This week Rangers fans will spend much of their time positively buzzing from behind a…
Rangers were perhaps lucky to leave Spain with a point after their match with Villarreal a couple of weeks back. Sure, Steven Gerrard’s side showed guts to come back twice and ended up with a great result, but it was far from an accomplished performance. The Ibrox side’s backline looked rather suspect and their use of the ball at times was wasteful. That said, the only thing that matters was the final score and they went back to Glasgow with a point. Thursday’s match against Rapid Vienna represents a great opportunity for Rangers to build on that point and put down a real marker in their Europa League group.
Coming off a domestic defeat to Livingston is less than ideal, but Gerrard’s team have an impressive record in Europe this term. In fact, they’re unbeaten. Moreover, their Austrian opponents are having a rather difficult time of it themselves. They’ve won just two of their nine league games and have recently sacked their manager. Dietmar Kuhbauer is now in charge and has been playing down his side’s chances of emerging from Glasgow with a result.
Much of the press in Scotland has focused on Rapid’s apparent meltdown. And although this may be mostly true, it’s imperative that Rangers don’t take their European opponents lightly. They will most likely be a step above the majority of teams in the Premiership. The Light Blues aren’t exactly a consistent outfit yet either so they’ll have to be at their best if they want to pick up a win.
Conversely, Rangers may well be catching the Austrians at the best possible time. Just a brief glance over their stats for the season and their problems are evident. This is a team that seems decent enough at keeping the ball and maintaining possession but have little in the way of attacking potency.
Rapid Vienna have scored just nine goals this season. That’s the joint lowest of any team in the Austrian Bundesliga. That in itself doesn’t make for great reading, but was more concerning is the disparity between that and their expected goals (xG). They have the second highest xG in the league (15.7) which is only below top scorers Red Bull Salzburg (22). What does this tell us? Well, it says that they aren’t a clinical side and are missing a striker that can put good chances in the back of the net.
Although Rangers’ backline wasn’t particularly great in their last Europa League tie, the likes of Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic have shown they are quality defenders. Furthermore, Allan McGregor has been excellent between the sticks. In essence, the Austrian side will have to be far more clinical in front of goal if they want to get a result against Steven Gerrard’s men.
Although the other way to look at this is that Rapid do create opportunities and perhaps have been unlucky in front of goal so far this season. If they were to click in the final third then Rangers could potentially be in trouble given how much possession their opponents seem to enjoy.
Although they sit a lowly eighth in the table Rapid are a team that have the majority of possession in domestic games. This again plays into the idea that they just aren’t using it effectively.
Don’t believe us? Just take a look at the graph above. Rapid enjoy on average a whopping 58.2% possession in the league. That suggests they are dominating games but are just lacking potency in the final third. Admira, who have scored the same number of goals, only average 45.5% which is what you’d expect from a team struggling at the foot of the table.
Basically, Rangers’ opponents are a team who have the potential to be an attacking threat if all the parts click. They have players who can keep the ball and their xG show they are missing a significant amount of goalscoring chances. With that in mind, it’s important that Gerrard’s side keep Rapid’s captain Stefan Schwab quiet. He really is the metronome that keeps his side ticking.
The 28-year-old plays more passes, through balls, long passes and balls into the final third than any of his teammates. If they are able to limit his influence in the game then they should be able to significantly dimish Rapid’s ability to dictate possession and create chances.
It really does seem as if some of their problems this season have been down to luck. They’ve conceded ten goals in the league and whilst that’s not great, four of those have been from outside the box. It’s not like they are poor at set pieces or their defence are constantly being carved open. This is a side who definitely have their problems. However, they dominate possession and their lack of killer instinct seems to be coming back to bite them.
Make no bones about it, Rangers have a great opportunity to make a mark on their Europa League group on Thursday, but they’ll have to be at their best to do so.