He may have had only two days of training with the squad he inherited from Steven Gerrard but the changes van Bronckhorst stated he would seek to implement on their style of play were already clear to see in the 2-0 win at Ibrox which secured Rangers’ place in the knockout phase of the tournament with a round of fixtures to spare.
While he freely admits he is instinctively an adherent of the 4-3-3 system generally favoured by Gerrard throughout the former England captain’s time in charge, van Bronckhorst immediately displayed a tactical flexibility which reaped an immediate dividend from a group of players who have struggled to find their best form collectively since the start of this season.
The switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which Gerrard also deployed occasionally, was combined with an instruction to move the ball with greater tempo and intensity through the thirds of the pitch.
With Steven Davis and Glen Kamara as the defensive midfield screen in front of central defenders Connor Goldson and Calvin Bassey – the latter impressing as a deputy for the injured Leon Balogun – it allowed full-backs James Tavernier and Borna Barisic all the freedom they required to surge down the flanks. Left-back Barisic, especially, looked far more effective than he has done for some time.
It was van Bronckhorst’s tweak to the advanced midfield trio which perhaps had the most positive impact on the performance of a team which had been so lacking in impetus and direction during the 3-1 defeat against Hibs in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final at Hampden four days earlier.
Joe Aribo was used by Gerrard as a right-sided player, either in the midfield or attacking trio of his 4-3-3 set-up.
Van Bronckhorst’s decision to play Aribo in the central ‘number 10’ role paid off handsomely. The Nigerian international is one of the most technically gifted players currently operating in Scottish football and also possesses the kind of athleticism and physicality which makes him difficult to stop when in full flow.
His contribution allowed Alfredo Morelos to do exactly what van Bronckhorst wants the Colombian striker to – stay in and around the opposition penalty area, rather than dropping deeper to try and link up play.
There was also a greater emphasis on the two wide men in the attacking midfield trio – Ianis Hagi and Ryan Kent on this occasion – staying closer to the touchlines as much as possible and, in van Bronckhorst’s words, creating more ‘one-v-ones and overloads’.
It saw a more dynamic display from Rangers which was maintained when Nathan Patterson and Fashion Sakala came on to fill those wider positions in the second half. Patterson looked more than comfortable in a role which could offer the solution to giving the exciting Scotland international more regular game time in the coming months.
All told, it could hardly have been a more encouraging start for van Bronckhorst. Maintaining it on the artificial pitch at Livingston on Sunday will be a different challenge altogether but the early signs suggest he has given Rangers the spark they clearly needed.