BRIAN LAUDRUP: Rangers must turn to old heads to salvage European tie

BRIAN LAUDRUP: I can’t recall the last time I saw Rangers play so dismally in a European game, but turning the tie around is not impossible… Giovanni van Bronckhorst must turn to old heads to salvage Champions League hopes

  • Rangers lost 2-0 to Union Saint-Gilloise in a Champions League qualifier first leg
  • The Gers have a tough task, having never overcome a two-goal first-leg deficit
  • Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side need to be almost perfect in their approach 
  • Experience in key positions is needed such as Steven Davis, 37, in midfield 
  • Last season showed that when Ibrox is rocking, amazing things can happen 

If there is a positive for Rangers to take from last week’s first leg against Union Saint-Gilloise, it’s that they simply cannot be as bad again tonight.

I can’t recall the last time I saw my old club play so dismally in a European game. It was the polar opposite of their efforts in the Europa League after Christmas.

While I called the game in Leuven a potential banana skin, I didn’t expect Rangers to end up flat on their backs. Nothing went to plan at all.

 Rangers have a mountain to climb after losing 2-0 to Union Saint-Gilloise in the first leg

Sometimes, you have two or three players having an off day. But this was a team non-performance.

Getting out with only a 2-0 defeat wasn’t the worst outcome overall. As Giovanni van Bronckhorst admitted himself, it could easily have been worse.

Even the more experienced players were misplacing passes. The first touches were slack. Collectively, it looked as though the burden of actually qualifying for the Champions League was too much to bear. That was the impression I got.

Hopefully, that radically changes tonight. I certainly expect a completely different game. I’m well aware that Rangers have never before overcome a two-goal first-leg deficit, but it’s not an impossible task to make history this evening.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst admitted that the scoreline could easily have been worse in Belgium

I can envisage Van Bronckhorst’s side turning it around but they need to be almost perfect in their approach, from tactics to team selection to execution on the pitch.

The manager has a lot of big decisions to make. Particularly in attacking areas. Does Alfredo Morelos start or come off the bench? Can Ryan Kent play a part?

It’s a balance between finding a starting line-up that can really unsettle the Belgians and having something effective in reserve if you need to change from the bench. That’s a very delicate process.

Forget the back three from last week. That surely has to be one of the things that changes. And, if I was in the manager’s shoes, I would go for experience in key positions.

 Union stunned last season’s Europa League finalists with a dominant display last week

Seven new players have arrived this summer and some of them will obviously be involved. But I see clear value in deploying those who have been at Ibrox for a long time and know exactly what is expected when the pressure is on.

Steven Davis is firmly in that category. He was magnificent against Kilmarnock at the weekend and could control the midfield again tonight.

Rangers simply didn’t have any control in the first leg. It was all too erratic. You felt they lacked a leader in midfield to say: ‘Okay, guys, let’s settle down. Give me the ball and we’ll take it from there.’ I could see Davis fulfil that role now. He can bring composure and calmness to what will be a fraught night for sure.

At 37, Davis isn’t capable of playing 50 games in a season. That’s obvious. You have to look after him, but he is playing in a position where he knows exactly how much energy he needs to spend in any situation.

Steven Davis, 37, isn’t capable of playing 50 games a season but will be vital in the second leg

His quality on the ball has never been in doubt. And with so many new faces coming in this summer, the old faces carry an additional value in terms of continuity.

We have seen the summer signings — especially Malik Tillman — play some good stuff for half an hour or 45 minutes. As yet, we haven’t seen their full capabilities. But that takes time. It was the same for me when I arrived at Ibrox back in 1994. You have to settle before finding your peak form.

It could take a few weeks. Or it could take several months. Every individual is different. But to make it easier for these players, you need the cool, experienced heads to step in at certain points. This feels like one of them because so much is on the line.

Ibrox will certainly demand a big reaction from the team tonight. And channelling that energy in a positive manner is another key to turning this tie on its head.

Last term’s Europa League run showed that when Ibrox is rocking, amazing things can happen

We saw some epic occasions last season. And some early goals. When Ibrox is rocking and you get at a team from the start, some amazing things can happen. Think back to Red Star Belgrade and RB Leipzig as two great examples.

Let’s be honest here, many of the Union players won’t have experienced anything like this. They will have been told about Ibrox. How noisy it will be. How hostile. But it’s only when you get on the pitch that you really know what it’s all about.

That shock effect is the thing Rangers need to build on. Getting a goal in the first 15 or 20 minutes, as they’ve done before, changes everything. But that’s also when the older heads such as Davis become vital in terms of maintaining tempo while ensuring that it is not just gung-ho recklessness.

The best thing about Union is their play in transition. They are not going to come to Glasgow and outplay Rangers. But if the Ibrox side are too open, they have some quick and effective players who will exploit the gaps.

Having Alfredo Morelos available is a huge boost for Rangers, even if it’s only for half an hour

It’s going to take an intelligent, powerful display for Rangers to get this done but they have what it takes. I can imagine the anger in the dressing-room after the first leg. These players will know they let themselves and their supporters down.

Now comes the chance to put it right. Having Morelos available is a huge boost, even if it’s only for half an hour. If Rangers are still chasing the game, you can imagine how the noise will rise again if he comes off the bench.

Again, Van Bronckhorst will study things closely to see if there’s a chance the Colombian could start before Antonio Colak comes on later. Likewise with Kent. His ability in tight spaces could cause Union a lot of problems.

All these things and more will have to fall into place to get Rangers into the play-off round. It’s time for a bit of making-up to be done.

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