When Mark Allen left Rangers last Friday it's fair to say there was some interesting comments about how well he'd done in the job. Some 'chief sportswriters' decided to concentrate on the poor player signings made during his two years at the club whilst others felt his legacy was the capture of Steven Gerrard. The more pragmatic amongst us felt the analysis had to be more general and perhaps even empirical.
Have Rangers improved in the last two years? The answer is yes, of course. Yet, at the same time, without any tangible success by way of trophies, just how is such improvement measured? Well, in an era of four qualifiers just to reach the group stage of European football's consolation competition, one way of defining 'success' is by examining progress in an environment Scottish clubs (and certainly their national team) have struggled to do well in. And, given Rangers have traversed these qualifiers for two seasons in a row now, I think Mark Allen and Steven Gerrard, deserve credit. There has been no silverware as yet but the money and prestige banked from two years in the Europa League Group Stage have to be considered laudable achievements in themselves as Rangers attempt to bridge the huge financial gulf between them and Celtic.
For our Dutch opponents, their recent story is fairly similar. Financial problems ten years ago lasted for several seasons and included transfer bans and historic 10-0 defeats to rivals such as PSV. It was a difficult period for the club and only around the time Rangers themselves were thrown down the Scottish leagues after administration did they start to recover. Finally, after eight years without any silverware and 18 years after their last Eredivisie, Feyenoord again become Dutch champions in 2016/17. Their recovery period was long and fans impatient for success but via hard work, once again their showed their quality as one of Holland's best clubs.
The last two seasons has seen PSV and Ajax take the respective titles but the early signs this term suggest Feyenoord will challenge again, even if they're a few points behind Ajax and PSV in the table for now. The Rotterdam side remain unbeaten though and, as a seeded team, have cruised through two tricky Europa League qualifiers against Dinamo Tbilisi and Hapoel Be'er Sheva. Suffice to say the challenge Rangers face tonight is another step up to that we've faced this season. If fit, attacking players such as Nicolai Jørgensen and Steven Berghuis will be a threat to our defence but we'll be hoping to cause the Dutch back-line problems too given they conceded two late own goals at the weekend to Den Haag.
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Onto the Rangers team then and, despite a disappointing injury to Ryan Kent, once again Steven Gerrard has plenty of options available to him. And, once more, the questions are fairly to similar of recent games.
Does he stick by Connor Goldson and Niko Katic in central defence despite some uncertainty between the pair in the last two league games? That seems most likely with neither Helander or Edmundson able to break into the team properly as of yet. Of course a back three is possible at some point as well but improbable for such a big game.
Who gets the nod at left back? Andy Halliday started on Saturday and, as usual, did OK without being spectacular. Barisic may offer more attacking balance and defensive protection against the pace of Feyenoord wingers Luciano Narsingh and Sam Larsson so the Croat should be favoured.p>Does he opt for width in attack or go for the compact formation we seen in games such as the Celtic match? If it's the latter then we may see Glen Kamara start with either the Finnish midfielder or Nigerian international Joe Aribo alongside Scott Arfield in the attacking half-space roles with the width provided by the full backs. That would support a start for Barisic given the same system with Jon Flanagan failed in the Old Firm game. However, it's more likely a deeper three of Davis, Aribo and the returning Ryan Jack is deployed with any two from Barker, Arfield and Ojo behind Morelos in the attacking positions. Barker in particular showed up well at the weekend and can stretch the game more if required. However, he's inexperienced at this level so Ojo may again be preferred. Summer signing Andy King from Leicester City may be Gerrard's trump card should he fancy something unexpected.
All things considered it's very hard to separate the teams and a very close, though possibly very open, game is on the cards tonight. With home advantage Rangers may be considered slight favourites and the possibility Feyenoord won't sit in might favour us given we often do our best European work on the counter and when given space to operate. For their part, Jaap Stam's men will fancy their chances of causing us problems too and despite some recent injuries carry plenty threat in attacking areas. That will mean plenty of scrutiny on our back-line and we'll need to be at our best defensively to avoid conceding.
With that in mind, I suspect Allan McGregor may be an important figure tonight and a lot will again be asked of Alfredo Morelos up front: not only to help us maintain possession in attacking areas but to take any good chances that he can forage. However, if we're to take three important points and make a good start we'll need the kind of team performances and strength of character that has seen Rangers improve under the guidance of Steven Gerrard. It's very tough to call but I'm confident of a home win to add some light to what has been a dark 24 hours after the untimely passing of Fernando Ricksen.
Possible team (4-3-2-1)
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