“It would take me 15/20 years to become as good as Michael Beale as an on-pitch coach, delivering sessions on a daily basis. So I let Mick be Mick Beale, because he’s the expert.”

Steven Gerrard’s assessment of the talent his first-team coach possesses and the value he places on his opinion tells of how highly he is regarded. It also indicates the overarching influence Beale is handed in plotting the road-map this Rangers team journey on.

Beale, 40, has garnered quite the reputation since he arrived at Ibrox three years ago. Masterminding impressive European feats and coaching Rangers into a team who are as dogged, disciplined and determined as they are creative, fluid and entertaining.

Earlier this summer he took part in a Coaches Voice webinar in which he analysed and explained in great detail the tactical philosophy and systems implemented at Rangers.

He delved into the methodology, buzzwords and beliefs that he carries into training each day and explained the tactical trends Rangers mirror from around the world. Emphasising that looking elsewhere is always to learn and never compare.

He detailed the identity of this side with and without the ball and explained the tactical decisions that have brought such success to Ibrox.

Straight from the horse's mouth so to speak, the Rangers Review dissect and explain how Michael Beale has helped morph this side into champions.

What is the vision?

Beale explains that his footballing vision is heavily influenced by two key areas. Firstly, the fundamental lessons he’s learned from spells with Liverpool, Sao Paulo and Chelsea. Secondly, the 12 years he spent in youth development, which he attributes as the foundation for much of his performance philosophy.

A development coaching role, as opposed to the performance role he is now in, does what it says on the tin. The focus is on a player’s evolution as opposed to performance, which is a results-driven industry.

The 40-year-old wants to play high-energy and attacking football that is exciting to participate in, which will lend itself in turn to being an equally entertaining model for supporters to watch.

He makes the point that even if you employ the best coaches with the best ideas, they must still be attuned to and aware of the context and environment they inherit.

“You arrive at a club with a history and you arrive in a moment. Unless you’re very fortunate, you’re likely to arrive at a club who’s not being doing so well.”

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Continuing, he describes the four pillars that underpin every one of his training sessions, and each tweak and decision he and the coaching staff make: Own the pitch, own the ball, ‘win’ in both penalty boxes and possess a desirable mentality and character.

Out of possession: 'Own the pitch'

“If you’re more organised you’ll run less, you’ll play with less stress and be ready to attack,” Beale tells of the way he structures Rangers' defensive shape and press.

In the last decade or so, pressing has come to dominate football tactics, but in that time it has also evolved. Jurgen Klopp’s current Liverpool side is a far more developed and structured pressing entity than the relentless ‘heavy metal' high-pressing football played by his Borussia Dortmund side.

Pressing does not necessarily equate to running yourself into the ground, but instead to run with more intention and purpose. To play, in Beale's words, with "less stress".

Broadly, pressing it is an attempt to manipulate the opposition into traps around the pitch where the ball can be won back in an easier fashion or more advantageous area.

For example, it’s easier to press a player when he receives with his back to play and therefore has limited options. Or box a full-back in when he receives the ball out wide, given he only has three passing lanes instead of four, with the touchline acting like an extra defender.

Counterpressing deviates slightly from this. Often it is more of an attacking tactic, an attempt to win the ball while the opposition is transitioning into attack and thus leaving space that would not be available otherwise. But it is also an attempt to regain possession quickly so your team does not need to chase the ball. Beale brands this as a game of “cat and mouse,” more on that later.

The Athletic released a ground-breaking piece of work last season that revealed, apart from Aston Villa, every Premier League side was pressing with less intensity.

They reason this was likely due to the pandemic, football being played behind closed doors and a shorter pre-season. However, it is also likely that teams are seeking to deploy a more pragmatic and sustainable mid-block, similar to that which Rangers deploy. Which allows less energy excursion in the defensive phase and more in the attacking. As Beale explains if you're "more organised you'll run less".

‘Owning the pitch’ may resonate as more of an in-possession phrase than out of possession. But it speaks to the intentional and structured way that Rangers manipulate and protect space when the opposition has the ball. According to Beale, they're always defending with a vision of how they want to attack.

The immediate and stark tactical change that was implemented by Beale and co. soon after their arrival was demonstrated in how Rangers played without the ball. Particularly in Europe, they normally play a narrow and highly structured 4-3-3 mid-block

Playing in a mid-block has many advantages. It concedes possession to the opposition in areas that aren’t immediately dangerous and protects the most vulnerable aspect of the pitch, the centre.

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Beale explains: “It makes sense to block the middle of the pitch because your goal is in the middle, it makes sense to keep the play in front and outside of you and then to press from in to out.”

Here is an example taken from a StatsBomb module that specifies the low risk associated with allowing teams possession in these wide attacking areas. This is shown by the percentage of crosses that lead to goals. Beale explains using his own examples that by showing teams around and in front, and keeping them higher up the pitch, teams cross and attack from less dangerous areas.

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He also discloses details regarding the depth of Rangers’ defensive line, emphasising he wants his backline to play as high as they can.

As seen in the above screengrab from a 1-0 win over Braga, Rangers are protecting a lead. But their higher defensive line is keeping the opposition away from dangerous areas.

Beale references the space behind the defence as the “red zone”. While it is always tempting for a team defending to sit deeper, this can put unnecessary demands on a team.

Firstly, it permits the opposition to begin their attacking phase closer to the goal and means they don’t have to earn these yards. Allowing the opposition to play closer to your goal also means they will pose more of a goal threat than if they were deeper in the field.

Crucially, playing in what he calls the “mid-zone” means that Rangers are often in the best possible position to attack from the middle of the pitch when possession turns over while keeping their opponents in a less threatening position than if their line was deeper.

The coach explains that the depth of Rangers' defensive line supports their transition as they don’t have to carry the ball up the entire pitch, and the opposing defence is high enough to leave gaps as they themselves have lost the ball in the attacking phase. It’s the sweet spot.

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It allows attackers to remain in what Beale brands “interesting areas” to play a game of “cat and mouse”. Rangers often gamble that the benefit of keeping two or three players in attacking areas outweighs the risk of being overloaded in defence. It’s evident that whenever Beale speaks about defence, the prospect of attack is influencing him.

He explains how in Europe Rangers manage to maintain an offensive threat by overloading the ball side, blocking passing lanes and employing this element of risk.

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In this diagram, numbers 3 and 11 are in Beale’s words “not in the game” due to the way Rangers are set up defensively. The only way they can get involved is through a switch of play, which will also allow Rangers the time to shuttle over and enact the same scenario. This equation means it is feasible to leave 9 and 7 high while 11 shuttles over to block the pass into the centre, but still remain high up the pitch, and the left central midfielder (10) pressurises the ball.

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By keeping their forwards high and central, Rangers’ best mode of defence is suited to their attack.

In possession: 'Own the ball’

Beale defines the intention behind all possessional situations, whether that be spells of possession, counterattacks or turnovers, as discovering where the space is to base a team’s attack.

This space can be exploited by either going around, through or over opponents.

He feels a coach must offensively be: “obsessed with overloading and upsetting this defensive line.”

He continues: “In my early days as a coach I was very caught up with playing out from the back and playing through. That’s important but the final outcome is ‘how much disruption are you creating in that backline?’”

While Rangers under Beale and Gerrard have always been a reflection of the proponents exemplified above, the evolution to become a team who are “obsessed with upsetting the defensive line” has increasingly been apparent throughout the tenure.

By his own admission, Beale knows the final outcome is not performance but results. Not how many times you can play through an opposing team, but how many times you can make a meaningful offensive impact. And this is achieved through flexibility, needed in his words “due to the amount of analysis staff the other clubs will have in terms of watching your team.”

This flexibility has evolved considerably since 2018/19. Beale alludes to the ability of his full-backs to both go high, or stay deep and supplement build-up play. The capacity of Steven Davis to drop between the centre-backs to progress play or Glen Kamara to rotate into the space vacated by a forward Tavernier run. Alfredo Morelos’ capability to drop deep and create overloads or carry his team up the pitch through a progressive run, or the freedom granted to Ryan Kent.

The system Rangers play has massively evolved from the wide 4-3-3 played against Aberdeen on the opening day of 18/19. This flexibility means sides must account for a number of different threats when setting up to face the Ibrox side.

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Beale also speaks at length about the importance of width when attacking. While the offside rule allows the opposition to “dictate the length of the pitch”, it’s “very important” that they can never change the width. In other words, it is vital to maximise the space your team can play in to make the space the opposition must defend greater.

This idea is an evolution of two of the tenants of football. Johan Cruyff always wanted his teams to make the pitch as big as possible when in possession and small as possible when defending. Thus giving the opposition less room to manoeuvre and giving his team more.

Arrigo Sacchi, who won back to back European cups with his great AC Milan side in 1989 and 1990, was also a notable advocate of stretching and restricting space in and out of possession and a student of Cruyff. Defensively, his side’s attack and defence played within 25 metres in a compact block.

Often employing a starkly advanced line, to protect the goal by keeping the opposition high and away from dangerous areas. “The football I wanted was active also in the defensive phase,” he later wrote. His defensive set-up was influenced and conditioned by how he wanted his side to attack.

And Beale's vision of positional play also derives from the Dutch 'Total Football' model created by Cruyff and Rinus Michels. It stipulates that players should have the fluidity and intelligence to move in and out of different zones. So that all areas of the pitch are always occupied and teams can be fluid in attack. This is why often in modern football training pitches are divided into zones, so that players can learn where they should move in-game.

“Utopia for me is finding a group of players that have freedom to rotate in the final third,” he states reaffirming his belief in how a team should be set up. He goes on to add that if you’re occupying key areas of the pitch it doesn’t matter what formation you’re playing -something that is shown by the positional flexibility Rangers display in domestic football.

The perfect blend

What Beale appears to resemble is the perfect model of tactical guru and personable coach. He ends by talking about the importance of playing relationships that will flourish when needed on the pitch.

“Are we playing together or just at the same time” is another rhetorical question posed in the presentation by Beale. Emphasising that his role at Rangers is not to teach players how to play necessarily, but to teach them how to play football together with a shared vision and understanding.

His influence on this group of players only becomes more revealing through listening to his ideas and principles.

It's clear to see why he is branded by his manager as an "expert" and why he is so fundamental to the success that has been enjoyed at Ibrox.