During Steven Gerrard's time at Rangers, he has shown his preferred formation to be the 4-3-3 though he's used the 4-2-3-1 on occasions. The brand of football has been positive during his time in Scotland, with Rangers displaying an attacking, possession-based style of football which saw Rangers lift the Scottish title in 2020-21 for the first time in 10 years. We expect to see similar at Aston Villa. Based on the current crop of players at Villa, this is what I have gone as the predicted preferred line-up. The wide wingers will be encouraged to attack through the central channels, by cutting inside, allowing the full-backs to get forward and be effective and creative. Wide players such as Buendia, Leon Bailey and el Ghazi at Villa are already comfortable with this, but would not be surprised to see Ollie Watkins also out wide.
Gerrard also has a central midfielder willing to attack the half-space, move into channels and also drift wide to create overloads and rotations. With a holding midfielder protecting the backline, recycling possession and keeping the game ticking for Gerrard's team.
Gerrard's set-up can look more of a 4-2-3-1 when building out from goal-kicks. The full-backs are influential in all phases of play, during build-up they'll drop deep to receive with two central midfielders doing the same making a 4+2 shape. A central midfielder, typically the left-sided CM which could be McGinn for Villa, would move slightly higher giving the side a 4-2-3-1 shape.
The central defenders are often used during building stages in the defensive third. They often look to play progressive passes into one of the central midfielders or look to stretch play by playing it out wide to a full-back.
The full-backs play a key role in creating and progressing for Gerrard. The wingers help by playing narrowly, allowing both full-backs to advance and create higher up the field. Similar to Liverpool, though the full-backs are known to fly high and overlap, they can also make underlapping movements that can bamboozle defences. To make the underlap happen, both wingers will be very central with a central midfielder moving out very wide, giving space for a full-back to make an underlapping run and drive towards to byline.
However, Gerrard is also happy for his team to go long. Conor Goldson, Rangers’ right-sided centre-back, often plays direct passes forwards. The team’s rotations on the right often draw an additional opponent over to that side. Long switches of play to the left are thus easier to complete and more likely to be effective.
"Steven Gerrard often looks to overload areas of the pitch and use it to their advantage. Whether they are defensive overloads or offensive overloads they make sure they use it to their good. When in possession, they overload with the intention of not just providing more options to the ball carrier but also in case they lose possession, to win the ball back with numbers."
Rangers in Numbers
Steven Gerrard left Rangers on top of the league, already gaining a 4 point lead on Celtic. Rangers kept 61% of the ball highlight their intent with ball possession with only Celtic having a higher ball possession %. Rangers have scored 29 goals in those 13 games, with an xG of 26.79, again, 2nd to only Celtic.
In attack, Rangers were having 16.83 shots per 90 (2nd in SPL), crossed the ball 22.12 times per 90 (2nd in SPL) with the majority of them coming from the right side. Defensively, to highlight their press, they have a PPDA of 8.04. Once again, second to Celtic who's PPDA is at 6.14.
Out of Possession
Gerrard's side will look to press in their 4-3-3 shape often looking to force their opponents out wide and protect the central areas. They look to press their opponents high but will fall into a mid-block when having lengthy spells without the ball. Once they succeed in forcing their opponents out wide, their press then intensifies.
They use more of a man-orientated press to protect the central area eliminating passing options in the middle with the front three working hard blocking out those passing options. There is, perhaps not coincidentally, a feel of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool about Gerrard’s out-of-possession approach at Rangers.
Gerrard’s press is triggered when they've successfully forced their opposing player on the ball out wide. According to the Coaches Voice,
"It is increasingly common to see the full-back move out to help try to win the ball back here, while a central midfielder then covers the space behind them. This cover helps Rangers stay compact in central defence, with the closest winger dropping to press the ball-carrier from behind."
Their rest offence forms a triangle with Alfredo Morelos on top between the opposition center backs and their wide forwards dropping deep and moving slightly inwards. This complements their overloading system as their wide forwards can overload the flanks while screening back passes and also initiate a quick counter-attack.
image from breakingthelines.com
They fall back into an organised, compact and narrow 4-3-3 shape when the opponents have the ball for a more lengthy spell, again, block off routes in the central areas not allowing the opponents to create a good goalscoring chance.