Giovanni van Bronckhorst insists Rangers can handle demands of Europe, Celtic and Scottish Cup

The last Rangers manager who saw a domestic title bid negatively impacted by an extended run in Europe received plenty of sympathy and understanding from the club’s support.

Another full house is expected at Ibrox on Thursday night as Rangers try to take a step towards the quarter-finals of the Europa League. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Another full house is expected at Ibrox on Thursday night as Rangers try to take a step towards the quarter-finals of the Europa League. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The kudos and admiration Walter Smith received for leading Rangers to the UEFA Cup Final in 2008 significantly mitigated the disappointment among their fanbase over losing out to Celtic in a Premier League race in which a congested and controversial schedule proved too challenging at the end of the season.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst isn’t anywhere near that kind of scenario just yet. But if he becomes the first manager since Smith 14 years ago to guide Rangers into the last eight of a European tournament, those free midweeks in his diary will diminish further.

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Van Bronckhorst would clearly welcome the prospect of going as far as possible in the Europa League, a tournament which has delivered the high point of his tenure so far with last month’s 6-4 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the knockout round play-offs.

Rangers players celebrate during their Europa League knockout round play-off tie success against Borussia Dortmund last month. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

As he prepares for the first leg of the last 16 tie against Red Star Belgrade at Ibrox on Thursday night, van Bronckhorst insists Rangers are ready to handle the demands of marrying their European ambitions with their efforts to both beat Celtic to the Premiership crown and win the Scottish Cup for the first time since 2009.

“We respect every competition we are in,” said van Bronckhorst. “We are happy to still be involved in the three competitions.

“We are fighting hard to be successful in the league, we are still in Europe and still in the Scottish Cup.

“Now we are going to play in all three competitions within 10 days, so we are preparing well in a busy schedule and monitoring the fitness of the players.

Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos greets the full-time whistle after the Scottish champions defeated Borussia Dortmund 6-4 on aggregate to reach the last 16 of the Europa League. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

“For me, the next game is always the most important one. So we are just focusing on tomorrow and after that we will think about the cup.

“Everyone is aware of the busy schedule and we have to prepare well to be at our best in every game. But Europe is giving us a big lift in morale, we have to keep pushing to overcome this opponent as well.

“We are happy that we overcame Dortmund. We know the opponent we are facing now are going to be tough again. They were winners of their group.

“We start all over again and we want to be in the next round. We are working hard and preparing well as we did in the previous games.

“I have full confidence we can have a good result. In Europe, every game is tough but we will do everything possible to ensure we can go into the next round.

“Dortmund was a huge win for the club. We had disappointing results after that in the league with the two draws but the overall feeling we have is that we are pushing ourselves to be successful.

“In Europe, I think it’s very important for the development of the team. The club still being involved in Europe is very important, and also for the points we earn for Scotland for the future in European football.”

Red Star arrived in Glasgow having built significant momentum since returning to action after their winter break last month. The Serbian champions have won all five of their league games, including a 2-0 derby triumph against city rivals Partizan, to maintain their hopes of winning a fifth consecutive domestic title.

They are likely to adopt a less expansive approach than Dortmund did in the previous round, perhaps forcing Rangers to try and dictate play. But van Bronckhorst is comfortable that his players will adapt to whatever tactics his opposite number Dejan Stankovic brings to the tie.

“It’s not difficult,” added van Bronckhorst. “We play in different systems, we play against different systems. Especially in Europe, you have to be very dynamic.

“I think we have shown against Dortmund that we are capable of doing that. We prepare well for Thursday, so we know their way of playing when they have the ball and when they want to press.

“Everything can happen, they can change system but I think we are very versatile in our formation to play in different ways.

“They can play in a couple of systems. They are defensively quite strong, they can do the high press and defend in a really low block.

“So for us it’s about managing the game and seeing what approach we need. It’s a tough opponent, for sure, but we go out there tomorrow to make sure we have a good result to take with us to Belgrade next week.”

Despite the current level of discontent among a sizeable proportion of the Rangers support, both at their club’s inconsistent form in the title race and over the decision to accept an invitation to play Celtic in a friendly tournament in Sydney later this year, Ibrox should be set for another memorable and unified atmosphere under the floodlights on Thursday.

That’s certainly the expectation of van Bronckhorst as he looks for an outcome which will leave Rangers in a promising position ahead of the daunting return fixture at Red Star’s notorious Marakana Stadium next week.

“It’s very important,” he said. “I have no doubt the fans will be behind us. The last home games, they were terrific - especially in Europe.

“So I think the players will feel the energy in the stadium and the support of our fans. They will be supporting us for 90 minutes and we make sure we have the right vibe between the players and the fans.

“That’s what we’ve always had in Europe, so I don’t think tomorrow will be any different.”

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