Ross McCrorie broke into the Rangers team last season after being given a couple of substitute appearances by Pedro Caixinha and a good run in the side under interim manager Graeme Murty. When McCrorie was first introduced into the side, he was seen as a centre half prospect and played most of his football there due to injuries and a good run of form from the youngster. However, it’s his work in central midfield that has been most encouraging from the 20 year old as his presence in the midfield is becoming vital to Rangers winning games as well as how they play all over the park.
The numbers read rather well for Rangers when McCrorie is starting in the side in terms of win ratio and defensive solidity. This season Rangers have won 15 of their 25 games in the league (60%) which for a side looking to win a title is a little bit short of the percentage win ratio needed to go on and win the league. McCrorie was absent and rarely seen between September and the start of December but the teams win ratio takes a significant hike while he is in the side.
The Auchenhowie graduate in all competitions has started 13 matches with Rangers winning 10, drawing 2 and losing 1. It should be noted that the only defeat was away to Rapid Vienna in the Europa League and one of the draws were away to Shkupi (0-0) when the tie was arguably won in the first leg (2-0) at Ibrox in which McCrorie also played. One of the other victories was in the League Cup at home to Ayr United (4-0). All of these starts were in midfield.
Rangers’ record when manager Steven Gerrard starts McCrorie in the league is 8 wins and 1 draw which is a win ratio of just under 89% with him starting. This means that McCrorie has started in 53% of Rangers’ league wins this season. This number only becomes quite impressive when you take into account how many of Rangers’ league matches McCrorie has actually started.
McCrorie has started 9 out of Rangers’ 25 league matches which is 36% of league matches and in the other 16 matches Rangers either brought McCrorie off the bench for a limited amount of time or he wasn’t seen at all. Putting all these numbers together shows that in the 36% of games where McCrorie has started Rangers have gained 53% of their league wins and in the 64% that he hasn’t started Rangers have won the other 47% of their matches.
This is a 17% difference in win ratio with and without McCrorie and although it’s a small sample size it’s starting to look as if McCrorie is becoming more and more vital in the heart of the Rangers’ midfield. If you put that 17% into perspective and consider it over 38 games (McCrorie would be unlikely to play 38 games due to rotation, injury and suspension) that works out as an extra 6 wins a season which in a tight title race is a considerable amount.
It’s interesting to note that this isn’t just a trend for this season and if we look into Rangers’ record with McCrorie starting in midfield in 17/18 we get a similar story. In what was a poor Rangers’ side McCrorie started 8 games over the 38 game season in central midfield (21% of games) and Rangers won 5 of those games (63% win ratio). In the other 30 league games (79% of games) were McCrorie did not play, was a substitute or started at centre back Rangers won 16 games out of 30 (53% win ratio). This again shows us another 10% jump in the amount of games Rangers win with McCrorie in the heart of midfield which over the 38 if you round up is an extra 4 wins over the season and that could have been the difference last season.
McCrorie’s presence in the midfield also shows a significant jump in the number of clean sheets Rangers have had. This season in the league Rangers have had 9 clean sheets in 25 matches (36% of the time) and 4 of these clean sheets have come without McCrorie (44% of league CS) and 5 of them have come with him in the starting line-up (55%). This means that Rangers pick up a clean sheet in 56% of the matches McCrorie starts. In the 16 games he hasn’t started Rangers have only picked up 4 clean sheets which is only 25% of the time. Rangers in the 13 starts (in all comps) McCrorie has made have only conceded 6 goals (5 of them in the league) and have only conceded more than 1 goal once and in that match (vs Aberdeen) one of the goals came from a penalty that he did not concede.
Now it’s not as if McCrorie has only played against the worst of the worst in the SPFL. He has been involved in games against St. Mirren and Hamilton but he has also been involved in games against Hibs, tough trips to St. Johnstone & Aberdeen and of course the victory at Ibrox against Celtic where he was outstanding. In the interest of giving a full picture it should be noted McCrorie only played 30 minutes (sent off) and 50 minutes (substituted) in both games against St. Mirren. On both occasions Rangers were winning to nil and in a comfortable shape.
Numbers and stats can paint a disingenuous picture but even to the naked eye, it can be seen that McCrorie can affect how Rangers play in a positive manner. Rangers for a long, long time have lacked a player who can do what McCrorie can in midfield which is combining energy, physicality and the ability to read the game to break up counter attacks and win the ball back for Rangers. For a 20 year old it is outstanding how McCrorie can read the game in his position as a holding midfielder and it is something he did struggle with at centre back.
The game against Celtic is perhaps the best example of how McCrorie can sniff out danger and put fires out when the ball gets past that first wall of press Rangers are able to put up. His energy and ability to read danger allows him to win the ball regularly and either clear it or move it on to a team mate. This is something Rangers really struggle to do in midfield when he isn’t in the side and it’s mainly because no one else can do it.
McCrorie being the anchor in midfield doesn’t just protect the centre backs behind him but he also gives the two central midfielders in front of him the opportunity to go and press or play knowing that they aren’t going to be exposed. McCrorie has this uncanny ability to completely dominate the 15/20 yards of the pitch between the two central midfielders in front of him and the two centre backs behind him including even mopping up in wide positions at times.
The youngsters presence is also having a positive impact on other players as well which the stats do back up. Ryan Jack for me is the best example of this. Jack this season has been fantastic and is starting to make the place in central midfield his own despite not starting against St. Mirren recently. There has always been a misunderstanding about Jack that because he isn’t afraid to put a tackle in and is comfortable with the ball that he can be a holding midfielder and it hurt him under Caixinha because he was being misused and Gerrard has made the same mistake a few times.
Ryan Jack is a player who can be that player that knits little passes side to side to keep the game moving and he’s always done that whether he is the anchor or playing a little further forward. However, with the re-introduction of Ross McCrorie back in to the side Jack has been freed to get further forward, be involved in attacks and most important be an important cog in the pressing game for Rangers and this is where he can be most crucial. McCrorie can sniff out danger deeper on the park and Ryan Jack can cut out passes from higher up the park and shift the ball wide or to a striker. When both play it enhances Rangers’ chances to keep clean sheets and ultimately win games.
Another added element to Ryan Jack’s game has been a few goals recently and it has come from the re-introduction of McCrorie that allows him to get forward more. Now granted both his goals against Celtic and Livingston had a bit of fortune with a deflection and a goal keeping error but both goals came from the same angle and the assist came from the same side and this is no accident. Both goals were crucial as the goal against Celtic was a winner and the goal against Livingston was the opener. Jack is allowed to get forward and play a bigger part in attack without having to worry about the extra defensive duties he would have if he were the holding midfielder.
The game in between Celtic and Livingston against Kilmarnock showed just this as he was assumed to be the more defensive player but had completely no influence on the game because he was caught in between playing in his natural position in central midfield and as an anchor. Oppose this to the Aberdeen game he was allowed to break forward when we had position in their half or on the counter and was able to get himself in good positions in the final third. Once in the final third he would give the ball to the more creative players such as Kent or Tavernier who would then give it to Morelos or Defoe who were also taking up good positions.
The way the back four moves and works is completely different when McCrorie is playing in front of them. Borna Barisic coming back in to the side after injury along with the ever present captain James Tavernier means that Rangers now have two attacking full backs on either side and this means that both sides could be easily targeted by the opposition and both centre backs (no matter the pairing) could be stretched.
McCrorie sitting in front of the back 4 (or back 2 in attack) means the centre backs have the confidence to go and defend the ball whether it is out wide or in front of them because they know that if they have to leave their natural position McCrorie is there to cover them particularly in counter attacks from the opposition. It doesn’t happen as often as we might think because generally when McCrorie is playing the midfield has already dealt with the issue but it is an insurance policy in case something does slip through and this gives the centre backs the confidence to do their job to the best of their ability without worrying about the huge space to the side or in front of them.
The way the centre backs become short-handed and the disconnect between the full backs while defending seem to disappear when McCrorie plays and it gives the two full backs complete licence to get forward. In terms of the full backs there aren’t cold hard facts to say they are more productive going forward when McCrorie is on the park but that’s why sometimes what you see with the naked eye can be just as important as the stats that are produced. Tavernier and Barisic are going to get forward regardless but it is important to recognise that while both of them are bombing on especially if the manager resorts to the 4-4-2 diamond then there needs to be someone in there who can cover for their advances up the park and McCrorie gives Rangers that security in attack and defence.
Now of course there have been more important players to Rangers title bid so far. The 3 obvious players would be Alfredo Morelos, Allan McGregor and James Tavernier. The addition of Scott Arfield into that group would not be undeserved as he gives Rangers something completely different in midfield and we’ve seen when he was injured and suspended that Rangers suffered.
Gerrard, in McCrorie, seems to have found another integral piece of the jigsaw but whether the manager actually sees him as that still remains to be seen. After the victory over Celtic he had nothing but praise for the 20 year old but dropped him for the game at Rugby Park against Kilmarnock which doesn’t suggest Gerrard has fully bought into McCrorie as one of the first names on the team sheet though he has started all three league games since Kilmarnock.
The manager does like to rotate and after the winter break has spoken a lot about consistency and Rangers have been nothing but consistent with the youngster in the team. McCrorie disappeared for a bit earlier in the season, gradually worked his way back in to the first eleven and is showing that he deserves his place and is proving to be vital in helping Rangers win games and how Rangers play.
If Rangers are to win the league this season McCrorie may just be the player that brings it altogether.
Thanks for reading,