Which Rangers players have been the best at driving possession into the final third?

Lee Wallace

written by – Rangers Report

For the past 22 matches one of the advanced stats that I have tracked for the site has been Controlled Zone Entries – also known as controlled entries into the final third.  Each match I account for which players are bringing the ball into the attacking third & also track the ultimate result of that entry.  A controlled entry is when a player either dribbles the ball into the final third, completes a short pass to a teammate in the final third, or if it is a longer pass it is to a relatively open teammate.  Long, hopeful balls are not counted, nor are through balls (which can be very rewarding but are opportunistic).  Positive results include a shot, throw-in, corner, sustained possession, a cross into the box, etc.

This work has been influenced by Jen Lute Costella’s work of tracking the NHL for her sitewhich she has since transferred to her own start-up analytics company –  LCG Analytics.

This work began with the September 5th game against Raith Rovers & has carried on until the most recent cup tie with Kilmarnock.  It includes both league matches & cup games.  Given the nature of this data, there will be a margin of error.

Player CZE Pos Result Success Rate Shots Generated Shots per CZE Goals Created
James Tavernier 179 108 0.60 32 0.18 5
Barrie McKay 152 99 0.65 32 0.21 4
Lee Wallace 109 73 0.67 24 0.22 2
Gedion Zelalem 106 59 0.56 15 0.14 0
Andy Halliday 99 65 0.66 25 0.25 3
Martyn Waghorn 70 44 0.63 19 0.27 4
Jason Holt 70 54 0.77 16 0.23 1
Nathan Oduwa 48 36 0.75 13 0.27 4
Kenny Miller 43 25 0.58 10 0.23 2
Nicky Law 41 28 0.68 6 0.15 2
Dean Shiels 37 29 0.78 6 0.16 0
Dominic Ball 27 18 0.67 5 0.19 0
Rob Kiernan 19 15 0.79 5 0.26 0
Harry Forrester 15 10 0.67 3 0.20 0
Danny Wilson 13 10 0.77 3 0.23 0
Nicky Clark 10 6 0.60 1 0.10 0
Fraser Aird 3 2 0.67 1 0.33 0
Michael O’Halloran 1 0 0.00 0 0.00 0
Team 1042 681 0.65 216 0.21 27
  • Controlled Zone Entries (CZE) have led 58% of Rangers shots & 48% of their goals in the games tracked.   These stats do not include shots/goals earned via set pieces that came after a CZE (corner, free kick, penalty, etc).
  • Barrie McKay & Lee Wallace have combined for 57 shots generated (22% of CZEs) & six goals.  When Nathan Oduwa was playing well he really added a compliment to James Tavernier on the right (the two had combined for nine goals generated from their CZE).  This makes you wonder if the signings of Harry Forrester & Michael O’Halloran was partly due to a desire to mirror the success Rangers had when they had Wallace & McKay on the left alongside Oduwa & Tavernier on the right.  Oduwa clearly had some other deficiencies in his play but it is difficult to argue with his results when driving play into the final third.  Four goals were generated in his 48 CZE, while four have been generated from McKay’s 152.  How management decides to slot McKay, Martyn Waghorn, Kenny Miller, O’Halloran, & Forrester into the front three will be intriguing.  The fact that Miller has been Rangers most effective goal scorer this season makes this decision even more challenging (yet quite luxurious).  Miller has a goals per 90 minutes average of 0.64, while Martyn Waghorn’s goals per 90 is 0.54 (penalties are not included).  Both have been very good this season & therein lies Mark Warburton’s dilemma.
  • This data is meant to be an entry point to further understand where Rangers attack is being generated.  It is, however, only a starting point. The players charted above are the catalysts for advancing play in the attacking third, but the ultimate results usually fall upon the feet of their teammates.  So when evaluating these results, it’s probably best to look at the outliers.
  • Among the top drivers of possession – Waghorn, Oduwa, & Andy Halliday had the best rates of a shot being generated on their entry.  For Oduwa you’d assume the effectiveness was due to his pace, for Waghorn – often he is the one taking the shot but what else is happening when he enters the attacking third that is leading to shots?  Halliday was the surprise here.  Rangers generate a shot 25% of the time that he drives possession into the final third, Jason Holt is close behind with a 23% rate…but what’s making there be such a gap between Halliday’s success rate compared to Gedion Zelalem (14%) & even Nicky Law (15%) or Dean Shiels (16%)?
  • Zelalem is a real outlier, not only due to the low rate of shots but also the overall success rate of his CZE.  The team’s average success rate is 65%, meaning 65% of the time something positive comes of a CZE, & Rangers generate a shot on 21% of all their entries.  Zelalem’s success rate is 56%, by far the lowest on the team & the team only gets a shot on 14% of his CZE.  Like I mentioned before, the results are not all on the player bringing the ball into the final third.  So much can happen between the time of that initial entry & the ultimate result.  However, the teams’ performance analysts may want to look at what is happening on Zelalem’s entries compared to a player like Halliday.  They play similar roles but are seeing vastly different results.
  • More love for Jason Holt arise from these statistics.  While the volume of CZE is low, when Holt drives possession into the final third it leads to a positive result 77% of the time – which is the highest success rate for players with 70+ CZE.
  • You wonder if  the reason why James Tavernier has the highest volume of CZE comes down to not having a Barrie McKay to link up with like Wallace does out left.  My eyes keep gravitating towards Nathan Oduwa’s numbers – a 75% success rate, a shot generated 27% of the time & four goals created from him driving possession into the final third.  If O’Halloran, or even McKay, can work with Tavernier up the right flank it would really add an element of dynamism to Rangers attack.  Notice when Harry Forrester entered the match against Kilmanock, it was McKay who was shifted out right – can he be just as effective in that role as he has been out on the left?

You can follow Rangers Report on Twitter @TheGersReport

4 thoughts on “Which Rangers players have been the best at driving possession into the final third?

  1. I think McKay was better after the substitutions were made. Not impressed with him with Wallace as the latter slows play down and ends up passing the ball backwards as better teams nullify the space for him to release McKay,


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