“It had to do with structure, organisation,” Philippe Clement reasoned at yesterday’s press conference, discussing why Rangers looked so vulnerable to counterattacks during a 3-2 defeat against Ross County last Sunday.

“It had to do with so much will to attack and make a difference that we forget to do our basics. We talked about that. We didn’t do our basics anymore. We didn’t show our structure, which has been our strong point all season.”

When Rangers came back from the winter break, they did so with not only a solid back four - the whole team looked defensively sound.

In the six games immediately following the restart they averaged 0.49xG conceded per 90, comfortably the best numbers in the division. Allowing just two goals across six games and conceding just 10 shots on target.

The following six games, bookended by a 5-0 win over Hearts and Sunday’s loss, has seen such solidity slip to an unrecognisable stance. Rangers’ xG conceded during that timeframe stands at 1.06 per 90, the fourth-best in the division. Instead of 10 shots on target, they’ve conceded 10 goals during that period and lost their place in the title race driving seat ahead of tonight’s trip to Dundee.

Of course, the latter fixtures included an Old Firm game and a trip to Rugby Park. However, it’s been a home game against Motherwell and visit to the Highlands that have spelled defeat. At the weekend, Clement’s side conceded their highest xG tally domestically in six seasons.

Don Cowie’s side exploited weaknesses that have been present even when results have remained consistent since late February - Clement’s men are proving extremely vulnerable to counterattacks.

During the first six games after the winter break period outlined above, Rangers were conceding 0.5 counterattacking shots per 90, slightly better than their 0.75 per 90 season average which is the second-best in the league. During the following six games, Rangers have conceded two counterattacking shots per 90 - the worst total in the league.

READ MORE: Alarming 'worst in 6 seasons' trend that shows Rangers deserved Ross County loss

County routinely broke up the pitch and made more penalty box entries on the day than Rangers (25 to 23).

One of the predominant reasons for the Ibrox side’s strong defence after the winter break was their rest defence - the defensive structure in possession to prevent counterattacks, retain pressure and stop the opposition from breaking out of their half.

“We’ve tried to cut out transitions a lot and there has been a big focus on that,” John Souttar explained recently.

“The manager [wants] the whole team working hard as a unit out of possession and when we are in possession thinking defensively. That comes back to the clarity he gives the whole team, what he wants defensively when we are on the ball and off the ball.”

“Now the gaffer bangs on about when we are attacking our organisation behind the ball. I think we are so much less prone to counterattacks,” was how Connor Goldson answered a similar question weeks earlier.

“Making sure we get wave after wave, we're limiting counterattacks and I think that was our problem before, we were conceding too many chances on the break.”

It’s telling that when either centre-back was quizzed on their clean sheet record at the start of the year they used phrases like “attacking structure”, “thinking defensively” on the ball and being “much less prone to counterattacks” as a result. That’s at the root of what is going wrong. Changes to the way Rangers attack, enforced by injury and availability, are subsequently changing how they complete all these highlighted actions.

Ross McCausland, Oscar Cortes and Ridvan Yilmaz haven’t started together since that 5-0 win over Hearts due to injury. That’s led to plenty of round pegs in square holes, rotation and a weaker defensive structure as a result. Having survived for months upon limited options that seemed to catch up with the Belgian manager in Dingwall.

As the Rangers Review discussed following a recent 3-1 win over Hibs, on a day where Rangers conceded plenty of first-half transitions that were ultimately unpunished, the dynamics out wide have severely hampered the team’s structure. Fabio Silva is not a natural wide midfielder and Borna Barisic is not a full-back comfortable moving inside the pitch. 

READ MORE:  The Rangers defensive weakness against Hibs that returning attackers will solve

If Clement were to have a full complement of players his structure on the ball in the opposition's final third would look something like this - with one full-back always playing narrow to guard the centre and wingers stretching the defence.

Without Ridvan on the left and given Silva wants to move infield, the rotation on that side has flipped. Meanwhile, on the right, James Tavernier has been forced to provide far more width in recent weeks without a natural winger ahead of him.

When Rangers' full-backs have provided width in the final third at the wrong time, they've been punished. Because their lack of central coverage means if the ball is lost in a vulnerable area, there's plenty of space for opponents to attack.

Cowie’s side flooded the middle and surrendered some control out wide as a result. The home side’s pass network shows all eight midfielders and attackers positioned within the width of the 18-yard box.

This came to light, in particular, for George Harmon’s strike to make the game 2-1. The goal came less than a minute after Rangers had taken an attacking corner themselves and, as Tavernier subsequently attempted to apply pressure and provide a deep delivery the hosts could break.

As the ball falls to Yan Dhanda at the edge of the box the visitors make their crucial mistake. Nobody is on hand to win the second ball, counterpress and retain pressure. From this moment, Rangers are playing a game catch-up they'll never recover.

One of John Lundstram, arriving from out of picture, or Barisic needs to protect the centre but both are a yard off and chase the ball. Given Fabio Silva fails to support their efforts and Todd Cantwell hasn't latched onto Dhanda, County have a three-vs-two that allows them to play out.

This is what Clement describes, an overeagerness to press in the wrong moments leading to a loss of structure.

Having been too slow to apply pressure in the first instance, one of Lundstram and Barisic needs to drop off here, or Silva must support their efforts, instead of chasing a lost cause.

Instead, this happen. Harmon runs ahead of the ball and Barisic chooses to press the ball carrier. Giving the County No.16 a massive headstart on Lundstram that the Rangers No.4 will never recover.

As Lundstram tracks Harmon, Dhanda is free to receive in the centre where Cantwell should react quicker to stop the move at source. Barisic is far too slow to close down the initial pass.

Now in the centre, Dhanda can pick out the left side. Tavernier, who’s taken a corner and crossed moments ago, is out of position and needs better cover. Either by Connor Goldson taking Simon Murray out wide or Dowell dropping back quicker. Rangers still have a five-vs-four but as Clement would later suggest, their communication lets them down.

Goldson moves to shut down Murray but it's far too late and the County forward can test Jack Butland with a shot before Tavernier or the centre-back can stop him. At the back post, Harmon gets a step on Lundstram who is watching the ball.

It was not dissimilar from the counterattack Rangers conceded leading to a Hibs equaliser a couple of weeks before. When, again, the impact of Rangers’ attacking balance, failure to read the right moment to attack and abandoning of structure led them to lose the ball in this situation.

With Lundstram again in the left-back slot covering over a huge distance, before Rangers failed to deal with the situation despite their overload.

While Clement's were particularly bad at defending counterattacks in the Highlands this weekend, it was not a new problem.

Only the return of their attacking balance and structure off the ball in possession will solve an issue that's cost them valuable ground in the title race.