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In a pre-match press conference without much talk about the opposition, a question arose in this regard ahead of Rangers’ Europa League final clash with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Gers captain James Tavernier has been specifically asked for his thoughts on Eintracht full-back Filip Kostic, given the pair are likely to see each other a lot on the flank they will share.
“Obviously I respect the way he plays, he’s a top player,” Tavernier said. “But I just have to bring the best version of myself to the start of the game and try to give him all the trouble, try to get him to deal with me for most of the game. That’s all I can really do. .”
Tavernier’s response didn’t offer any particularly great insight, but his mentality of wanting to cause Kostic so much trouble was at least another identifier of how their duel could be such a key battle.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Tavernier, a right-back, heads into Wednesday’s game remarkably as the Europa League’s top scorer with seven goals, and realistically – or unrealistically – only a Daichi Kamada hat-trick from Eintracht can prevent the English. to at least finish the season with a share of the competition’s golden boot.
Moreover, he netted 19 times in the 2020-21 season and could match that figure again this term – he also has an impressive tally of 17 assists.
If it bears repeating, he is a huge contributor for Rangers in the final third.
So, given that he’s technically a right-back, there’s obviously an element of Tavernier who needs to be defensively strong on Wednesday, but some might suggest it’s even more essential that he’s as sharp as ever at the moment. future as it would not only give Rangers a credible threat down the right, but it would potentially keep Kostic occupied in a deeper position.
Certainly Eintracht’s setup with a back three should still ensure they have an extra man to cover for Kostic’s forward runs, while the two attacking midfielders backing Rafael Borre up top often occupy narrow berths. and deeper to maximize wide space for their greatest threat.
Still, there is always the possibility of an overload behind Kostic if the conditions are right, such is his attacking influence.
After all, the frequency with which Kostic delivers in the box is frankly astonishing. This season he has been the enforcer of 519 crosses and corners, 140 more than any other player in the top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold is second with 379.
Kostic’s 78 successful crosses from open play is also a season high. Sure, you’d expect him to lead the way given he’s attempted far more than anyone else, but his 26.8% accuracy (crosses/corners) is right on par (among the players with at least 100 attempts). That in itself is impressive considering its greater frequency.
Another way to look at it is that he produces an accurate cross in open play every 45.4 minutes. While it might not seem incredible at first glance, his 12.4 expected assists (xA) is the 10th highest among players in the top five leagues, underscoring what a weapon he is in terms of creative quality.
So while he might be classed as a winger in terms of position on a team composition chart, the Serb is there for his attacking tendencies.
A quick look at his map of created open play odds proves this point.
But Rangers must also be aware of the danger posed on the opposite flank.
Ansgar Knauff has been one of the stars of Eintracht’s journey to the final, with the 20-year-old becoming something of a revelation in recent months.
As recently as mid-January, he was playing for Borussia Dortmund’s second team in the Third Division. He then joined Eintracht on loan and has since scored important Europa League goals against Barcelona and West Ham.
His impact on the road to Sevilla was significant, with his brilliant athleticism, bravery and confidence on the ball making him a real asset on the right side.
Prior to Knauff’s arrival, Eintracht were rather unbalanced, with their other options on the right far from convincing. Of course, Kostic remains their main outlet, but the emergence of Knauff has provided them with another – albeit stylistically different – threat on the other side, giving them better balance.
In all competitions since his Eintracht debut in early February, only Kostic (5.6) and Jesper Lindstrom (2.6) have amassed better xA records than Knauff, who is also fifth behind those two, Borre and Kamada in terms of xA and xG (expected goals) combined.
He may not be their deadliest weapon, but he’s proven he can offer them a lot, and his 61 dribble attempts in that span prove he’s happy to put his markers to work for them. money.
Oliver Glasner’s side are full of neat and technical players and also boast a great work ethic just as it would take to play their top-flight football.
But their width and desire to attack from the flanks is fundamental to the way they play – while that may be easier said than done, limiting their effectiveness at scale would go a long way to ending the trophy drought. European 50-year-old Rangers.