A CONSTANT thread in Rangers’ 2021/22 campaign was tactical variation.

In pre-season, Steven Gerrard conceded that if his team were to evolve, they had to diversify their tactical portfolio.

“I have to have the variety because some teams and some managers will try and stop this system. They’ve seen it for some years now,” he told RangersTV.

Arguably, that progress never arrived and prior to Gerrard’s appointment as Aston Villa manager in November 2021, it was easier to argue that his Rangers team had instead regressed.

Fast-forward 10 months from Gerrard’s initial admission and Giovanni van Bronckhorst led the same squad to the Europa League Final, with the Dutchman widely praised throughout the knock-out run for his in-game tactical tweaking and general flexibility.

The Scottish Premiership trophy returned to Parkhead as the manager learned some lessons the domestic hard way. At times, his starting 11 lacked goalscorers and without the team overperforming their underlying numbers as they had done previously, crucial points were lost.

However, he did make some successful tweaks and changes to the team that proved beneficial in league and cup competitions.

And, using data from our partners at StatsBomb, we can learn more about their respective formations.

Using the average location of the 11 positions that featured most heavily under both managers in the Scottish Premiership last season demonstrates similarities and differences.

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Notice how dense Gerrard’s set-up looks, with the entirety of his midfield and front three stationed within the width of the goalposts.

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The full-backs provide the width but just as Gerrard predicted, opposition managers started to “spot this system” by flooding the middle, surrendering wide areas and defending crosses. Without some of the tempo and dynamism enjoyed during his title-winning campaign, Gerrard's team struggled to retain their relentless edge.

In comparison, van Bronckhorst has moved the left and right-sided No.10s wider since arriving in November, stationing Ryan Kent, in particular, wider to maximise his one-v-one battles. The left-back role has enjoyed slightly less attacking freedom than James Tavernier, at times tucking infield to form a back three, and the midfield has become more compact.

This latter point may be somewhat of a surprise, given the classic ‘high and wide’ 4-3-3 van Bronckhorst favoured after arriving late last year, when Joe Aribo and Scott Arfield played as free No.8s, granted attacking freedom that saw both score goals when running beyond the striker.

This is reflected in the average location map taken from the Dutchman's first month in the job.

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However, a 3-0 Old Firm humiliation resulted in a new midfield template being established and as reflected in the season-wide map, van Bronckhorst’s midfield was far less attack-minded and more compact as a whole come May.

The Rangers manager’s preferred domestic style is hard to categorise without a larger sample size and although he has addressed a variation problem Gerrard identified last summer, his favoured system following pre-season must provide the goals necessary to regain the Scottish Premiership title.