With the winners of PSV vs Sturm Graz waiting, Rangers and Servette play for the chance to reach the Champions League play-off round over the next eight days.

Servette came through their previous tie against Belgian outfit Genk by defying all the odds. Not only underdogs in the tie, the Swiss Super League outfit played the second leg with 10 men for nearly all of the 120 minutes contended, eventually going through on penalties. 

The xG over that double-header ended 6.3 to 2.85 in Genk's favour - there's no denying that on the basis of chances, the Belgian side could count themselves unfortunate to exit the competition. 

The last round should be enough to warrant caution at any notions of underestimating Servette. Rangers won't merit Champions League football if unable to negotiate this tie, but face a side with a clear playing identity, direct approach and no shortage of belief. 

Here's what to expect from Servette and how Rangers could approach the double-header.

Key points of play

  • Servette play direct football, often bypassing the midfield, and it's not uncommon to see them line up with four or five players on the last line. They'll rarely build through the midfield and rely heavily on their goalkeeper's distribution.
  • Their goalkeeper will make an extra man in possession, this has a chain effect up the pitch with full-backs pushing forwards and wingers operating on the last line. Everything is geared around overwhelming the opposition's defence. 
  • The areas they lose the ball enable Servette to commit plenty of numbers to the attack. Because they're not building through the pitch, any turnovers occur far away from goal.
  • Simultaneously, they're not the easiest team to press because of this preference to play long. 
  • Servette can count on numerous athletic profiles in their starting XI, which enables their style of play.
  • As mentioned, they have a clear identity and are very good at what they're setting out to achieve. With energy in the midfield, invention out wide, a strong partnership up top and impressive long-range distribution from the back.
  • To pick three key players, keep an eye out for industrious midfielder TimothĂ© Cognat, wide playmaker Alexis Antunes and forward Chris Bedia.

What do they do in possession? 

Servette want to play forward quickly, directly and their set-up is designed to facilitate that overarching principle. Normally, their goalkeeper Jeremy Frick will become a third centre-back, enabling the full-backs to threaten forward runs, although they rarely receive the ball in the build-up.

Servette line up in a 4-4-2 but attack in more of a 4-2-4, often moving to asymmetrical shapes to accommodate their primary aim, getting as much front-line numerical superiority as possible and isolating key targets in the final third. Servette will regularly wait to trigger the press before playing forwards and then take advantage of their attackers running face-forwards into space while the opposition defence squeezes up. Their in-possession shape often looks something like this.

Teams will look for superiorities in different ways. Some want to isolate wingers out wide, others may try to overload around the ball and patiently probe forward in possession or try to access valuable central spaces. For Servette, everything is geared towards the numbers they can establish on the last line.

It's common to see them load the front line with four players. Their full-backs will make inverted runs at points but that's rarely to receive the ball and more commonly to create better angles for the front four. Here's an example early on against Genk. Servette form a back three, push their full-backs forward and have four players on the last line.

Look at the passing network from the first leg with Genk. The most consistent passing channels were between Servette's centre-backs and goalkeeper, notice the extremely high starting position of the attackers. They're rarely, if ever, dropping into pockets to receive the ball. 

Even when down to 10 men in the second leg against Genk, Servette’s ability to make a 10-vs-10 outfield with their goalkeeper, paired with their intention to hit the last line, allowed them to stay in the game. 

In the below frame, Genk have greater numbers in the Servette half, but the Swiss side have still managed to load five players on the last line. The thinking, presumably being that they can i) gain territory in a risk-avoidant way ii) if they hit space behind the opposition defence it negates the risk of leaving the centre so open iii) the fact that they're set up to progress the ball in this manner negates the lack of control this tactic enjoys. 

Most commonly, they’ll seek out one of three options from their goalkeeper; a long pass aimed at Antunes on the right, a straight pass for Crivelli to attack curving his run from the left or a ball into the right channel for Bedia.

READ MORE: Kilmarnock 1-0 Rangers: What went wrong for Michael Beale?

Why are they doing this? With physical profiles in the last line and energy in midfield to contend for second balls, this approach can lead to quick transitional attacks in the final third allowing Servette to immediately access dangerous areas. A goal scored by Bedia against Grasshoppers is a good example of this tactic. 

However it's not a play style conducive to control and if Rangers can defend these situations well, they should have enough to progress through the tie. 

This direct approach does have its weaknesses and in trying to create quick transitional attacks, Servette can also concede them. Zurich’s second goal in a recent 2-2 draw came less than 20 seconds after a long pass from goalkeeper Frick. Notice in the lead-up to their goal the narrow front three that Zurich keep high up the pitch, particularly applicable to Rangers, primed to attack after the hosts' have lost the second ball in midfield. 

Frick is more comfortable kicking with his left foot diagonally to the right side of the pitch. The full-backs often have indirect yet important functions in creating space for the wide players. They slide up and down dependent on pressure, always trying to create angles to play into the top line. 

Rangers' pressure from the front will have to be cohesive to stop Servette from creating dangerous attacks and if they do, that should limit the Swiss side's attacking weapons. 

What do they do out of possession? 

Servette press goal-kicks and build-up play with six players, opting to keep a +1 at centre-back regardless of the physical profile of striker faced. This 4-1-3-2 pressing shape attempts to cut off passes into either centre-back and force a pass into either full-back, with tomorrow's visitors then aiming to then trap an opponent by the touchline. 

Either wide midfielder, nominally Antunes and Kutesa, jumps to press full-backs leaving either Cognat (the higher central midfielder in this scenario) or Douline (the No.6 in this scenario) with two men to cover. Cognat, in particular, boasts the physical profile to make up the ground necessary for this tactic, notice his hybrid pressing role in the example below.

You can see in this early example against Genk Cognat is supporting a front two, with Antunes jumping up to press the full-back. 

There's undoubtedly scope for Rangers to take advantage of this phase of the game, by playing with deep full-backs, a staggered midfield and making the pitch big. They should be able to exert control in build-up play and take advantage of the intensity with which Servette press. 

If an opponent beats the press or Servette choose to sit off the game, they’ll fall into a narrow 4-4-2, showing play to the outside and protecting the centre. 

Who are the standout individuals?

Enzo Crivelli will be a big miss for Servette given his red card in the previous round. His profile compliments strike partner Chris Bedia, with curved runs and a preference to attack from the left side. He’s effective at creating space for his strike partner and drawing centre-backs out of position. 

If first-choice keeper Jeremy Frick misses out it will be a bonus. He’s an accurate passer over range and aggressive at corners that come into his zone. If Rangers are able to limit his ability to play diagonally to the right, they can limit Frick’s best angles and stop Antunes from receiving the ball in dangerous transitional moments. 

Alexis Antunes is, in this writer's opinion, arguably Servette’s most dangerous player. A creative outlet in the final third, he's capable of receiving under pressure and outplaying his direct opponent. 

Chris Bedia is an obvious name given his goal record and a dangerous opponent when isolated against a marker. 

How will Rangers approach the tie?

Servette will be without Crivelli and Douline, while Antunes missed their league match at the weekend. Styles make fights and Michael Beale will face off against a direct opponent who do what they do very well. However, the chances they conceded over two legs against Genk and their slightly one-dimensional attacking output give reason for optimism. 

Rangers will need to defend well in the areas of the game Servette are at their strongest, it could be wise at points to drop their high line and limit the space Servette can hit behind the defence. The narrow shape Rangers favour should have plenty of space to work within. 

In possession, Rangers will hope to have the numbers necessary to manipulate Servette's pressure and establish control in possession. Expect them to play with a back three with and without the ball plenty, to outnumber the Swiss side in that area of the pitch. 

We already know that should Rangers progress beyond their Swiss opponents, PSV will likely lie in wait. If Beale's men have Champions League ambitions, defeating Servette should be attainable.