Just like this time last year, PSV stand in the way of Rangers and a Champions League group stage spot.

In a repeat of 2022's double-header, the Dutch side travel to Ibrox before a return leg the week after in Eindhoven. Now managed by Peter Bosz, PSV have started their season convincingly with an emphatic 7-2 aggregate win over Sturm Graz in their third-qualifying fixture, victory over Feyenoord in the Johan Cruyff shield and two league wins in succession.

What’s more, after being knocked out by Rangers on their home patch last time out, they’re gunning for revenge.

Now under the tutelage of Bosz, this team may still possess a number of the individuals Rangers faced last season but their shape, style and approach are all new.

So, how good are PSV, what do they want to do in and out of possession and how could this double-header play out?


Bosz, a highly-regarded manager with Lyon, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen in his recent back catalogue, has already established a clear style since replacing Ruud van Nistelrooy this summer.

There’s no doubt that like last year, PSV are the favourites. They’re a well-resourced side and look extremely well-balanced across the board; with varying threats, contrasting strengths and multiple methods of attack.

On the ball, PSV line-up in a 4-3-3 that morphs into a 3-2-5. Patrick Van Aanholt will always push into the attacking line on the left, normally allowing Noa Lang to tuck infield into the left half-space. Contrastingly on the right, Jordan Teze’s role at right-back is far more defensively-minded. You’ll only see him pushing beyond Johan Bakayoko in a few rare transitional moments, instead often forming a back three and providing balance behind the ball. Bakayoko is religiously glued to the right touchline and although some players in the attacking third look to have freedom positionally, the right winger’s starting spot will very rarely deviate.

Joey Veerman plays slightly higher than Ibrahim Sangare at the base of midfield but slightly lower than the occupant of the midfield slot on the right - Isaac Babadi or Ismael Saibari. Veerman holds greater responsibility in the build-up than Babadi, who’s handed freedom to play high, receive in the pockets and operate close to Bakayoko when required.

As was the case last year, Luke De Jong remains PSV’s focal point at the top end of the pitch. With three goals in the previous round, the 32-year-old has started this season well and unsurprisingly, two of his strikes against Sturm Graz were near-post flicked headers.

Olivier Boscagli and Andre Ramalho have remained Bosz’ favoured centre-back partnership since the start of the season. Both are comfortable with possession under pressure and capable of breaking lines to launch attacks.

Here’s the side’s pass network from their home leg against Sturm Graz. Notice Lang narrower than Bakayoko, Veerman and Babadi higher than Sangare and Van Aanholt higher than De Jong.

Out of possession, like many Bosz sides, PSV will look to very aggressively counterpress, that is an attempt to win the ball back as soon as it’s been sacrificed. Outside of those moments, tomorrow’s opponents will fall back into a hybrid pressing structure which, as will be elaborated upon, could present Rangers with some opportunities.

What are PSV trying to do in possession?

Before outlining PSV’s intentions in possession, let’s look at their set-up in a little more detail. As established, the balance they play with differs from right to left. The successful pass maps attached from their doubleheader with Sturm Graz show as much.

Look at the passes left-wingers Yang and Yorbe Vertessen received. There’s a little variation across the pitch, activity in the half-space and limited switches of play. Generally, the position they receive the ball in varies.

On the right, however, notice the consistency of pass that Bakayoko is receiving. Often acting as the switch of play out of pressure, he's getting the ball in similar situations. Unlike the left-winger, Bakayoko is always receiving vertically in the same zone of the pitch.

Van Aanholt, often the width provider on the left, is receiving vertical passes slightly deeper than Bakayoko but similarly, is often the recipient of long, switched vertical passes. There’s a little less of a vertical focus, purely because PSV are more likely to build on the left and switch their attacks to the right.

Compare that to Teze at right-back who’s never receiving vertically, instead the recipient of horizontal passes on the right of a back three or relay passes from Bakayoko, true to his role on the right of a back three in possession.

Finally, look at the passes Veerman is receiving. Often rotating into the left-back slot and never really receiving with his back to goal. He’s getting on the end of horizontal passes to then break lines in the build-up or ball progression phase.

In comparison, Babadi/Saibiri are getting on the ball higher with their back to goal and although occasionally rotating into the left-back slot - it’s normally occupied by Teze.

PSV’s left-back forms attacking width, provides transitional pace and enables the left-winger to play in narrow positions. Whereas PSV’s right-back forms a back three, offers attacking support and enables the right-winger to hug the touchline. The activity of either No.8, with Veerman playing slightly lower than Babadi/Saibari, is demonstrative of the Dutch side’s proclivity to build and control play on the left, switching to the dangerous Bakayoko on the right.

READ MORE: Rangers 4 PSV Eindhoven 1: The night Ibrox dreamt of European glory

PSV will always look to attack with a front five, enabled by Van Aanholt’s aggressive positioning. The reason their front five is so dangerous is that it can outnumber a back four, leaving it with little room to recover and shift over because of the pace PSV enjoy on either flank. Although the former Crystle Palace man has some defensive deficiencies, Van Aanholt times interactions in the final third very well. He enjoys a good relationship with Lang, with both players effective at creating space for one another. 

Let’s look in closer detail at three of the main ways PSV look to attack. Accessing their wingers, playing through the pitch and progressing the ball directly.

Lang and Bakayoko are two of PSV’s best individuals. The former has a powerful shot, dangerous ability to cut inside and noticeable close control which enables him to stream past markers. Lang will normally pick the ball up in narrow positions, or receive with his back to goal, compared to Bakayoko who’s very skilled at making room for himself by the touchline and bursting beyond his opponents in either direction. Although very left-footed, a consistent attempt to take the ball up the line keeps Bakayoko unpredictable.

Here’s a good example of PSV playing with a front five, breaking through the pitch and playing in transition. Notice the staggered positions as outlined above.

Lang drops infield from his left-wing position and is found by Ramalho, allowing Veerman to play front-facing into Van Aanholt racing forwards from wing-back. PSV's back five and front five are very visible in this succession of frames.

Lang will also pick up possession by the left touchline with Van Aanholt offering the threat of an underlap. Again in the lead-up to a goal on the opening day of the season, notice the front five stretched across the pitch with Sangare this time pushing up from midfield.

Although Lang is less of a threat when forced wide, this strike demonstrates the danger of keeping him on his left side close to goal.

Bakayoko is a player PSV always look to isolate. His wide positioning offers a threat in transition and constant outlet out of pressure if Bosz’ side come under pressure on the ball. It’s common to see most of PSV’s outfielders bunched on the left side of the pitch, creating an overload around the ball and simultaneously keeping Bakayoko open on the far side of the pitch.

Bakayoko is dangerous when one-on-one. As mentioned, although more comfortable on his left foot the 21-year-old’s happy to make up for space full-back’s leave down the wing with his blistering pace, take this goal against Sturm Graz as an example.

The away tie with Sturm Graz demonstrated his indirect impact on the attack. PSV's first goal on the night saw them build on the left and switch to the right with Teze in a narrow position to then play vertically to Bakayoko.

With three men attracted to the winger, such is his danger, Bakayoko displayed impressive awareness to pick out Saibari who in turn found Veerman to score from range.

The second goal on the night again featured a switch of play to the right. This time, PSV's superiority was numerical and Teze played a perfect cross onto the head of De Jong at the front post. This is the right-back's predominant attacking danger, low crosses into the corridor of uncertainty. 

PSV normally form their width through Van Aanholt and Bakayoko, with Lang joining Babadi in the pockets. Alongside De Jong, these three offer PSV routes through the pitch. With two centre-backs comfortable splitting lines, PSV can also break through the opposition centrally if a pass to one of their wide options isn’t available.

Here’s an example. Notice Babadi pulls out of his midfield slot, opening a passing lane into De Jong, who then plays a ball into the feet of the midfielder as PSV access the final third with numbers.

For their qualities in settled periods of possession, PSV protect themselves against losing the ball deep in the pitch with an ability to always go long if necessary. All around world football, with Man City a prime example, we’re seeing managers counteract clever pressing schemes by playing forward directly. The thinking is, to apply this theory to the below goal, if Sturm Graz commits six players to the press, PSV have the opportunity to create a three-vs-three in space given De Jong’s physical prowess.

Out of possession?

PSV crowd the ball and press aggressively immediately after losing possession. They want to run forward and act on the front foot when the opposition regains possession, in a bid to not only take ownership of the ball but exploit the space a turnover may well have created.

Below, after losing the ball by the touchline, notice the difference in the two frames six seconds apart. PSV are so quick to crowd the ball-carrier in these instances.

When unable to quickly regain the ball or pressing at goal-kicks you’ll normally PSV utilise a hybrid pressing structure. De Jong will split the centre-backs, while the two wingers marking between their full-back and centre-back dependent on where the ball is. Behind that, Bosz' men will man-mark the opposition's remaining passing options.

This man-marking approach can at times leave one of the centre-backs dragged high into midfield, a full-back pulled narrowly and the opportunity for runs beyond a real threat. That's something Feyenoord did very well in their meeting with PSV recently, scoring this offside goal direct from a goal-kick.

How should Rangers approach this tie?

Undoubtedly with the first leg at Ibrox, Michael Beale will be hopeful of taking a lead to Eindhoven. You’d expect his side to start high, press aggressively and not allow PSV to play the game on their terms at Ibrox - with a different approach at the Philips Stadium next Wednesday.

PSV, as demonstrated, are a side with plenty of attacking options and it goes without saying that Rangers must get their pressure right at Ibrox. Sturm Graz tried to take the game to Bosz’ side in Eindhoven and saw their press repeatedly played through, under or over.

The weakest point of this PSV team is arguably the defence and as last year demonstrated, Benitez is not the most comfortable goalkeeper in possession. If Rangers can act aggressively at Ibrox, with Jose Cifuentes and Nico Raskin offering wide support to the full-backs and a high line of engagement keeping PSV deep in the pitch, there will be opportunities to regain the ball in good areas. This approach must consider the dangers of leaving De Jong, Bakayoko and Lang in space, however. 

In the spells of this double-header when Rangers do sit off the game, their pressure will need to be spot on. If PSV create a front five against a back four, it could spell trouble. 

There will be opportunity for Rangers to play quickly through the numbers PSV commit to counterpress and times to exploit their man-marking approach with forward runs off the ball. Furthermore, when Bosz' side play into the feet of De Jong, Babadi or Lang centrally, there's scope for Rangers to press aggressively and regain possession, especially if Van Aanholt has started his ascent up the line. Boscagli can also dwell on the ball for too long at points, presenting another potential pressing trigger. 

Beale has an element of unpredictability that could come in handy and PSV won't be able to definitively decipher his set-up or selection. Equally, the Dutch side clearly have a strongest starting 11 which is a strength in its own regard. 

For Rangers to progress they'll need two of their best performances to date under Beale, with a number of new players stepping up. PSV are a strong side with attacking versatility, a variety of profiles and clear style - can Rangers defy the odds once again to reach European football's promised land?