Rangers tumbled out of the Europa League along with the other British representatives with a performance that involved a contrasting approach to each half. PSV were not great, they didn’t need to be, but they did what they had to do to progress.
Kyle Hutton and El Hadji Diouf were dropped from the first leg with Greg Wylde and Sasa Papac brought in as replacements. This meant 5-4-1 as usual for Rangers, with Wylde the main source of providing transitions from defence to attack and Kyle Lafferty preferred as the lone striker. Neil Alexander was again favoured ahead of Allan McGregor in goal.
First half a first leg rerun
As well as assuming similar shapes to the 0-0 draw in Eindhoven, the first half took a remarkably similar pattern to the first leg. Rangers got ten men behind the ball wherever possible and only pressed in their own half. If the ball did not cross the halfway line, they were not interested in winning it back.
PSV were happy to hold on to the ball, mostly through Orlando Engelaar, move it into wide areas and wait for openings to appear. We even had more outrageous shoot-on-site action from Balasz Dzsudzsak.
Both sides had opportunities from the left side early on. Wylde, who caused problems for the nervous Tamata all night, showed terrific pace and sent a dangerous ball into the box that no one in blue could connect with. Dzsudzsak wasted an opportunity from a similar position at the other end.
It was from an opening down the left that the only goal of the game arose from. Erik Pieters sent a wonderful through ball from a very deep position and into the path of Dzsudzsak and he delivered a low cross into the six yard box that was finished by Jeremain Lens. Even though it was a well worked goal, a few faults can be found with the Rangers defending.
Rangers’ passing in their own half then became rushed and inaccurate and they soon had their supporters berating them for holding such a deep defensive line and still refusing to press the ball outwith their own half, despite now requiring two goals to progress. This led to a period where PSV were happy to knock the ball around their six most defensive players and the goalkeeper and Rangers allwoing them to do so – I haven’t seen the stats but I’m sure Andreas Isaksson completed more passes than Steven Davis is the first half.
When Rangers did get forward the closest they came to an opportunity to score were a series of set-pieces that were wasted by poor deliveries.
Change of formation, strategy and attitude in second half
At half time, Smith switched to a 4-4-1-1 and withdrew Davie Weir for Steven Naismith, who moved played just off Lafferty in attack and was free to roam from wing to wing. Moreover, his position was such that Engelaar and Hutchinson’s time on the ball became much more limited. The movement and pace of Naismith gave Rangers exactly the spark they had been craving but this was aided by a dramatic change in approach. The Rangers midfield was not nearly as deep as it had been in the first half and Steven Davis was now looking to get on the ball and dictate play. As well as this, Rangers were now pressing PSV high up the pitch and Madjid Bougherra was getting forward with increasing regularity.
The weak link in the PSV side was evidently right-back Tamata and Wylde exposed this by beating him on a number of occasions and whipping some quality deliveries into the box that, unfortunately, no Rangers player could capitalise on.
There ensued a sustained period of pressure from Rangers, their first over the two legs, in which they thought they had scored and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty after the ball struck Hutchinson’s arm on the goal-line. A Naismith header came crashing off the bar in the same passage of play and Maurice Edu came close minutes earlier.
Midway through the second half, Lafferty picked up an injury and was replaced by Diouf. Even though it appeared to be a straight swap, Diouf was actually deployed as a false nine but seemed to overdo it, dropping deeper than the midfield on a number of occasions. It was unfortunate that the change was forced upon Smith since it seemed to kill any chance his side had of getting back into the tie.
Bougherra wasted a free header from a corner while Rangers’ play became increasingly more frustrated as the game entered the closing stages. Dzsudzsak hit the post late on in a half where PSV weren’t really involved yet managed to hold on to their lead and progress.
In the end, Walter Smith showed his opponents too much respect in the first half and insisted on keeping a deep defensive line, even after going a goal behind. In his post-match interview Smith said “I’d have liked us to played better in the first half of the game…regardless of the formation or whatever way we were playing”, but surely he’d concede, privately at least, that the second half showed that they are capable of attacking against good sides and maybe should have adopted a more attacking approach from the off.
There were similar signs of an overly cautious approach in the second leg against Sporting Lisbon in the previous round and it seems that even though sitting deep with ten men behind the ball may be the correct approach against the likes of Manchester United and Valencia, a more attacking approach in the Europa League would not only have given their supports more entertaining, less frustrating football to watch, it may even have helped them progress further than they eventually did.