A stat I have been measuring and observing this season is crosses from within 18 yards from the by-line.
I understand there have been some views to go away from crossing and we noticed this with Rodgers however in my view teams (no matter how good) need a variety of tactical plays otherwise they become predictable and easier to defend against.
We have suffered this season due to having no wide forwards (either sold or injured) and the quality of our full backs (in produce attacking width) has not been the same as in previous years.
Tommy Burns once commented on crosses from the by-line stating that it was a great tactic as it had defenders turned. An even better solution was a cut back from the by-line to another player to cross from 5 or 10 yards out as this has the defenders turned again and possibly out of position. How often do we have 2 players out wide for the overlap or cut-back?
Crosses from the by-line can have the defenders facing towards their own goal (like Rangers did for our goal on Sunday) and defenders don't like this.
Crosses can be aerial or cut-backs and I've seen a lot of promotion for cut-backs recently however for me again variety is the key. Having both in the locker provides more opportunities.
When defending crosses it is important to get numbers in the box and similarly when attacking the more numbers we can get in the box the more likelier we can finish any chances created.
Earlier in the season I noticed Rangers were good at getting numbers into the box when defending and this is something I've been observing.
On Sunday Rangers had 7 crosses that were within 18 yards of the by-line.
3 from Kent, 3 from Barisic and 1 from Hagi. 4 from the left and 3 from the right.
Celtic had 5 crosses
2 from Edouard, 2 from McGregor and 1 from Laxalt. All 5 came from the left. Kenny's for Edouard (when Edouard couldn't get a touch) isn't included as was from 20/22 yards.
Interestingly though for Rangers crosses we had an average of 6.7 players in the box defending. Rangers had an average of 4.2 for our crosses. There are obviously variables in there (ie type of attack and Rangers probably a slower build up) but nonetheless that was pleasing to see we got more bodies in the box to help defend. We have improved recently on defending goals from open play. (Defending from set pieces is obviously for another day).
However scoring goals (at the optimum time) has been a bigger issue than our conceding goals this year. The goal we scored was excellent. An excellent pass by McGregor, an excellent run by Edouard, an excellent cross by Edouard, excellent movement by Elyounoussi and an excellent header by Elyounoussi. But it needed to be excellent. Elyounoussi was the only option in the box up against 3 defenders.
On average Rangers had 3 players in the box for each of their attacking crosses and we had 2.2. (Again there are variables, ie quicker attacks are more difficult to get support in the box). However it is an indication that if we improved the amount of bodies we get into the box and we improved the amount of by-line to 18yards crosses we will score more goals.
Our No.10 and both No.8's need to get into the box more to support with opportunities from crosses. Are our No.8's too deep because our No.6 is too deep?
For this season our average within 18 yard crosses per game is 6.3 with the most being 12 (v Kilmarnock twice). Rangers average is 7.4 crosses per game with their most being 22 versus Motherwell.
You could argue that Rangers average is higher because they have a slower build up but the most counter attacking team in the SPFL (Hibernian) have an average of 7.2. Other teams with more crosses from within 18 yards are - Kilmarnock (an average of 7 per game), Livingston (6.4) and St Johnstone (6.4).
You could mention the problems we've had with wide forwards (either sold or injured) however Rangers wide forwards are inverted forwards.
I understand and acknowledge that we have played a 442Diamond but you can still produce crosses in that formation (either from the advanced full backs, the left No.8 from the left or the right No.8 from the right or the No.10 with the freedom they have). Not to mention the fact there are 2 forwards who have the ability to get the ball in a wide area and cross it.
Irrespective of whatever formation we go with next year we need to recruit well in the summer for both full back positions.