In terms of formation, Caixinha is not wedded to any individual style. However, there are certain characteristics that his teams share. One is four at the back, with the full backs pressing high up the pitch. This has never changed through his time as a coach.
The second is at least three midfielders narrow in the centre of the park. While the shape may alternate between a diamond of four, a triangle with a double defensive pivot, or two central midfielders with an anchorman tucked in behind, Caixinha likes to ensure that his team are not outnumbered in the centre.
Beyond that, there is certainly flexibility. At Al-Gharafa, Krisztián Németh would play up top by himself, while Vladimir Weiss drifted here, there and everywhere around him. At Santos Laguna, there was a period where Herculez Gomez, Oribe Peralta and Darwin Quintero played as an attacking trident, swapping roles constantly throughout the game.
Utimately, Caixinha is a self-described pragmatist. He hasn’t come to Rangers to lay down a dogmatic style of play, and fans should expect a manager capable of adapting his team to different situations.
In terms of attack, Caixinha usually follows the “diamond rule”. To summarise, the “diamond rule” means starting play at the centre, going wide out into the midfield, before coming back into the centre in the opposition half like so:
This is achieved through several different means. It can be a long ball from the centre half through the channels, or drawing the opposition to one side of the pitch, before switching play and releasing the full back on the other side. However, Caixinha’s sides often play “in-out” with the midfielders, fullbacks and strikers all combining down one side of the pitch.
Like with Mark Warburton, Rangers fans should expect to see at least one midfielder drop deep at restarts to help the centre backs bring the ball out of play. Should the midfielder in question be marked, it is not uncommon for the centre backs to bypass the player entirely and find another midfielder further up the pitch.
When Caixinha’s teams enter the final third, they get narrower, and bring the ball closer to the penalty area. However, while crossing from the touchline is certainly not employed, neither do they spend much time probing in the opposition final third. Instead, Caixinha gets his teams to release a player on the outer channels of the penalty area who either crosses low and hard across goal, or cuts it back for a team mate.
The tendency to keep at least three midfielders in the centre and rely on full backs for width does mean that Caixinha’s sides have a slight vulnerability to counter attacks out wide.
Full backs high and wide does not necessarily have to be a problem- many coaches across world football use it to their advantage. It forces the opposition into a choice between a numerical disadvantage in their own half, or bringing their own attackers deeper down the pitch to compensate for the extra men.
Indeed Rangers used Lee Wallace and James Tavernier in such a manner last season, and the pair scored 24 goals between them. However, this season, the pair have become much more reserved, with Tavernier in particular often finding himself out of the team due to a perceived lack of positional discipline.
In fact, the key to success with high flying fullbacks is not necessarily more positional discipline from the fullbacks themselves, but a holding midfielder canny enough to cover for their team-mates’ forays up the pitch. Looking at the best teams in Europe over the past few seasons. For every Dani Alves, there’s a Sergio Busquets. For every Marcelo, there’s a Xabi Alonso.
None of Rangers’ current crop of midfielders has cemented their place in the holding role this season. Therefore, Caixinha will either have to change his high-flying fullbacks tactic to account for this, or perhaps play an extra midfielder deeper to form a double pivot, ensuring there’s extra support.
While the counter attack is a possible vulnerability, it is worth noting that Pedro Caixinha has written journal articles on periodization; the science of managing fitness performance throughout a season. He values fitness highly, and as such, his teams possess great stamina. Watching footage of Al-Gharafa games, although they do tend to lose the ball out wide, the entire midfield will run back to form a compact, narrow shield in front of the penalty box very quickly. While there is an opportunity for opponents to score on the counter, it won’t last for too long.
However, there is more to defending than protecting against counter attacks. When the opposition are building up play, Caixinha advises his teams to defend like this:
In the above picture, the opposition are attacking from left to right.
In the green zone, just approaching the half way line, there will be a light press from the forward players. The red zone, between the halfway line and the final third is where the press truly begins, with the whole defence and midfield forming a tight, compact unit, showing the opposition inside. When the opposition get to the final third (amber zone), the press is sacrificed for defensive structure. The centre backs will take up position in the central channel of the penalty box, the full backs tuck in, and the midfield drops deep.
Notable development successes
While Caixinha has usually worked with some form of sporting director, he can take credit for developing a number of young talents. In his second coaching job with Nacional in Madeira, he plucked defender Luis Neto from Varzim SC, who had just finished bottom of the Portuguese second division. After one season with Caixinha, Neto was sold to Serie A, and now plays for Zenit St Petersburg and Portugal.
Furthermore, Caixinha is credited for improving Darwin Quintero’s all round game when in Mexico with Santos Laguna. Indeed, after two seasons with Caixinha, Club America were prompted to pay £9m for the Colombian forward.
Pedro Caixinha has adapted himself to football in eight countries and three continents. That adaptability has shown itself in his tactical approach to the game. Nevertheless there are certain feature, such as wing backs and a narrow midfield, that find themselves reappearing in his teams. Getting it right at Rangers will rely on Caixinha correctly balancing the team’s existing urge to push forwards with the discipline and positional sense required to defend quick counter attacks.