Tactical Analysis: How Rangers are building a title challenge

While expectations were high coming into the 2020/21 season, Rangers International have shocked many with the quality of their performances and have cemented themselves as viable title contenders this season in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).

Coach Salisu Yusuf has implemented an exciting, attacking style of football that has maximized his squad and given the club a sense of identity.

The former Enyimba boss sets his team up in a 4-3-2-1, a system that is both conducive to his preferred possession-based style of football and the specific qualities of his players.

In Tony Shimaga, Rangers have one of the best defensive midfielders in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). When combined with his positional awareness, reading of the game, and physical attributes, Shimaga is no doubt one of the most well-rounded defensive midfielders in the NPFL.

His strengths are not limited to the defensive phase either. Shimaga plays a crucial role in build-up play, sitting ahead of the centre-backs to provide a passing option before moving the ball through short passes to the more advanced midfielders or fullbacks. His composure and accuracy with these passes enable the rest of the team to push further forward, thus making the team’s attacks more potent. Shimaga is tasked with tremendous responsibility as a single pivot in a 4-1-2-3, but luckily for Rangers, he has the necessary attributes to execute the role to great effect.

Sitting ahead of Shimaga in the 4-1-2-3 are Ugochukwu Ugwuoke and Kenechukwu Agu, who have both shone for Rangers this season. With their defensive duties taken care of by Shimaga, they are free to take up positions in between the lines and dictate Rangers’ attacks in the final third. They both pose goal-scoring threats and are dangerous from range and Ugochukwu, in particular, offers another string to the Flying Antelopes’ attacking bow with his superb dead-ball ability.

Another option, Shedrack Asiegbu has the tendency to attempt to create space for himself and others through his on-ball presence. Dauda Madaki is also active off the ball and tends to look to make intelligent runs to drag opposition defenses out of shape in order to create space for teammates. Both are also active defensively, engaging in Rangers’ press and falling back into deeper positions when necessary.

The quartet are very important to the way Rangers create chances in the final third.

Perhaps the most pivotal role in Salisu’s 4-1-2-3 is the full-backs. In Tope Olusesi and Ifeanyi Nweke, Rangers have two excellent, well-rounded full-backs who are instrumental in their attacking productivity and defensive solidity.

Salisu encourages his fullbacks to push high and wide whilst in possession in order to stretch the opposition defence, allowing the wingers to tuck inside, pose as an option for diagonal switch passes, and facilitate the creation of overloads out wide. These overloads enable Rangers to progress possession effectively as the quick interchanges of passing create space for attackers to exploit.

In Olusesi and Nweke, Salisu has two excellent players who are capable of fulfilling these various responsibilities. Olusesi is an excellent passer, and his crossing, ability to switch the play, and delicate chipped or lofted passes make him a versatile attacking force for Rangers.

Nweke’s ball-carrying capacity allows him to be in space to create cutbacks for onrushing midfielders or create space. Defensively, both Olusesi and Nweke can be susceptible to being caught out due to the advanced positions they take up.

However, they tend to have the necessary pace to retrieve their position and the necessary defensive acumen to ensure they aren’t a liability.

With diverse attacking abilities and well-rounded defensive skills, Olusesi and Nweke have been more than capable of fulfilling their multitude of responsibilities in the fullback role.

Upfront, Israel Abia’s combination of exceptional movement, clinical finishing, and searing pace continues to devastate NPFL defences.

He is often the benefactor of through-balls and well-worked crosses, both of which are key tenets of Salisu’s attacking play.

Perhaps one of the most surprising elements of Rangers’ season thus far has been their defensive solidity.

The signing of Ernest Governor has been one of the most impressive and important aspects of Salisu’s impact at the club. Governor is both an excellent ball-player and a physical presence defensively, and with the composed and experienced Uche John alongside him, he has matured into an excellent and complete centre-back.

Along with instilling a clear philosophy that suits the team, Salisu has also been able to give his side a level of strength and depth that they previously did not have by improving the performances of various members of the squad.

In Osas Okoro, Femi Ajayi, Isaac Loute, Chidiebere Nwobodo and Ebuka Anthony, Salisu has been able to extract high-level performances from players.

Full of flair and energy, the CHAN 2018 Silver Winning coach has created an exuberant attacking side that has maximized his talented squad and produced sensational and consistent results for his team. With 10 points so far in the 2020/21 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season, Rangers fans have every reason to dream.

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