How James Tavernier became Rangers’ most important player

How James Tavernier became Rangers’ most important player

By Niall Murray

Rangers might have just made their best signing of the season. James Tavernier agreeing to stay at Ibrox until 2021 is great news for everyone involved with the club.


The Englishman announced his arrival at Ibrox with a thunderbolt free-kick against Hibs. This was a sign of things to come as Tavernier isn’t your average right-back. Sure he’s been suspect defensively at times, but going forward he’s always been electric.


However, he’s not just an attacking full-back; he’s now so much more. Tavernier has become a key cog in Murty’s side and has played a big part in any on-field success Rangers have had this season.


We delved into the numbers to find out more about the impact he has on this Rangers team.


Just how important is he?


We aren’t being over the top here. The importance Tavernier has on this Rangers side is hugely significant. This is not only in terms of his own contribution, but how it allows others around him to perform to their best.


Case and point: would Daniel Candeias be having such a good season if it weren’t for his partnership on the right flank with Tavernier? The answer is no.


But let’s talk about what the right-back brings to his team. On the face of it, he’s a decent defender which a penchant for playing in the opposition’s half. In reality, it’s so much more. You only have to look at the attacking stats of Celtic and Aberdeen’s favoured right-backs to get a true taste of what Tavernier brings to Graham Murty’s side.


The graph above makes for fascinating reading. The Rangers full-back’s attacking stats dwarf those of Celtic’s Mikael Lustig and Aberdeen’s Shay Logan. Before continuing it might be worth highlighting that yes, both Logan and Lustig aren’t having memorable seasons, but Tavernier’s numbers are impressive regardless.


On average, the Englishman produces 0.46 goals and/or assists per 90 minutes. That would be a decent number for a striker or attacking midfielder never mind a defender. Unsurprisingly, both Logan (0.08) and Lustig (0.05) pale in comparison.


However, it’s not just goals and assists that the Rangers man tops the chart on. He also chips in with a huge amount of key passes. These are passes that lead to a shot being made on goal.


Tavernier (0.49) comes out on top by quite a margin once again. Lustig averages 0.21 key passes per game whereas Logan only produces a measly 0.04. The Rangers defender is in the top ten in the Premiership for key passes per 90 minutes. Furthermore, and perhaps even more impressive, he has the third highest number of total key passes in the league (13).


Simply put, Rangers have a right back who is their third top goalscorer and second top assist-maker.



Conversely, whilst Tavernier’s attacking prowess is obviously a huge plus for Murty’s Rangers, it also highlights that they lack playmakers in a central area. If you take away the right-back, Candeias, Josh Windass and Alfredo Morelos then you’re looking at a Rangers team with very little attacking potency.


Sure, take key players out of any team and it would be the same. However, other teams in the league appear to have midfielders in a central area chipping with goals, assists and key passes. For example, Celtic have the likes of Olivier Ntcham, Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong. Similarly, Kilmarnock’s Youssouf Mulumbu and Gary Dicker play a key part in their side’s attacking play.


That said, Greg Docherty has all the potential to fill this role once he’s had a run of games at Rangers. Similarly, we don’t know if Graham Dorrans could have been the playmaking central midfielder Rangers need due to his injury.


All that aside, it just further drives home the point that Tavernier is the crown jewel in this Rangers team. They essentially have an attacking right-back who has stood up and made himself a key playmaker within the team.


James Tavernier vs. James Tavernier


Another effective way to look at Tavernier’s improvement is to compare him to last season. The Englishman previously struggled to manage his defensive duties with his natural attacking inclinations. And while nobody will claim he’s the best defender, there’s a very strong case to say he is the best right-back in the league.


In essence, what the charts above show is that Tavernier has been able to produce remarkable attacking stats this season without sacrificing the defensive side of things.


He plays nearly double the key passes per 90 minutes (0.49) this season than he did last time (0.27). His goals and assists per game have more than doubled, from 0.19 in 2016/17 to 0.46. This a ridiculously good improvement and it’s been highly visible on the pitch.


Along with this he now completes more interceptions for Rangers on a game-to-game basis. His total number of interceptions (151) is the highest of any Rangers player this season by a distance. And given his increased attacking contribution it speaks volumes that he’s still able to break up play and win the ball back all over the pitch.


In addition to this, Tavernier’s average number of defensive duels per game is only slightly down from last campaign. Meaning his improvement in the opposition’s half is not a result of him neglecting his defensive duties.


It was no surprise to see Tavernier wearing the captain’s armband against Ayr United last weekend. This is a player that Rangers and the manager can wholly rely on and who drives them forward when they need it most.

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