothly through the midfield.
Rangers easily had a 4v2/3 overload in central areas (with Halliday, Ball, Holt and Miller created a makeshift square), but through clever movement were also able to overload both flanks -- wherever the ball was. Especially on the left flank, Miller and Holt drifted wide to team up with Wallace and McKay; Halliday supported, creating a 5v3 at times, which allowed easy possession and plenty of opportunities to penetrate the Dundee back-four.
Stewart's clever positioning as an inside-forward caused a few problems. Wallace was alert to Stewart's threat, and covered pre-emptively, almost becoming a left central midfielder at times. As much as Stewart's shooting ability was a threat, it was covered easily enough. The real danger was the space left on the left-flank for the right-back McGinn to exploit. A few times McGinn had a free run, delivering a few decent crosses.
Dundee eventually managed to play around the Rangers press, which allowed them to come into the game towards the end of the first-half. The wide-men (Forrester and McKay) dropped deeper, which meant Miller and Holt's press was easy to play around -- all four, with Halliday and Ball in behind, needed to press together to make it successful as it was at the start of the game. It was at this stage that Dundee managed to get a foothold in the game, but good defending from Kiernan and Wilson meant they were never able to take advantage.
Rangers were imperious during the first 20 minutes of the second-half, adding another two goals. Nothing really changed tactically, but the Rangers players were more confident that the space was there. The link-up and interchange between Miller, Holt and McKay was sublime at times.
One small change was that both wingers swapped sides, so they become inverted wingers. Instead of taking their full-backs on the outside, both looked to cut inside. This helped McKay in particular as he was constantly thwarted on the outside during the first-half, but was a real threat in the second-half when he could be a little more unpredictable. Forrester was perhaps less effective as an inverted winger on his own, but his positioning allowed space for Wallace on the outside which worked for the team as a whole; their link-up was almost telepathic, with back-heels and flicked through-balls generally finding each other.
Three changes were made in quick succession by Warburton, with Shiels, Law and Clark coming on for McKay, Forrester and Holt. The game was won, but the Rangers performance suffered from the changes through a lack of width. The game reverted to a end-to-end game, with player taking on player. The earlier success had come through clever inter-play, rather than one-on-one's. (Despite this, Wallace scored a nice fourth goal by taking on his man.) A good defensive display at this state -- Kiernan in particular made a few blocks -- allowed Rangers to see the game out 4-0.
Dundee were supposed to be a real step up in class, but a tactically naive approach ceded the centre of the pitch. Despite having a tactical advantage, Rangers still had to go out and do the job, which they did in sublime form. A tactical overload in central areas, allowed Rangers to dominate possession, and the movement and interplay from the forwards left Dundee chasing shadows. A strong performance from every player on the pitch has done much to erase those lingering doubts as to Rangers' ability to perform against top-flight opposition. If we play like this, there's really not much to fear.
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