Why Rangers boss Steven Gerrard should copy Celtic blueprint and start a 3-5-2 revolution
Gerrard's side have been accused of predictability and could benefit from a change of formation in the upcoming games.by Gabriel McKay
Rangers went into the winter break in optimistic mood after a well-deserved win over Celtic that left them just two points off the top of the league with a game in hand.
That result meant Steven Gerrard's side had the title in their own hands, knowing that if they won every game in the second half of the season they'd finally claim the league title fans so crave.
Since returning from Dubai though Rangers have toiled, dropping points to Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock to fall 10 points behind and probably end any hope of winning the Premiership.
Much of the scrutiny has focused on that winter training camp in the Middle East, with some suggesting that Gerrard worked his players too hard over the break.
A similar slump in form after the break last season does lend credence to that theory, but many Rangers fans have also raised questions about their formation.
Gerrard has stuck rigidly to a 4-3-3 shape - or occasionally a 4-2-3-1 with a player in behind Alfredo Morelos - and it appears that the opposition knows exactly how to set up against his team.
Exasperation from the Ibrox faithful is only heightened by looking across the city, where Neil Lennon has switched between the 4-2-3-1 used in the first half of the campaign and a new 3-5-2 system.
After a series of uninspiring performances, is there a case to be made for Rangers switching things up tactically? Could they, in fact, use the same formation that has seen Celtic stretch their lead at the top?
On paper a 3-5-2 system makes a lot of sense for Rangers. The summer saw them recruit the likes of Brandon Barker, Sheyi Ojo and Jordan Jones, but Gerrard hasn't played with conventional wingers for most of this campaign.
Ryan Kent is deployed out on the left, where he favours cutting inside on his stronger right foot, and Ojo has also been employed as more of an inside forward when he's played.
Joe Aribo, a box-to-box midfielder at Charlton, has been put out on the right while Ianis Hagi occupied that role in the defeat to Killie.
The Romanian's favoured role is as a number 10 and he too looks to come inside and create rather than going down the line.
The width in the Rangers team is provided by the full-backs, and it's no coincidence that their two defeats since the winter break have come when one of James Tavernier or Borna Barisic was unavailable.
Given that those players provide the width as it is, it would make sense to play them as wing-backs - especially as Tavernier has always been better going forward than defending.
The Rangers captain leads the league in crosses with 166 and is followed by Barisic with 144. Matty Kennedy, in third place, has 108.
A switch to 3-5-2 would ensure that those two continue to provide that attacking threat, while also providing greater security at the back.
Kent could play off Morelos with licence to drift out to either flank, making his movements less predictable. The £7million summer signing has been in poor form anyway.
Gerrard could adopt more of a 3-4-1-2 for certain matches, with either Hagi or Aribo operating in the number 10 role. It's worth remembering too that Greg Stewart was one of the most creative players in the league during his time at Kilmarnock last season, when he played just off Eamonn Brophy or in a number 10 role.
He struggled out wide on his return to Aberdeen and hasn't featured much for Rangers, but Stewart could play with Morelos or behind the front two and provide Gerrard with another option.
Playing two up-front would also allow both Morelos and Florian Kamberi to play, with Jermain Defoe another option when he returns to fitness. Kent has been in poor form so there's an argument to be made that replacing him with Kamberi or Stewart, at least temporarily, would be no bad thing.
Filip Helander played as part of a back-three with Bologna for much of last season so would be comfortable in that shape, and with a back-three neither Nikola Katic or Connor Goldson would have to drop out.
It would also keep Jack and Davis in the holding positions they're most comfortable with.
It's not as though Gerrard is completely averse to the notion of playing a 3-5-2.
Rangers used that shape against Motherwell last season but a 3-3 draw at Fir Park appears to have put the manager off a back-three since.
While they weren't exactly defensively solid that day, it is worth noting that both Barisic and Tavernier got an assist and Kyle Lafferty's opener came after a Barisic cross wasn't cleared properly.
It wouldn't have to be a permanent switch, but Celtic have shown the value of being able to surprise teams by alternating between formations.
Even on Wednesday night there was an example of the value of flexibility, with Gerrard admitting before the match he wasn't sure if Kilmarnock would stick with the 3-5-2 they played away at Aberdeen or revert to 4-4-2.
It's not simply a case of changing for the sake of changing, or aping Celtic's approach, Rangers have the players at their disposal to play 3-5-2 and it's something Gerrard and Michael Beale may want to consider for their upcoming matches.