Sparta are there for the taking under Philippe Clement’s Rangers

Sparta are there for the taking under Philippe Clement’s Rangers
Sparta Prague's Danish head coach Brian Priske follows the action from the sidelines during the UEFA Champions League, first-leg, third round qualifing foorball match FC Copenhagen v Sparta Prague in Copenhagen on August 8, 2023. (Photo by Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

Do you remember a few years back? It seemed like every time we played the other team would sack their manager.

Well, today I want to turn things around. What do you think our chances are of winning?

Just now, we are only two points behind Betis, but it is clear that we now have to win the next two matches to mathematically have any chance of being safe.

So, which Rangers team will turn up?

Do we put in the same performance that we did in the first half against Sparta, two weeks ago? Or do we come out as the more cohesive unit, which is tight at the back, ruthless in the middle and clinical up front.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us, who have watched the transformation under Clement, are feeling just a wee bit confident.

Rangers Scott Wright
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – NOVEMBER 05: Scott Wright of Rangers celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the Viaplay Cup Semi Final match between Heart of Midlothian and Rangers at Hampden Park on November 05, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

On our side we still have the problem that out of our six defenders (James Tavernier, John Souttar, Connor Goldson, Dujon Sterling, Ben Davies, Borna Barisic), Sterling is probably not ready for this level, Davies is still out with a long-term injury, and Barisic is just coming back from an injury.

But that is countered by the fact our team has had a major lift in confidence.

Everyone is playing with far more energy. Clement clearly knows the importance of players supporting each other (something that has been lacking for far too long), and Clement even subbed Tavernier in the last match. Perhaps this being a sign that he wants to start rotating players, with the aim being to train others to be ready if anyone gets injured.

For me, there is already a lot to like about our new coach and he seems to know how to get the best out of the players.

It is also noteworthy that Sparta’s form does drop away from home. I was amazed to hear that Sparta have only won 3 of their last 18 away matches in Europe, but they do seem to wins against Scottish teams, with a thumping of perennial European failures Celtic 4-1.

And for me this is the major concern I have. If Rangers play all-out attack as Celtic are prone to do in Europe, and we push our defenders far too forward, we could get hit in the break. For me there is still the need to strike a balance (we do not have Balogun available to command the backline, as he was not selected), which means we need to show that we not only know how to absorb the blows, but the team needs to know when to absorb the blows, and to then clinically hit back when we get any opening.

I really like the fact that Clement likes to mix the long pass, with fast short interchanges, and what I’m hoping I’m seeing is we are getting back to when other teams would respond to how Rangers played, rather than us always responding to them.

Rangers Philippe Clement Tavernier
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – NOVEMBER 05: James Tavernier of Rangers celebrates with Manager Philippe Clement after the team’s victory in the Viaplay Cup Semi Final match between Heart of Midlothian and Rangers at Hampden Park on November 05, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

As before, Sparta likes to mix their team around and this can cause confusion in the middle of the park. They will continue to use Beale’s tactics, with their version of Tavernier bombing up the wing, and we already know they are silky smooth in transition, when they have enough time on the ball, and they can cause any team damage.

But Rangers are very familiar with all their tactics, because they directly copied Rangers from two years ago, and their team captain, Ladislav Krejci, is still out injured.

So, it is going to be a tough match. On paper there is not much between the two teams, but we have all seen the progress we have made in the last few weeks, and if we can come out, and control this game, we should see a relatively routine win.

But what I really want to see is this team finally showing Europe that Rangers are back again.

After two years of nonsense, we deserve to dream again. Let’s start singing about getting to the final.

Aim high, you never know what might happen.

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