Rangers step back into big time but have issues to resolve - does Van Bronckhorst risk sinking player's Ibrox career?

With its steep sides, forbidding name and reputation as a bit of a graveyard for Scottish teams, Giovanni van Bronckhorst might have chosen somewhere other than his old international HQ to try and shake out the memory of another comprehensive Old Firm defeat.

In contrast to their trip to Eindhoven last month, when Rangers again seemed up against it, it’s not even possible to look to history for inspiration.

Celtic might have won at the Amsterdam Arena, now the Johan Cruyff Arena, but the Ibrox side lost their only competitive fixture at this particular ground – a 4-1 defeat, after Paul Gascoigne’s red card, in 1996. Then there’s Scotland’s 6-0 World Cup play-off thrashing in 2003.

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Rangers are playing their first Champions League group game since a 1-1 draw with Buraspor in 2010. It is a feat to overcome Ajax at the best of times, never mind days after a 4-0 mauling against Celtic and when in the process of finding their feet again at his rarefied level.

Rangers goalkeepers Jon McLaughlin (left) and Allan McGregor train at the Rangers Training Centre before the trip to Amsterdam (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
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Ajax have lost a manager and half of their team, with new Manchester United signing Antony just the latest key player to depart, but are still setting the pace in the Eredivisie after five straight victories.

Alfred Schreuder, who replaced the Manchester United-bound Erik ten Hag in the summer, has stressed that he has dismissed Rangers’ demolition at Parkhead. Van Bronckhorst can’t afford to do likewise on his return to the Netherlands.

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He will have pondered what went wrong against Ange Postecoglou’s side just 24 hours after he confidently predicted Rangers would know what to expect at Celtic Park.

The Dutchman won’t let the result influence all his thinking. As he said last night, “You cannot change every time you have a defeat”. After all, it’s a fortnight since Rangers beat PSV Eindhoven on their last European away trip. The team that night was very similar to the one sent into action on Saturday. The only change was Steve Davis’ inclusion for the injured Tom Lawrence.

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On the face of it, the most significant dilemma for Van Bronckhorst is deciding who plays in goal. Considering Ajax have scored ten goals in their last two home matches, it is a major consideration.

Does he keep faith with Jon McLaughlin or remove him from the firing line by recalling Allan McGregor? The latter has played only one competitive appearance since a Scottish Cup final against cameo against Hearts. Now he could be asked to resume his Champions League career at 40.

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McLaughlin kept Rangers in the tie against PSV when they drew the first leg 2-2. Before Saturday, his promotion ahead of McGregor had not prompted too much comment.

As recently as Friday, on the eve of the Old Firm match, McLaughlin spoke about his new life as the preferred choice between the sticks at Rangers. Now many Ibrox fans believe that allowing him to remain in place is simply untenable.

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Such is the life of a Rangers – or Celtic – goalkeeper. Van Bronckhorst knows that dropping McLaughlin on the evidence of one desperately poor display risks sinking the 34-year-old’s Ibrox career.

He may well conclude that the opening game of a group stage, where there’s time left to make up lost ground, is not the time to make such a potentially damaging call.

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