Four Days To Define A Season: Van Bronckhorst's Rangers Face Monumental 72 Hours

Braga await in the Europa League, before a Celtic semi-final
10:00, 14 Apr 2022

Rangers are about to embark on two monumental games in four days that will define their season. The Ibrox club will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Sporting Braga in the last eight of the Europa League before challenging Celtic for a place in the Scottish Cup final just 72 hours later.

The hangover from the Old Firm defeat lingered for days - and the Scottish champions were lacklustre against a sprightly Braga side last week. The Glasgow giants were unnerved defensively, outworked in midfield and insipid in attack. Tellingly, Rangers failed to register a shot on target in a European game for the first time since November 2009.

The absence of Alfredo Morelos has been significant. The Colombian is the primary goal-getter, a talismanic figure, and his bustling style is unique in the modern game. Without him, Rangers were toothless against Celtic and Braga. Kemar Roofe netted a hat-trick against St Mirren on Sunday to enhance his hopes of a starting berth, but, unlike El Bufalo, who is content to plough a lone furrow, the Jamaican internationalist requires a support act.

Roofe was isolated against Celtic, while Fashion Sakala was cut adrift in Portugal. Giovanni van Bronckhorst has been reticent to alter his approach, but a system tailor-made for Morelos does not suit his current striking options. Aaron Ramsey, therefore, in a shot-shy side, has a vital role to play. The Juventus loanee has an uncanny knack of timing his forward darts to perfection, and his eagerness to make penetrating runs could bear fruit again - just as it did against Celtic.

Rangers trail a youthful and inexperienced Braga side - and while the Light Blues do not have a rich history of overturning deficits in Europe, it remains an eminently winnable tie. The run to the last eight has been impressive, but exiting the competition to Portugal’s fourth-best team would ensure a fondly remembered adventure ended in regret.   

As Van Bronckhorst attempts to join an esteemed list of Rangers managers that have taken the club into a European semi-final, Celtic will be resting and recuperating ahead of the latest instalment of the Old Firm derby. The Light Blues are at a disadvantage, but few inside a jam-packed Ibrox on Thursday evening will be complaining.

Rangers have a dismal recent record at Hampden and are without a domestic cup success in 11 years. The majority of the current squad has been together for over three seasons, yet they only have one championship medal to show for their endeavours. Europa League glory still appears unlikely, but a Scottish Cup victory would prove a fitting finale for the numerous stalwarts set to depart in June.

The current Rangers team will be dismantled and reshaped in the summer months. As a squad, they will be fondly remembered for ending the club's long and arduous wait for Premiership success - but their abject failure in domestic cup competitions has caused much consternation.

The Light Blues have lost the last two Old Firm games, and they looked devoid of belief and creativity in both. Van Bronckhorst is under pressure to reverse the slide, and he is yet to earn the trust of the Ibrox faithful. The 47-year-old was embraced like a long-lost son when he returned to the club, but his honeymoon period ended when his cautious approach became detrimental.

Rangers are targeting a memorable double-triumph over the next four days. At the very least, the Light Blues need to advance in one of the competitions, or the undercurrent of dissatisfaction will rise to the surface. The derision in the stands in beginning to register at boardroom level, yet the champions still have an opportunity to ensure their 150th-anniversary season is marked with silverware.

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