Philippe Clement’s last game as manager of Club Brugge was a 2-0 derby defeat against Cercle Brugge on Boxing Day 2021. Man of the match on that day? A certain Rabbi Matondo.

“Rabbi dominated, he destroyed Club Brugge on his own,” now-Cercle manager Miron Muslic told the Rangers Review recently in a piece detailing the inside story of Matondo’s standout campaign in the Belgian Pro League.

“For me, in that game, he demonstrated a profile worth £10-15million. It was the moment when we said as a coaching staff, ‘We aren’t going to be able to keep this guy here for long’. He was the best player on the pitch.”

After arriving at Ibrox in the summer of 2022, Matondo has started to show those qualities in the following season during cameo appearances from the bench. An injury sustained in a 1-0 win over Motherwell last month stifled that trajectory, but the Welshman returned to training just before the current international break.

Now working under a manager in Clement who favours wingers and knows his qualities well, how can Matondo take the next step and move from substitute to undisputed starter at Ibrox?

What went wrong last season?

Matondo famously outpaced Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and Leroy Sane at Man City and earned a multi-million-pound move to Schalke as a teenager. According to Muslic, Matondo’s “major weapon is his pace” and he measures up as one of Europe’s fastest attackers.

Bar an impressive season in Belgium, the Welsh international's challenge has been realising his potential and making that pace an effective tool. Muslic believes one of the reasons that Cercle managed to see the best of the 23-year-old, aside from playing a transitional game in a more open league, was the stability Matondo found in Belgium, in contrast to the chaos of constant change at Schalke.

“He needs confidence, he needs to play in an environment where he feels comfortable,” Muslic added.

“He is 23, still a young profile and is ready to perfectly shine. If you can give him confidence and trust at Rangers, he showed in the PSV tie what he can do. With his weapon of pace, it’s a f****** nightmare for centre-backs. If you have Rabbi Matondo with confidence on the pitch, that for me is a Premier League profile.”

Matondo struggled for confidence last season but has played full of it since the summer. While there’s no doubt he’s at his most dangerous when attacking in transition, suggesting his pace or style can’t be effective against a low block is too simple. After all, how many of the world’s best teams play without wingers and pace at present? Not many.

Undeniably, Matondo’s best moments this season have come from the bench in open games, playing from the left-hand side. Last season, operating on the right under Giovani van Bronckhorst in a slow style of play and narrow starting positions under Michael Beale, the winger never appeared totally comfortable in amongst inconsistent minutes, injuries and change in the dugout.

The left is where Matondo appears at his most natural, able to attack his marker in two directions and move onto his strong side when carrying the ball rather than away from it. When playing against a low block on the right-hand side, the Welshman’s options are more limited. It’s too easy for teams to show him down the line, even if he still has the pace to often make those gaps count.

Matondo isn’t a player who looks to pick a pass with his head up or drive inside and shoot with his left foot. Only two of the 26 shots he’s taken in the league at Rangers have come on his weaker side.

Playing from the left, it’s easier for the attacker to combine with teammates or skip beyond opponents playing on his strong foot, retain possession using his body to protect the ball or hit the byline as an alternative. There are simply more options to his game. More dangers for an opponent to consider.

External factors are key for wingers. The difference in the pace or angle on a pass, for example, can decide whether a full-back is in control or playing catch-up during a one-on-one duel. Often wingers are only as good as the service they receive.

Arguably, Matondo has not played in an ideal environment until this season - attacking from wide positions on the left.

Why does the left suit Matondo better?

Matondo’s Dribble and Carry On-Ball Value (OBV is designed to objectively and quantitatively measure the value of each event on the pitch - in short, what is the overall likelihood of a goal being scored/conceded based on Matondo’s dribbling actions) has risen from 0.09 to 0.32 in the league this season. His successful dribbles per 90 are also on the up from 2.34 to 3.36. A tiny 2.1 sample size of 90 minutes limits conclusions but can back up the claim that he's proving more effective on the ball.

Promising cameos off the bench against Ross County, St Johnstone, Livingston and PSV in the Champions League qualifier all came from that side of the pitch.

Muslic explained: “He needs to play in the left half-space because he is perfect at cutting inside. If you can get him receiving on that side with a full-back ready to cover him defensively but then also overlap, he will kill the full-back or centre-back. Rabbi is very agile not only over distance but also in these short one-on-ones over two to three metres because he’s so explosive. He is at his most comfortable cutting inside.”

Although it was Matondo’s goal against PSV that made headlines, his impact from the bench as Rangers protected slender leads earlier this season in the league arguably holds greater relevance to the discussion of moving from substitute to starter. After all, even if Matondo’s end product has been doubted, his impact in open spaces playing with confidence has never truly been in question.

The Welsh forward is more comfortable finding the corners when finishing across his left side. It’s a finish Muslic called the “Thierry Henry” strike working with Matondo at Cercle, finding the far pocket instead of the top corner. However, as will be elaborated upon, the frequency of such shots must be reduced if a starting spot is to be achieved.

Able to chop inside, rely on an overlap to take away his man and attack from wider positions, Matondo is simply far more comfortable from the left flank.

Here, just like on the right-hand side of the pitch, Matondo’s marker has to guard against the threat of the winger attacking via the byline with pace nobody can match domestically. Unlike the right, Matondo can also skip infield into the inside space on his favoured foot, making that initial movement far quicker than any defender can react. There’s more variation to consider and counteract.

Able to receive comfortably on his left as his back foot and spring onto his strong side, when Matondo squares up defenders in these scenarios there’s normally only one winner.

These examples all arrive from the bench in stretched matches. A recent start in the League Cup against Morton shows how Matondo can translate his impact from the bench to the starting 11, and the areas that still require improvement in his game.

How can he become a starter?

Matondo attempted 14 dribbles in the League Cup tie, successful with eight of those attempts. For context, he failed with more dribbles (2.64) than he succeeded in (2.34) last season on average in the Scottish Premiership. Interestingly against Morton, Matondo was successful with six dribbles down the line on his weak side, compared to just two dribbles chopping inside.

READ MORE: Analysing Rabbi Matondo with his ex-coach - 'This a Premier League profile'

But does this not simply mirror Matondo’s issue on the right of being forced wide and going against Muslic’s argument that he's at his best when chopping inside? Not necessarily.

Let’s start with what requires improving.

The first two occasions Matondo received possession against Morton derived from flat passes down the line in deep positions. On both occasions, the winger chose to try and drive inside to areas where Morton had superior numbers and therefore lost the ball.

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The external factors explained above, such as the direction of the pass, runs of teammates and number of opposition bodies around him, didn’t work in the winger’s favour. It’s in these situations where Matondo must also develop a greater sense of poise.

The best wingers don’t attempt 25 dribbles per game, they know when to pass backwards. Far from being negative, this retains the ball at the right moments as dominant teams seek to create openings.

What the best wingers also do is vary their approach to protect their strongest attributes. And after a few failed attempts early on, this was something Matondo demonstrated against Morton.

Here’s an example.

Rangers have moved the ball from right to left, with Morton’s defence stretched. The pace of play allows Matondo a one-on-one opportunity and Johnly Yfeko is playing a diagonal pass, allowing his winger to front up his man. The external factors are much better - this is certainly not a time to play backwards.

 There’s space for Matondo to attack on either side of an isolated Connor Blues. However, cutting inside shortens the distance for other defenders to recover, moves play into a busy area and without any real back-to-goal options, isn’t the best choice. Instead, Matondo correctly opts to hit the line.

Blues’ body position is low and his feet move quickly to mirror Matondo, but over short distances like this, no defender is keeping up, especially when the winger slows and starts the flow of a move to control its pace. A quick move of the shoulders allows Matondo to accelerate while Blues is still side-on, trying to protect against the threat of his marker chopping inside.

 Now, Matondo has the space to pick out a delivery which the goalkeeper spills.

All throughout the game, Matondo had more joy on the outside. But Blues could not overcommit and stop him rampaging down the outside, knowing the risk posed by the winger chopping onto his stronger foot.

The benefit of this variation was two-fold; it offered a better route to goal that Blues could not prevent and increased the likelihood of space appearing for Matondo to chop inside on occasion - aided by the guise of his first-half variation.

This performance acted as a wider case study. Matondo prefers to cut infield but more often than not against set defences, it’s routes around the defence that will prove successful. Pace and direct running are effective and necessary tools against low blocks, but not if said player is constantly moving into traffic.

There’s a myriad of examples of when the winger picks alternative options. Shooting from the below examples when a run down the line would’ve proved wiser.

At the most basic of levels, Matondo must focus more obviously on retention and variation to make the jump from substitute to starter. Limiting shots from low-value locations in favour of accessing better areas closer to goal near the byline. Nine times out of 10, there’s more value in working a crossing situation by the byline than attempting a low-value long-range effort with ample defenders in the way to provide blocks.

Matondo more than has the skills to become a starter for Rangers, especially if playing in his favoured position with a manager who deploys natural width in his midfield.

While wider points about decision-making and final balls also hold relevance, the Morton game demonstrates how Clement can unlock the player who decided his final derby in Belgium.

Matondo has shown his qualities at Ibrox, it’s now time to make them count more consistently.