Rangers reached the halfway point of their Europa League group with four points and everything to play for, after a 0-0 draw with Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic.

After a first half that was totally dominated by the home side, much of the second 45 followed suit. Rangers did, however, improve in the final 20 and could’ve won the game outright when Danilo’s shot was palmed onto the crossbar. Victor Olatunji also could’ve secured all three points but misplaced a late cutback.

The Rangers Review brings you the key talking points from the epet Arena in Prague.


A reminder of Clement’s scale of task

Prowling up and down his technical area in Prague, while Philippe Clement will have known the size of his task before getting the Rangers job this was very much a case in point. Saturday’s win over Hibs was encouraging but tellingly, the Belgian stopped short of branding it impressive afterwards saying “That is a big word”. Tonight showed why. Cyriel Dessers and to a slightly lesser degree Sam Lammers were better at the weekend but in Prague, they failed to build on that showing. Rangers had structural issues in their search for a solution with no left-back available and their asymmetrical approach combined with a pressing shape too comfortable for the home side to content with didn’t help. Beyond formations, too many individuals still look out of form, confidence or both. Todd Cantwell took the ball on a run after half time but that aside attacking threat was non-existent until Danilo and Nico Raskin in particular took more ownership in the game’s final stages, with the home crowd were finally forced to experience some nerves. This is a situation and a squad that Clement has inherited rather than built or created and tonight clearly showed the degree of work still to be undertaken. With that said, Rangers still managed a result that, in the wider context, could prove key.

Why did everything look so disjointed?

As the whistle blew for half-time all the optimism built up since Clement’s debut win over Hibs would’ve drained out of supporters watching in the stadium and back home. Sparta’s 0.85xG and 13 efforts to Rangers’ solitary shot told a story of, while no abundance of clear-cut opportunities, more than enough moments to warrant a lead. Pre-match, Clement told RangersTV that his side were to approach this like a home game and not hand the hosts any notion of initiative but his wish wasn’t granted. Sparta’s aggressive man-for-man press, in combination with the lack of options in Rangers’ front line to either hold play, link moves or run in behind, granted the Czech side total control. When the visitors did jump up aggressively, the reactivity of their press in comparison to the hosts’ proactivity, saw the attack played through at will. Rangers were constantly caught in no man’s land - they weren’t compact nor were they aggressive. The result was a disjointed first 45 in which, playing in a slightly unfamiliar 3-5-2, chances felt very far away and whenever that possibility arose, execution rarely followed. Abdallah Sima has been this side’s predominant goal threat but his role at left wing-back saw him too deep to threaten in behind and often playing catch-up on his opposite man. It wasn’t until the final stages when a small number of chances did arrive that the momentum began to shift.

Jack Butland the difference again

On the off chance you haven’t noticed, the man signed to replace Allan McGregor this summer is pretty effective between the sticks. Where, in a season void of character and individuals rising to the occasion, would Rangers be without Jack Butland? Because before the break tonight, he was the only thing stopping what at times felt like a certain Sparta goal. There’s a risk in being overreacting too. A 0.85xG half-time total wasn’t sky-high and securing a 0-0 draw away form home in Europe is not to be sniffed at. With that said, the repetitive shots, streams of attacks and positions assumed by the home side spelt almost constant danger up until the hour. Butland made a big double stop early in the game after Lammers so cheaply surrendered possession in the middle. From there he was routinely called into action and had to sweep up behind his defence too. Birmanevic, a constant danger from the left, was kept out three times by the keeper working in close tandem with his wing-back Rynes. Sparta’s superiority when playing through the press and speed of attack ensured that more often than not it was only the action of a goalkeeper standing in the way of a first-half opener.

If you can't win, don't lose

In the final 15 minutes, Rangers found some degree of cohesion in the attack. Lammers’ effort, saved well by Jansen, was one instance of quick, vertical play that cut through the hosts and thereafter the away side did seem to play with a little more confidence in their own abilities. Raskin was able to carry the ball forward regularly and Danilo offered a better option up top from the bench. Rangers would escape with a point in the end, leaving them with four points after three games with two fixtures still to be played at Ibrox. Before the game when asked what would constitute a good outcome Clement mused that such an answer depended on the performance and tonight, he’d have left the Czech capital delighted with a draw. Performances impact moods but results compound them. Had Rangers conceded one of the many half-chances Sparta created, or contrived to so visibly shoot themselves in the foot as was the case in Aris, the doomsday mood that Saturday’s result ever-so-slightly lifted would’ve returned like lingering and all-consuming fog. Instead, with a flurry of chances that also saw Danilo smack the crossbar and Rangers’ only spell of dominance, there was at the very least something to hold onto in terms of result if not performance. It was the visitors who held the late momentum and despite a late scare themselves, only the woodwork negated a smash and grab. The flat full-time atmosphere in the stadium come full-time told the story of a side who’ll know tonight was a big chance missed in the group overall. If you can't win, make sure you don't lose.