It’s back to the Europa League. And Rangers, it’s fair to say, are no longer underdogs. Having been to the last 16 and the last 32, Rangers are now seen as one of the favourites to progress to the knockout stages.
Our first opponents, on Thursday, are Lyon, who we beat quite easily last year in a friendly, and to just show how small the differences are at this level, Lyon then went all the way to the semi-finals of the delayed 2019-2020 Champions league, which was finally won by Bayern Munich.
Porto and Villarreal, two other team we have played recently, have reached the quarter finals of the Champions League, and won the Europa league, respectively.
What many fans do not realise is Rangers have managed to reach the last 16 of the Europa League with a team that has only operated at 1/3rd of its true potential.
Yep, it is no longer a secret. Rangers are strongest at the “back”, with a disproportionate number of our key goals coming from our defenders.
Within Europe we at IN can think of no other team that plays with this crazy back to front style, with the defensive line often leading the attacking line in the number of goals scored.
Yep there truly is nae others like us.
We also have Alfredo, who is a major goal threat…
But now we start hit reality, and we at IN always like to give things to you straight.
This upcoming game against Lyons is going to be tough. Real tough.
The reason is we are facing an entirely different Lyon, a Lyon now managed by Peter Bosz.
For those who are not up to date with German and French football, Bosz was the manager of Bayer Leverkusen, when we were schooled by them two years ago, in the Europa League.
When we were unceremoniously dumped from the competition, Bayer deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with two pivots.
In response, Rangers deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation, giving Leverkusen a one man advantage in attack, (4 vs 3 strikers) and a solid 2 vs 1 advantage in their defensive line (6 defenders against 3 primary attackers), whenever we looked like we might be a threat.
However, the problem we faced against Peter Bosz’s team 2 years ago is not just down to the tactical set up Bayer deployed that night. We have played against this type of formation many times before and won.
Instead, the key difference was how Peter Bosz sets up his team works as a complete team, which completely destroyed our ability to pass out from the back and allowed them to turn the ball over and breach huge massive holes in our defensive line.
Just watching the game, it is sometimes difficult to see what exactly Bayer Leverkusen were doing that made it so tough for our players, but it can be reduced to just one sentence.
Peter Bosz sets up his teams to play chess.
His teams like to operate in tactical groups, which permits one of their attacking line to tactically drag just one player just a few yards out of position.
Then the next stage develops. Another attacker will pretend to attack the position that has just been weakened by this drag play.
This second movement then causes the central defenders to react to the perceived threat, and that puts them just slightly out of position…
…which then permits the real attack to take place, when a third player in this game of tactical chess will attack the now weakened central defence.
This, thinking three moves ahead, was used time and time against us, until our players didn’t know whether we were coming or going, and when we did finally get the ball, most of our players were just slightly out of position….and it would then take one critical second to regroup, and try to work out what to do next…
And at this level a gap of one second is a goal scored.
And during that critical one second, when we had to reorganise to get back into an attacking shape, Leverkusen had all the time they needed to regroup and then press us to get the ball.
Bosz also set up his team that day to very carefully extinguish any threat from Tavernier, by carefully marking the front players to prevent Tavernier making his usual key passes.
However, all the steps Bosz took that day are useless, if the opposing team can play out from the back in rapid series of passes, just like we used to do, all those years ago, under Warburton and his magic hat.
Yes, Warburton was so rigid in his tactical thinking it made diamond look like play-doh, but god he did know how to get the ball up through the lines.
Just break the press a few times early in the game, and the high press that the other teams is trying to put us under will immediately shifts to a more defensive posture.
And we showed we could do this recently against Real Madrid. Yep the mighty Madrid were chasing shadows that day.
So, being blunt, this is a game that is going to be all about who wants it more.
Start slow and we could easily be down three goals by half time.
Start fast, like we did against Real Madrid, and we have a chance.
There is now no time for Rangers midfield to learn the tactical tricks Peter Bosz has drilled into his team. We had the six months to learn how to play this style and to learn to play through the lines when we won the league in March, but we wasted that golden chance.
As we said, we like to give it to you straight.
This Thursday just has to be a Real Madrid type performance, otherwise this is going to be one very tough game to watch.
Lyon do have weaknesses. However, we need a Scott Arfield to disrupt their midfield, and a Ryan Kent on form to cause havoc on the wings.
I would also drop Kamara, and replace him with Stephen Kelly. Yes, really…
The reason is Stephen Kelly has a far better defensive-midfield head than Kamara ever will, and that will be critical for this match.
Yeh, I hear you, Stephen Kelly has no “experience” at this level, but he is only a few years younger than Kamara, and though he is technically not as smooth as Kamara, he already has shown us he can read the game better.
This really is more an Old Firm type game, where if we sit back in our defensive shell, Peter Bosz will have already worked out countless ways to nudge open gaps in our back line, but unlike Celtic, even with Lyon losing Memphis Depay (just imagine combining an on-form Morelos and with Jermain Defoe into one player) on a free transfer to Barcelona, these ‘Lyons’ can bite.
If we work our socks off, we can beat them.
As I said, at the highest levels it is all about who wants it more, and we do have the right players to disrupt this talented Lyon team …If Gerrard has faith in them.
Game on. Match prediction Rangers win, 2 goals to 1.