LIVINGSTON away is exactly the type of game you don’t want after a draining European fixture in midweek.

Rangers, having beaten Porto last Thursday, were faced with the tough trip to West Lothian on Sunday afternoon, but handled the test comfortably to win 2-0. The result and performance underlined the growth Steven Gerrard’s side have undergone since last season.

Gary Holt’s side man-mark ferociously, suffocate space and allow their opposition minimal time on the ball. In their 4-4-1-1 shape, they can be extremely difficult to break down. However, Rangers now have the individual qualities and collective organisation to do just that.

Gerrard lined his side up in his preferred 4-3-3, with both James Tavernier and Borna Barisic pushing on down the flanks while Ryan Kent and Scott Arfield tucked in alongside Alfredo Morelos.


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The fluidity in the front three, as well as the central midfielders, made it almost impossible for Livingston to man-mark effectively.

Joe Aribo would start deep on the left-hand side, then wander into a more advanced position between Livingston’s defence and midfield lines. Alternately, he would drift across the pitch, ending up on the right-hand side. Initially, he was Steven Lawless’ responsibility, but he left his area so often it became unclear who precisely should be marking him.

Kent moved across the pitch, from left to right, looking to find pockets of space to get on the ball and drive forward or to run in behind. Arfield, as ever, used his exceptional awareness and movement off the ball to set up combinations with Morelos. Even Ryan Jack – previously a steady No.6 and nothing more – showed the dynamism to break forward and contribute in the final third.

This fluidity wasn’t present in Gerrard’s Rangers when they lost 1-0 on the same ground last September. On that day, they were structured to a fault – their movements were too easy to predict and stifle.

This time around, the only players to take up a consistent position on the field were goalkeeper Allan McGregor and centre-backs Connor Goldson and Filip Helander.

Even when Livingston could man-mark, this didn’t guarantee any real success, because Rangers’ midfield is now packed with players who have the ability one-on-one to go past their man.


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Nine minutes into the second half, Aribo showed his devastating dribbling ability to go beyond Robbie Crawford, who had stepped up to pressure him.

The Nigerian international has the combination of skill and strength to nonchalantly brush off opponents, and against a man-marking team this means taking a defender out and opening up the game.

Glen Kamara can make a similar impact on his team’s attacking play, albeit in different ways. He prefers to use disguises – faking to go one way before turning in the opposite direction – and quick footwork to throw off the opposition.

The presence of Kamara and Aribo in midfield massively improved Rangers’ chances of evading tight marking and progressing into the final third, but it was still difficult to create obvious scoring chances.

At times, Rangers needed to be direct – as they were for their second goal, when a long ball down the left side got Morelos into a one versus one situation that he took full advantage of to score.

By signing players like Aribo and Kamara and introducing a more fluid attacking structure, Gerrard has improved his team’s ability to beat man-marking opposition. But one of the core tenets of his style – namely aggressive pressing – remains key to winning these sort of games.


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Whenever Livingston did see the ball, they didn’t hold on to it for long. Indeed, they finished the contest with just 34.7% possession. Only twice this campaign have they had less possession, and one of those occasions was on their trip to Ibrox on September 14.

The primary reason behind the low number was that when they won the ball, they were instantly closed down and forced into quick turnovers. Some of these turnovers led to counter-attacks, one of which saw Rangers open the scoring when Arfield played in Aribo to finish.

This win showed what Rangers have become under Gerrard: a team that can perform below their best and still win easily.

It’s the sort of fortitude typically displayed by champions.