53 weeks on from Rangers’ last trip to the Philips Stadion, they have an opportunity to defy the same odds all over again.

On August 24 2022, Malik Tillman assisted Antonio Colak to score a goal that sealed Champions League football. On August 30 2023, with Tillman incidentally having now switched sides, who will write the script? Both teams have new managers and the visitors will call upon a squad much changed when compared to 12 months earlier, not that those facts prevent the inevitable feeling of deja vu clouding tonight’s fixture.

“It’s a hugely exciting week if you’re a Rangers player and a Rangers follower and I’m no different as the coach,” reflected Michael Beale speaking in Eindhoven at his press conference yesterday.

“The two games we have coming up in the next four or five days is what it’s all about playing for this club. If you can’t enjoy it and you can’t seize the opportunity in front of you then you probably don’t deserve to be at our club. This is a huge moment so it’s important we give this game everything. It’s a final in that sense.”

From transitions to set-pieces, defending cut-backs and finding the right balance up top - here’s what Rangers must get right to beat PSV on their own patch all over again.

Winning transitions and forward options

“I think there will be big spaces on the pitch because they will certainly come for us. It is important that when we get our opportunities, we take them.”

Beale, speaking after the weekend’s win at Ross County, is in no doubt of what type of game awaits his team. Rangers won’t dominate the ball but will have opportunities, they’ll require real defensive solidity to have any chance of progression. With that said, if there’s one area of the pitch where PSV look at their weakest it’s in the defensive unit. Last week there were spaces to exploit but today, with an expectant home crowd, those areas could be all the more evident.

The question is, what’s the best way to attack the space PSV vacate? Nominally, right-back Jordan Teze will remain deep and form a back three, enabling an attacking left-back to form width on that side. Andre Ramalho appeared uncomfortable when facing his goal at Ibrox and the physical credentials boasted by Abdallah Sima and Cyriel Dessers could prove effective once more up against PSV's centre-back pairing.

If the front three remain unchanged, with Rabbi Matondo a serious contender given his sheer pace and impact last week, Rangers must “be better with the ball” according to their manager. Too often, Todd Cantwell was left to perform magic tricks to escape from a tight spot in the first leg, in contrast to the lead-up to Matondo’s strike. If Beale opts to play the long game, Sima and Dessers can take his side up the pitch, trouble the defence with physicality and set the tone for Matondo to arrive into.

Evening up at set-pieces

“I would like to even up the set-plays because set-plays in a game like that are crucial. The goal we conceded from one I’m not happy with. So it is important we even that up and score from one in midweek.”

Beale hasn’t downplayed his desire to even up the set-piece game since last week’s fixture. To Rangers’ credit, they scored from a corner in Dingwall and as covered in detail last season, have posed a serious threat from these scenarios ever since Beale’s arrival at the club last November. The manager would've been especially frustrated because of his side's defensive performance in open play which offered up so little, making PSV’s equaliser from a corner soon after Matondo’s strike all the more irritating. 

Team selection will also take set-pieces into consideration. Sima’s importance in defending corners and free-kicks couldn’t have been clearer at the weekend when he stopped what appeared a certain Ross County goal having come on as a substitute.

The cut-back zones and defensive deja vu

"We saw in the first leg in Glasgow that Rangers were really compact. They let us play with the ball and tried to play on the counterattack with some fast guys up at the front,” PSV’s Olivier Boscagli told journalists at the Philips Stadion yesterday.

“I still believe that tomorrow we will have more of the ball than Rangers, it is about what we do with the ball when we have it,” added manager Peter Bosz. PSV enjoyed plenty of possession last week, but often in areas of the pitch where their opponents remained comfortable. The 1.41xG created by the Dutch side will give Rangers confidence but tomorrow’s visitors will know that only a similarly disciplined, defensive performance that wins the boxes can see passage into the Champions League secured.

Take a look at PSV’s successful (red) and unsuccessful (yellow) passes into the penalty box last week. Notice the distinct lack of crosses from deep, traded for cut-backs and low crosses. Compare the lack of byline activity on the left, with Patrick van Aanholt injured for the meeting at Ibrox, to the right.

Souttar and Goldson, in particular, enjoyed strong defensive performances that dominated their zone, limiting De Jong in open play. What’s more, the loss of a left-footer at left-back ensured that when Dest managed to overlap, the quality of PSV's delivery was limited.

Van Aanholt’s surprise return to training is good news for the hosts with that in mind. Even if not fit to start, his importance to Bosz’s attacking balance can’t be understated. Although, as covered previously, James Tavernier’s marking job on Nao Lang left him appearing out of position at points, it was often Jose Cifuentes who appeared slightly off the pace defensively at Ibrox. If Van Aanholt plays tomorrow then situations like below, with PSV’s left-back breaking beyond into space, could prove far more dangerous.

A change in shape?

Should Rangers opt for a back three? There’s a risk for and against altering last week’s shape because although PSV’s pressure is likely to be more intense with a home crowd behind them, if Rangers sacrifice a body higher up the pitch in order to beef up their backline, will that impact what was a largely successful strategy last week?

Yes, they conceded two goals with Beale specifically frustrated at De Jong’s set-piece header, but the quality littered across Bosz’s team is obvious. If you look at the Dutch side’s shot map from last week it confirms the belief that Rangers defended their box well, conceding a limited number of open play shots inside the 18-yard box, and that was because of their pressure at the top end of the pitch.


It’s obvious how important off-ball work is to Beale. It can provide a leveller in European competition when Rangers are tasked with punching upwards financially.

A staggered asymmetrical shape in the home tie, with Sima higher than Cantwell and Cifuentes wider than Raskin, reacted to PSV’s in-possession shape. With Raskin performing a hybrid role between pressing Sangare and assisting Barisic to double-up on Bakayoko, Sima reacting to Teze’s deeper position than left-back Dest and Tavernier following Lang infield, Beale called this “the best performance yet in a way” for a reason.

By using their right-sided midfielder, Cifuentes, to press outwards, Rangers prevented PSV from ever truly accessing a free pass in the front line. They were aggressive in their shape, not enabling the Dutch side to create a line of five against the back four and trying to regain the ball where possible (as was the case for Sima’s opener).

PSV have spent the week working on new solutions to create chances and a curveball from either manager shouldn’t be discounted given the significance of this game. When considering the potential of a back five, however, it’s important to question whether that would leave Rangers too reactive from the start. Perhaps the inclusion of a defensive profile in John Lundstram may well be a happy medium, offering the flexibility of greater defensive cover when required.

Getting the pressure right

Boscagli referenced the importance of cutting out mistakes in his press conference, but as Bosz correctly stated later, “If both teams don’t make mistakes it will be 0-0. In games, there are always players who make mistakes. Sometimes we try to force players to make mistakes by pressing them. This is what football is all about.”

Rangers’ opener at Ibrox was a perfect example of this, just like their goal in this fixture last year. On both occasions, the Ibrox side pressed the ball back to goalkeeper Walter Benitez who played a pass into a teammate with his back to goal - a pressing trigger for the opposition.

By that point, in either example, Tillman and Raskin were able to jump onto their markers and regain the ball in dangerous areas.

Beale and his team will be well aware of the risks attached to these moments, if their pressure lacks coordination, PSV will have space to transition forwards themselves.

However, if there can be any continuity drawn between the two ties over two seasons, it’s that the opposing goalkeeper and defence are susceptible and far from impenetrable. That will likely also play on Benitez’s mind tomorrow, so can Rangers use their ability to “force mistakes” again?

"I believe this is a game where both teams will have opportunities, it's the team most decisive that will go through," Beale concluded yesterday. 

His side will require everything to go their way to go through but just like last year, the opportunity of Champions League football is there to be grapsed.