3 talking points as Rangers herald Gio van Bronckhorst era by storming into Europa League knockouts again

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With Steven Gerrard’s now infamous promise still ringing hollow around Ibrox, Giovanni van Bronckhorst set out to show Rangers that he is a man who has the floor.

The Dutchman swept back to Glasgow this week, promising changes, changes delivered in a required two-goal victory over Sparta Prague, which tees up for a third straight in a row in the Europa League knockout stages.

The primary shock was that the Rangers looked as happy and clarified as they have done for some time, not least Alfredo Morelos, as his double proved enough to avoid the Czechs.

Lyon, who came from behind to beat Br√łndby, sealed Rangers’ progress on what was the ideal opening night for the new manager – especially given how helpless his players looked in defeat to Hibs in this weekend’s semi-final of the Premier Sports Cup.

He had had some time to work with them, but perhaps the most pleasing to the audience was a glimpse of Rangers returning as an attacking force.

But for some stubborn endings, they could have helped themselves to much more against some slapstick Sparta defenses.

The task, however, was to win by two and improve their head-to-head record with Pavel Vrba’s side – and that was exactly what they delivered.

There were no changes in the Rangers line-up despite what Van Bronckhorst witnessed in Mount Florida last Saturday.

Calvin Bassey for Leon Balogun and Ianis Hagi for Scott Arfield were the only two changes in the staff – but by no means the only changes in the exhibition.

There was, as one might expect with a new manager watching, an injection of intensity that almost yielded an early goal.

Ryan Kent broke into life with a purposeful drive into the box before choosing Joe Aribo with a smart cut-back.

Aribo stopped, switched and then hit the crossbar with a whipped effort.

However, the tone was set and it did not take long before the net waved.

Hagi had initiated the case as an obsessed man, and it was his endeavor that reached James Tavernier’s positive pass and entered Morelo’s road to sweep home with self-confidence.

Sparta’s slapstick defense undoubtedly helped ease that, but Hagi was determined to run past on every occasion and he created almost a second for Aribo.

The same race that brought the first goal made Sparta work again and the Romanian swept over a post that Aribo should actually have hit the net on the jump.

It should have been the pillow the crowd was looking for, but going past the lot to invite Sparta back to the case for a while.

A “how is your touch?” back-pass from Tavernier to McGregor brought some anxiety down on Ibrox and it did not help as the veteran keeper was forced to react quickly with his legs to keep Martin Minchev out of close range.

Luckily for the hosts, it turned out to be a short swell rather than a brewing storm, and the Rangers were able to see half comfortably, if not spectacularly.

If there were any persistent concerns about the potential costliness of the Aribo miss in the second period, they were generously banished by Sparta, who gave the Rangers an absolute gift in a second.

An unlucky attempt from Filip Panak to make the score 1 – 0 was a disappointment, however.

It could have been three moments later when the unhappy Panak handed over possession again, this time to Hagi.

He sent Kent galloping through on goal, but the winger shot directly at Dominik Holec with Morelos asking for a square ball to complete his treble.

Had Morelos, Kent or Aribo taken chances that were followed, then the tense finish that followed would have been averted.

A Sparta goal would have taken the matter to the final matchday and possibly required the Rangers to take something from Lyon.

It was an obvious ambition of Ibrox to use their ability at attacking on the flanks.

It was a waste that would have been punished, but for two rather outrageous McGregor rescues.

The Rangers failed to clear a post and the goalkeeper was forced into not one but two odds that defied stops – the first a clawing right hand and the second a stretched leg as Sparta looked to score.

When the final whistle blew five minutes later, an entire stadium breathed again.

Gio makes his mark

Expectations were high to get a first look at what Van Bronckhorst will seek to do with this Rangers team.

He would never tear down a long-established plan, shaped over three years by Gerrard and his coaching staff, and it actually felt more like returning to what Rangers have been good at.

The indifferent start to the campaign – in terms of performance – followed by Sunday’s disaster in Hampden may have clouded the fact that Rangers needed effective tweaks and not major operations.

Constant advancing runs from people like Hagi and Kent who took wider positions were a trait, just as Davis and Kamara took a stand on a flatter midfield base to form a 4-2-3-1.

There will no doubt be further tweaks and improvements, but this was an exciting insight into where Rangers are heading under the Dutchman.

Morelos bites back

Taverniers may disagree, but no player took more than Alfredo Morelos in the Hampden aftermath.

It was not unjustified, mind you.

The striker looked like a shadow of his former self in a show that was the culmination of a hitherto decidedly uninspiring campaign.

But such is the life of an attacker, all that was thrown aside this evening with two crucial goals for his team, both of which signaled a return of the predatory instinct and sheer uniformity in getting on the goal that the Colombian has been for. so well loved on Ibrox.

It is only a start for Morelos this period, yet promising.

Three on spin

They make it a real habit, Rangers.

From having bounced the depth of continental competition by losing to Progres Niederkorn, but a few years ago, they can now call themselves regulars in the knockout phase of the Europa League.

Making it three on the jump looked like a big order as a meek Rangers went down to the same opposition in Prague earlier in the campaign, making it two defeats from the initial pair of matches.

But they have gathered admirably since then to see it through with a game to spare.

Lyon, who swept everyone in the group aside, no doubt made things simpler, but it is still an undeniably impressive achievement for the club.

What lies ahead, however, is a significant challenge as they take on a parachuting leap into the Champions League in a play-off to reach the quarter-finals.


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