A suggested lineup for Rangers return to the Premiership

written by – Rangers Report    cover photo courtesy of Mark Runnacles (Getty Images)

Rangers return to the Scottish Premiership kicks off on Saturday & given that they have already played four competitive matches (& two friendlies), there actually is plenty of data to look at to assist management in their line-up decisions.

Since this is a pretty momentous game, more so then your typical season opener (that’s for sure), I figured I would dig through some of the stats from the League Cup matches & piece together the lineup most ready to begin the new league season.

Some decisions were pretty straight forward, others well they took a little more processing.

The first place I looked to help make the tricky lineup choices was the Expected Goal Contribution data from the four games.  Goals often need that perfect coming together of every component to actually happen & often a striker may be on a bit of a unlucky stretch (see:  Kenny Miller) that a perfect pass that set the aforementioned striker up for a scoring opportunity goes astray.  The passer is not credited with an assist & obviously the striker didn’t get the goal.  But, dammit…they were close & if they keep creating opportunities like that – the goals will come.

That’s where Expected Goals & Expected Assists can really help identify which players are creating the dangerous scoring chances & who deserve the opportunity to cash in on those chances with continued playing time.

Here are the stats so far this season:

Player Expected Goals Expected Assists Expected Goal Contribution
Maryn Waghorn 2.43 0.90 3.33
Lee Wallace 1.22 1.20 2.42
Harry Forrester 0.86 1.32 2.18
Kenny Miller 1.97 0.18 2.15
Niko Kranjcar 0.72 0.94 1.66
Barrie McKay 0.61 0.87 1.48
James Tavernier 0.42 1.02 1.44
Josh Windass 0.51 0.61 1.12
Joe Dodoo 0.94 0.00 0.94
Andy Halliday 0.22 0.70 0.92
Michael O’Halloran 0.30 0.34 0.64
Lee Hodson 0.41 0.21 0.62
Danny Wilson 0.44 0.00 0.44
Jason Holt 0.00 0.41 0.41
Joey Barton 0.05 0.25 0.30
Rob Kiernan 0.00 0.21 0.21
Jordan Thompson 0.05 0.00 0.05
Jordan Rossiter 0.05 0.00 0.05

While Harry Forrester has been a target of some constructive criticism from some supporters – these numbers are reason enough for him to be one of the first names I put on my lineup sheet.  He has nine shots & eight key passes in his four appearances & is averaging 6.19 shots + key passes per 90 minutes.

Yes, he hasn’t actually forced the goalie into a save yet (awkward), given that 65% of his 26 unblocked shots did last year…well, I’m banking on him tucking a few shots behind the keeper before too long.

This graph visually breaks down which players have been critical to creating chances so far for Rangers, which players have been the ‘play makers’, which ones are being fed the ball in quality scoring areas & those who….well….are hopefully contributing in other ways.  #grit #composure #defence

Rangers Expected Goal Contributors

Martyn Waghorn, Lee Wallace, & Forrester have proven to be vital to creating quality scoring chances & they are the first players in my lineup.

Barrie McKay’s name come pre-printed in any lineup I would do…so obviously he’s there.  So, that’s McKay & Waghorn up front & I’m slotting Michael O’Halloran on the right side of the front three.  He hasn’t had as much of an impact as Kenny Miller but his biggest influence has been driving possession into the final third to help set-up Rangers attack.  More importantly, Martyn Waghorn has failed in that role so far this season.

In 178 minutes, O’Halloran has 22 entries that into the final third (either by dribbling the ball into the zone or by passing into the final third); Waghorn has only eleven in 270 minutes.  Obviously, his role has been pretty fluid while Miller is in the match – but he is mostly deployed out on the right when both are in the game.  It seems like Rangers can have a much more balanced attack when O’Halloran is driving possession into the final third out on the right to balance out the attack of Wallace & McKay on the left flank.

Final third entries per 90 minutes

Additionally, 100% of O’Halloran’s entries have been Controlled Zone Entries & they have led to a positive result (shot, corner, ball into the box, throw-in, sustained possession, etc.) 64% of the time.  Only 73% of Waghorn’s entries have been controlled (still a solid number) & they have led to a positive result 55% of the time (well below the team average, but not exactly his fault).

Waghorn has produced regardless of where he lines up, as evidenced by his Expected Goal Contribution stats, but it seems like O’Halloran’s direct play can be reason enough include him in the starting eleven for Saturday.

Kenny Miller is overdue to score & has had seven Scoring Chances on nine shots & he likely should be among Mark Warburton’s first subs at the hour mark.

Niko Kranjcar & Andy Halliday

Given that I have Harry Forrester in the midfield, that really makes for difficult decisions regarding the other two slots.  Joey Barton needs to start the league opener, regardless of any stats.  He was signed to bring defensive intangibles to the midfield that can’t be seen on a spreadsheet.

Even though, I’ve been most impressed by Jordan Rossiter in his brief appearances so far…the choice for the final spot in the midfield comes down to Andy Halliday & Niko Kranjcar.

Halliday has been very, very good so far this season & his ability to make difficult passes in the final third seems to have really improved since last season, I can’t overlook the impact that Kranjcar has had.

In 223 minutes, he has six key passes (the pass that sets up a shot) & eight secondary shot assists (the pass to the player who makes the key pass).  In 334 minutes, Halliday has six key passes & three secondary shot assists.

The fact that Halliday outplayed Kranjcar against Burnley complicates this decision, but the objective results from four League Cup games suggest that Forrester & Kranjcar have had a bigger impact on the Rangers attack then Halliday has.

Now for the defense…..

Yeah, there’s an issue in the heart of Rangers defence.

Teams have looked to exploit all three center backs when they have been on the pitch & all three have had moments in which they really struggled.

Ultimately, I have to side with Danny Wilson & Rob Kiernan.

Firstly, because they have the most familiarity playing alongside each other & also the numbers were pretty damning when Clint Hill & Kiernan were paired against Burnley.  Central final third entries against the duo led to six shots, two goals & a penalty.

While many praised Hill’s poise against Annan & East Sterlinghire, he really was never asked to actually defend in those games.  I’m sure he’ll be fine this season as a depth defender & the center back duo from last season may not be ready to carry the load this season…it’s the best option for Saturday.

courtesy of lineupbuilder.com
courtesy of lineupbuilder.com

On the bench:  Matt Gilks, Clint Hill*, Jordan Rossiter, Andy Halliday, Josh Windass, Joe Dodoo, & Kenny Miller

*choosing Hill over Hodson simply because Hill can play both center back & full back

Also, remember this is only the first of 38!

You can follow Rangers Report on Twitter @TheGersReport

7 thoughts on “A suggested lineup for Rangers return to the Premiership

  1. Sorry, but Kiernan is not cutting it for me. Don’t think we have a ready made replacement, but I think it’s urgent that we get another centre back. I would also find a place for Halliday, he’s been excellent in pre season in my opinion. Otherwise looks good:-))


    1. Like you said…no replacement for Kiernan so I think Rangers should rely on that familiarity that he & Wilson have after playing a season together. I think Halliday has been fantastic but….Forrester & Kranjcar are creating more chances & Barton wasn’t brought in to be on the bench. Tough decisions are a welcome relief!


  2. like Kranjcar BUT Halliday gets in before him at present also would maybee let Windass loose before Forrester. Would not object to a Windass Rossiter Halliday midfield… but manager would want to start Barton. Up front you’re spot on O’H deserves a start. DEFENSE keep Wallace, warn Tavernier, coax a game from Wilson and bin Keirnan. So Hill starts. Hodson, Dodoo, Miller(shoogly peg), Forrester, Rossiter, Kranjcar and Gilks. Keirnan in the stand.


  3. Like the look of Forrester starting, but with O’Halloran coming off the bench after 60 minutes where I think his drive is most effective against defenders that have already been run ragged. The same could be said of Windass to replace McKay if he has not clicked on the day…so many permutations so it looks really good for this season. All down to how we play against Celtic to decide who lifts the SPL.


    1. The analysis and team selection is very interesting and I wouldn’t take issue at all. It’s great to have choices that can maintain the standard expected with the obvious exception of central defence.
      Surely we have to be flying from day one and not allow focus to be deflected to the meetings with our friends in Grey and Green or is it Pink.


  4. Wilson was suspended. I would have started Forrester and O’Halloran too but I think Forrester might’ve been short of fitness having been injured in pre-season. I would’ve used Miller as a sub too because regardless of his expected goals I think he has missed a few chances pre-season and only seems to score when someone gives him an inch perfect assist in the box, there was a moment in the match where Tav dribbled the ball upfield with a good bit of skill while Miller ran back to Right back position with Tav there too and Miller received the ball of Tav then Miller passed it back to the CB’s when we were 1-0 and I thought oh no, does he think the CB’s are going to score? Sorry Kenny but I think he thought we were 1-0 up.
    Warburton was right, Rangers do need to be braver in the final third. Lee Wallace said as much too.


  5. There surely must be some of the U20 defenders coming into the reckoning. McCrorie must be given a chance at some point may be as a sub v Peterhead.


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