5 to Follow - Ufa vs Rangers

Thursday will see Rangers taking the long trip to Russia where we will face off against UFA in the second leg of the Europa League qualifier. Leading 1-0 from the clash at Ibrox last week the Gers are looking to gain entry into the Europa League group stages, something only a handful of sides has managed when entering at the same stage as we have. 

The game follows on from a bruising and extremely disappointing 3-3 draw at Fir Park on Sunday, a game that saw Rangers fall behind for the first time in the Steven Gerrard era. 

Bumps in the road are to be expected, especially at this stage. 

Here are the 5 Storylines to follow vs UFA:

1 - RETURN OF HEART & HANDS LASS.

Sundays encounter with Motherwell served as more evidence as just how important a player Heart & Hands Lass Coulibaly has become, in such a short space of time. On Sunday we just didn't do a good enough job at times throughout the match at Fir Park of offering protection and screening to our back line. 

I'm sure the big man will be given until the final minutes to prove his fitness, game time is important with Sunday's fixture at Parkhead just 3 days after this clash. 
Coulibaly offers not only just energy and creativity when he plays, but his breaking up of the opposition play is superb, possibly even his greatest strength. It is no coincidence at all that Jack, Goldson and Katic have all looked at their best when our boy has played. 

Haliday is a good and versatile player to have around the squad, he is just not of the same quality as Lass. I feel Halidays best role is when in filling in at left back, not in the holding role he was asked to do, unfortunately, there is enough evidence during

his Rangers career so far to offer support to that claim. I don't think Haliday played terribly by any means, by all accounts he had some very crucial interceptions at key times, its just maybe more in the physical presence and the fact it's a more natural
role for Coulibaly. 

The shape on Sunday was not so much the issue, you only have to look at the number of chances created on either flank as proof. No, the big issue was in the shielding at times of the back line, and the overall level of defending. A slip for the first goal (these things happen), then just switching off allowing a free header for the second. The third is just poor defending on so many levels, particularly at that late stage in the game. 

It was nice to see a Rangers team show some character and fight, something that has been missing for a very long time. Even if Sunday's result fell short of expectancy levels. 

2 - COMPLACENCY IS THE ENEMY

Having watched UFA in the first leg at Ibrox I can't say I head into this encounter with a great deal of fear if I'm honest. The main tactic for them was to use their wing-backs, then feed the ball into the brute up front.  

Our opponents made 5 changes to their side for the weekend's fixture, including the goalkeeper who played at Ibrox, so clearly don't feel the tie is over. They will fancy their chances. 

What we do have to guard against is the type of defending we witnessed too often at times in Sunday's match. It was the worst display so far by Katic and Goldson at the heart of the defence, for the first time this season the two impressive performers looked shaky and uneasy. 

Goldson, in particular, was well below what we have come to expect from a player of his quality. Every player is going to have a bad game once in a while, it's just human nature. What was most alarming was that he failed to attack the ball in his usual dominant manner, on numerous occasions. 

As for the Rangers captain James Tavernier, I have previously praised Tav for his improved defending this season, however, he will have to up his game, he was beaten far too easily and too many times, either out wide or in just simply switching
off. He must do better. On Sunday he was abysmal, just not good enough from a senior pro at the club, I very much have my doubts he will ever learn. 3 years and the same mistakes are still occurring. Time after time. 

Overall the number of free headers we gave away as a team was cause for concern, that and the number of times we let in Motherwell. Stop the cross, don't dive in and track your men. On Sunday it was erratic and desperate defending at times. 

Our goalkeeper didn't exactly cover himself in glory either on Sunday, questions could certainly be asked of his involvement in the 1st and last goals we conceded. Performance levels will drop in games throughout the season, but when you have 3 or 4 players having an off day, all of whom are playing at the back your chances of gaining victory will be severely hampered. It must be eradicated, quickly. 

What we must keep in mind is that we already have a one-goal lead, play smart. It would be naive to think we can go away in Europe and have 99% possession and dominate the game from start to finish, as nice as that would be. At stages, we will be asked to sit in, soaking up pressure looking for the counter-attack, something I suspect we will see deployed on Sunday at stages.

The message is simple to keep tight and stay calm. 

3 - HOLD-UP PLAY

One of the things in this match that will be the key to any victory or ability to get a positive result will be the hold-up play, mainly of Morelos but to a lesser yet no less important extent Lafferty.

The two players were excellent in the first half on Sunday, however, after the interval, their level of play dipped. This may have been down to just how much the players had given in getting back into the match and it is worth keeping in mind just how much football we have played already this season, often with a short recovery time before the next game. This is what life at a big club in modern football is like, it is not a situation unique to us. We must adjust and deal with it. 

I think we will see the reintroduction of both Kent and Candeias, with the pair returning to the starting eleven. What they offer is cover in wide areas to the full backs, and can hold the ball up in deeper areas.

Steven Gerrard has in past European away ties asked his wide men to tuck in, just to restrict the space in key areas, with our one goal advantage I can definitely see this being the case again. 

It was clear for all to see in Sunday's match that clearly Steven Gerrard does not rate or trust Sadiq right now, as he refused to throw him on at any stage in the match, despite both Morelos and Lafferty appearing tired in the closing stages. 

4 - DEFENDING SET PLAYS

If there is one particular phase of games we must improve on, and fast is in our ability to defend set plays. The way and manner we conceded the goals on Sunday were quite staggering. 

Now, I fully appreciate as a team we are still very much a work in progress with a large squad turnover since the gaffer has been appointed, something that clearly has to be kept in perspective at this early stage. 

I think for me it's just the ease and manner of the goals we lost on Sunday that I'm sure left you all as frustrated as I was. Basic stuff, it's not like Motherwell didn't play as advertised or outplayed us, we were very much the architects of our own
downfall. 

Defend in the same manner at set plays, and we could find ourselves on the end of another disappointing result, regardless of how far we have come already. 

5 - DON'T LOSE YOUR HEADS

Discipline is vital in an away tie like this one, you can rest assured the Russian's will be attempting every dirty trick in the book. 

Remaining calm and walking away at times, might be what our players have to do in order to restrain the emotions boiling over. 

The referee will be under enormous pressure throughout this clash, what we can't do is give him any reason or slight cause to take action against us. We have already played too many games this season with depleted numbers. 

I think its fair to say there is always a somewhat level of suspicion that hangs over trips to Russia, although most of that is probably unfounded and viewed from the perspective of James Bond or Rocky films. 

PREDICTION:

UFA 1 - 1 Rangers

Steven Harrigan (@steven_harrigan)

1 comment

Charlie Penman

Good analysis and great 5 points to watch. I would have maybe gone a little further in the defending set plays section to include man marking and not losing concentration. It is likely to be a really hard 90 minutes and possibly 120 minutes depending how it goes and we need to maintain structure and concentration for the full time. I’m hoping and praying we do it in the 90 as I fear for us on Sunday if we have to play extra time on Thursday

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