Rangers learn to cope without Calvin Bassey saving them from counterattacks

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Livingston has the smallest budget in the Premiership every season, so finding levelers is the name of the game.

David Martindale employs two video analysts to help him deconstruct the upcoming opposition, one a security guard by trade and the other a little more exotic as he is based in Portugal.

But the returns were the same before Rangers’ visit on Saturday: trying to get in behind and aiming for the left side of the defence.

They had seen Tottenham Hotspur striker Dejan Kulusevski cause a lot of trouble for John Souttar and Borna Barisic in the friendly at Ibrox the previous week by spinning on the halfway line. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min had also come through the Rangers backline on several occasions.

Livingston doesn’t quite have the same caliber of player, but in Joel Nouble they had a striker who was under intense training to learn how to play as a full No.9 and lost weight to get into the best form of his career.

His task was to test Souttar’s ability to play on the left as a right foot and Barisic’s ability to handle direct play.

Within the first five minutes, a Nicky Devlin flick – after Barisic decided to lay down and try to read the flight rather than challenge – put Nouble through as Souttar got caught under the ball. The striker managed to lob Jon McLaughlin to open the scoring.

For the remainder of the half, Nouble wreaked havoc and Souttar, Connor Goldson, John Lundstram and Glen Kamara all accepted bookings for cynical challenges to prevent the counterattack.

Rangers are clearly trying to build on the principles Giovanni van Bronckhorst introduced last season and the back pressure was even more pronounced in the season opener.

It will have been concerning that there were plenty of occasions when Livingston was able to break the pressure and expose the defense, but that’s the gamble of playing such a high line.

“You look at Gio and what he’s trying to do, and he likes to play a high line, he likes to press high,” Martindale said after Rangers’ 2-1 win on Saturday.

“There were moments in the first half where Goldson started to step in which gave them a bit of a bit of a overload, but it was in midfield so it didn’t really hurt us.

“Then we leave Joel (Nouble) one-on-one with Souttar and it’s a risky strategy because he’s very fast. Our first goal probably helps them get going because at 0-0 Goldson may be sitting behind the team trying to get us to work and move.

“It was definitely part of the game plan. We could have executed it a little better at times as we were caught in possession of our own third when we could have rotated them as space was always going to be behind.


Souttar had a tough game against Livingston (Photo: Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

“It was good game management. That’s probably what I expect from my players sometimes. Take yellow, take one each, but that comes from very experienced players.

The very existence of Calvin Bassey allayed fears of potential counterattacks. His supreme athleticism meant that any player who momentarily stepped into the space behind could usually be caught.

This was key to Rangers’ strategy on the way to the Europa League final, as they were able to be very aggressive in pushing teams, knowing they had a defender who could cover.

Goldson explained how the manager and the team are on the same page when it comes to employing this tactic, but perhaps indicated that it might not be as pronounced in the third qualifying round first leg of the Champions League at the Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.

“That’s how we want to play, especially at home. If you have 50,000 behind you at home, they don’t want to see you sitting down and letting other teams have the ball,” Goldson said.

“We did that in every game we played at home under the new manager. Look at last season and the Dortmund games, the Leipzig games.

“Obviously at times you have to come back and defend as a team and in a block, but the way we want to set up is to be aggressive and get the ball back and win as many duels as possible.

“We know it lifts fans out of their seats and we bought into it. There are a few new partners this season that I’m going to have to get used to again, but they all know they’re going to play the Rangers way so I’m sure they’ll get used to it very quickly. ”

Ridvan Yilmaz trained with the squad on Sunday and is in the squad, but it’s likely the game came too early for a first start.

Ben Davies was not in Livingston’s squad as he builds up his fitness after joining from Liverpool, meaning James Sands is set to start alongside Goldson.

They both bring different qualities to the team, but neither has the same pace of getting out of prison.

Nouble won the physical battle against Souttar two or three times, but Goldson jumped to his defense after being criticized.

“I was disappointed on Saturday because I saw some things on the internet and things like that,” he said. “People speak badly just because he had a game where he probably made a few mistakes. But we’ve all been there, I’ve been there myself.

“I have been written off many times by Rangers fans. I see him every day and I see the qualities he has. I have absolutely no doubts that he will be an incredible signing for this club.

“He’s an international player. I think he’s 25 and he’s played a lot of Scottish football. He’s a Scottish international. We know what we signed. He joined Rangers and we all know the pressure that comes with it.

“People can’t judge people on one game. Livingston out is obviously not the easiest place to go with the pitch and the way they play. But we all saw his quality and I was more impressed just seeing him in training.

“When he was at Hearts I knew he was a good player, but everything he does is so precise with the ball.

“He throws himself in front of things. He’s a great defender. I’m really happy that we signed him and I can’t wait to play with him.

(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

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