With a bunch of eedjits trying their hardest to kill our chance at 55 (naming no names…), it is great we can get back to Europe, and dream of going all the way.
As we all know up next is Royal Antwerp, a team with modest pedigree.
Founded in 1880 the current Antwerp team, under their new manager Frank Vercauteren, play a transitional 3-4-2-1 that is almost a zonal 3-6-1 formation, where their defenders keep very central, and the left and right back positions are left invitingly open.
However, in contrast to Standard Liege, there is no quick change here to a coherent 5 at the back to counter any quick attack by an opponent.
Instead the three defenders have very limited freedom to move, and they set up a very strict defensive line that is placed directly in front of the goal, and to counter an attack down the wings, it is the midfielders who need to move back and attempt to become defenders to stop the attack.
Though their numerical advantage in midfield helps Antwerp dominate games against weak teams, who cannot pass through the lines, the disadvantage is their strict, very narrow zonal defense creates huge, massive gaps between their separate midfield and defensive lines –contrasting to the low blocks we see Motherwell and other Scottish teams play.
These gaps are considered reasonable by most European standards, but against us, we should be able to punish Antwerp’s far more open defensive line.
As we all know, in midfield we now have all our key players back, and with Antwerp playing a congested midfield it just invites a long ball over the top.
Play a few of them into the gaps, and you will see Antwerp panic, because they will then be forced to drop deep to counter this tactic, and that will put them at a major disadvantage, because their defensive line just does not communicate well with their midfield.
Being blunt, Antwerp is not a well-drilled team, and the team still has a lot to learn before they can play their new manager’s tactics at this high level.
In attack, their primary strength is a surprise long-range shot. Their left winger is 24 year old Didier Lamkel who frequently hits the target from extreme long range. He is accurate.
He is then balanced with #70 Dieumerci Mbokani (pronounced Bowkani) who has fantastic balance, good feet, and very quick reactions, but not extreme speed. Think of a slightly slower Ryan Kent who can score almost every match. Then there is their wild card #19 Koji Miyoshi. Koji is from Japan and though he does not score many goals, he is a tricky player, who can play a killer pass and he is their primary disrupter.
In most games Koji plays in central midfield, but just like Ryan Kent there is little room in this area, and Koji will tend to move to the right to try to overload the defensive line, or he will come in late to the box, as a surprise extra body. He is fast, very direct and can dribble around defenders.
As we just mentioned, Antwerp’s normal approach is to try to win the midfield, to force their opponents into a defensive mode.
This is why we were saying a few weeks back it was very important for Rangers to use the January games to practice passing out from the back, while under pressure. Though this made Rangers look slow, and in some games, yes we did look like we were reverting to last year’s slowpokes, the reality is that was not the case.
It seems our advice has been heeded by Rangers, and in many games you could see our intent was to try to draw our opponents out, to give some of our key players some much needed time playing under pressure.
So, the summary is, if we can play quickly through their lines, we will have this Antwerp team on the run, and we could easily win this game by three or four goals. I could even see us winning this match 5:0.
Rangers are a far more coherent unit, and on form we should be far too strong for Antwerp, even if their new manager, Frank Vercauteren, is a serial winner, who has won two European Cup Winners’ Cups, one UEFA Cup and two European Supercups as player, and as manager he has won the Belgium League three times.
Vercauteren can only do so much, and just now he has not had the time to create a well-oiled machine, and that is all the difference we need.