Giovanni van Bronckhorst needs Ibrox to be Rangers' twelfth man with Champions League dreams on the line against USG

·5-min read
Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Giovanni van Bronckhorst

IBROX, baby. It is just different.

The sentiments of Ianis Hagi two years ago must act as the inspiration for Rangers this evening. Their Champions League dreams depend on it.

A wretched, rotten 2-0 defeat to Union Saint-Gilloise last Tuesday night has left Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side in a position that is unenviable but not one that is insurmountable now that a place in the play-off round is just 90 minutes away.

Hagi would make that famous statement after starring in the comeback victory over Braga as Ibrox inspired Rangers in February 2020. In some ways, it also spooked their visitors on a night of emotion and drama under the floodlights.

The stage is set for such an occasion once again. If Rangers are to progress to a meeting with Monaco or PSV, those off the park will have their own role to play as Van Bronckhorst's side aim to raise their performance to an acceptable level for one all-or-nothing outing.

Thrilling wins over Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leipzig followed the remarkable night against Borussia Dortmund as Rangers progressed to Seville and came within touching distance of their finest achievement on the continental stage.

Now a capacity crowd must have a say once again as a Union outfit who have never experienced anything like the pressure or the atmosphere attempt to keep their head above water in the blue sea of Ibrox.

"They always have a big role," Van Bronckhorst said. "When we play home games, the atmosphere is fantastic. The support of the fans is amazing.

"I’m sure it will be the same [against Union]. We have to make sure that our performance is better than last week because then we can create an atmosphere that will make it really difficult for our opponent, as we have shown many times before.

"We are able to do so and turn it around with the support of our fans, but as I’ve said before the performance needs to be a lot better than the away game.

"We have to [be at the level of the Red Star and Leipzig wins]. I’ve said many times before that if you play in Europe you cannot have an off night because it will make it difficult for you in the whole tie.

"The level we reached last week wasn’t the level we normally reach, or that we have to reach to be competitive in the Champions League.

"So, yes, our performances and our standards have to be on a high level. We have to be there to have a chance to move onto the next stage."

A place in the Champions League is the next target for Rangers to achieve, the next step that must be taken after four seasons of progression and success at home and abroad. It is an ambition that is now on the line.

The damage was self-inflicted over the course of 90 lacklustre minutes in Belgium. The mood was understandably low and Van Bronckhorst admitted on Monday that he had never seen his players so disappointed after a game.

The mindset has now shifted and the focus is on the future. Victory over Union could be the springboard to the season for a squad that will only improve over time.

Van Bronckhorst said: "It’s very important because you want to stay in the Champions League for the next round and be able to qualify for the group stages.

"The first game wasn’t the result we wanted. We have a home game when we can all change it.

"That’s what we are capable of and what we want to do. My objective and my desire is to still be in the Champions League next week.

"The positive thing is we started with two wins in the league. It’s important to get off on a winning start.

"We have quite a big squad. We have some new additions to the squad and it takes time to get used to each other to know each other’s strengths.

"I can see the development in my players, especially the new ones coming in – adapting to the playing style, to their new team-mates and representing a new club.

"I think that’s a process you will always have in the beginning of the season. We just make sure our development and process is together with winning games."

Van Bronckhorst offered no excuses in the aftermath of the first leg and the Dutchman is well aware of what is at stake, both in terms of reputation and finances, if Rangers are to falter at this stage for a second successive season.

Even the twelfth man of the Ibrox crowd couldn't haul Steven Gerrard's side over the line last term as Malmo inflicted a defeat that history has judged differently following the remarkable run in the Europa League that came as an unintended consequence.

Rangers are experienced operators on the continent. If Van Bronckhorst and his players get their approach right, then victory this evening is certainly not beyond their capabilities.

“It depends," Van Bronckhorst said when asked if it was more natural for Rangers to play with an aggressive style at Ibrox. "I think it’s both.

"It is two games in a tie and you don’t want to away and be really open and give chances away. I think the set-up we had away was a set-up we are used to playing away from home.

"Your performance has to be there, and that’s what I saw last week when we didn’t have the performance we normally have.

"Too many players didn’t have their best night and that makes it really difficult no matter which system you play. I think that was the big difference last week compared with the campaign we had last year.

“Now we play at home and of course if you are 2-0 down you have to play a different way because you have to create more chances and you have to score goals. That’s a different mindset compared to last week.”