The confirmation of Giovanni van Bronckhorst as Rangers’ 17th permanent manager was met with widespread delight from the Ibrox faithful - and his flawless start has only increased expectations.
Four wins from his first four matches have ensured the upheaval created from Steven Gerrard’s hastened departure to Aston Villa has been minimal. The Dutchman’s calm demeanour, coupled with his subtle tactical tweaks, has led to a seamless transition in the dugout.
Van Bronckhorst is the fortunate recipient of a squad rich in quality, however he also inherited a collection of underperforming individuals. The current campaign has been littered with countless disjointed displays, including a dismal Champions League exit to an unspectacular Malmo side.
A lack of summer investment in the playing squad - due to financial restraints - was partly responsible for the lack of vibrancy towards the end of Gerrard’s tenure. The team had gone stale, and the manager failed to address the sharp decline in standards.
Following the Premier Sports Cup semi-final defeat to Hibernian, and Connor Goldson’s eye-opening comments regarding a lack of hunger in the dressing room, Van Bronckhorst entered a club teetering on the brink of a mini-crisis.
The former Feyenoord boss, during his introductory press conference, attempted to downplay Goldson’s remarks to minimise the furore. It worked, and the Englishman has repaid his manager’s faith with improved performances.
Van Bronckhorst resisted the temptation to make sweeping changes and adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation for his managerial debut against Sparta Prague. A comfortable 2-0 victory was recorded and a play-off spot in the Europa League was secured.
The change in shape away from Gerrard’s favoured 4-3-3 saw Alfredo Morelos become a more threatening figure in the attacking third and an onus placed on Joe Aribo to be his primary support act.
The sample size is small, but Van Bronckhorst has shown flexibility in his approach depending on the quality of the opposition. He was adventurous against Livingston and Dundee yet cautious against Hibernian.
The excellent trio of Leon Balogun, Calvin Bassey and Aribo aside, the drop in output across the squad this season has been stark. Performances have rarely risen above average despite the lofty league position. Van Bronckhorst, though, has already revitalised several individuals.
Borna Barisic, floundering since the summer, has rediscovered his intensity and Scott Arfield’s darting runs from midfield are creating the chaos intended. Morelos also appears motivated and engaged. The Colombian’s fluctuating form remains a talking point, but he is still a vital cog in the team.
Recent displays have been a source of encouragement for those of a blue persuasion. The team is performing as a cohesive unit once again, and the hard work being done on the training ground is evident on match days.
The congested fixture list does not relent before next month’s winter break. Rangers have to negotiate tricky trips to Tynecastle, Pittodrie and Celtic Park as they seek to extend their current four-point advantage over the chasing pack.
The upcoming transfer window is unlikely to see significant personnel changes, but Rangers, like every club in Scotland, are susceptible to bids for their prized assets. Aribo, who has 18-months left on his contract, has admirers south of the border, and he could leave if an acceptable offer is forthcoming.
Goldson, free to negotiate a pre-contract with potential suitors from next month, could also depart. Discussions to extend his stay in Glasgow have reached an impasse, and his uncertain future hurries the requirement for reinforcements.
With Filip Helander recovering from a knee injury and Jack Simpson on the fringes, Rangers are light in central defence and it’s an area of the squad that requires significant attention.
Van Bronckhorst is yet to encounter turbulence since embarking on his latest challenge – and the success he craves will be dependent on how he copes with adversity.
It remains to be seen if the Dutchman will be an able long-term replacement for Gerrard, but the immediate uplift in performances since his arrival provides a solid foundation to build upon.
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