The Scottish champions tend to start quickly at Ibrox and RB Leipzig will have to withstand heavy pressure early on.
Back Rangers to be winning after 30 minutes
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The first leg of this Europa League semi-final was bittersweet for Rangers. For 84 minutes, they held out against RB Leipzig at the Red Bull Arena in Germany. But just when it looked like Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side might avoid defeat, Angelino popped up with a sumptuous volley from outside the penalty area to make the breakthrough for RB Leipzig. There was no time for a Rangers response, which means the Bundesliga outfit hold a slender aggregate lead going into Thursday’s return fixture.
A 0-0 draw would have been an excellent result for Rangers. A 1-0 defeat, as counterintuitive as it might sound, is not necessarily a bad outcome, though. The Gers have relied on their home form throughout this European campaign, and the primary objective when they made the trip to Leipzig would have been to avoid a thrashing. Rangers will back themselves to overturn a one-goal deficit in front of their own fans.
Van Bronckhorst will adopt different tactics this week. Rangers, as expected, took a reactive approach last time out. Leipzig had 70 per cent of the possession and the visitors registered just a single shot on target. They were content to sit deep and spoil, looking to make life as difficult as possible for their opponents. Until Angelino’s late strike, the game plan worked well.
Rangers now trail on aggregate, though, so they will need to push higher up the pitch on Thursday. That is not exactly new for a team that routinely dominates possession in the Scottish Premiership, although Rangers rarely come up against a team of Leipzig’s quality in domestic competition. It will be interesting to see how they fare when they are compelled to take the game to Domenico Tedesco’s men.
Ibrox is one of the oldest and most historic stadiums in European soccer. Opened in 1899, it has been home to Rangers Football Club ever since. It is known to generate a fantastic atmosphere and is regularly cited by opposition players as one of the most hostile environments they have played in. On big European nights in particular, Ibrox comes into its own.
Without such a fervent atmosphere at their home stadium, it is difficult to envisage Rangers making it this far in the Europa League. That is not to diminish the acumen of Van Bronckhorst, or the quality of the players at his disposal. But the noise at Ibrox undoubtedly helped Rangers get past Red Star Belgrade in the round of 16 and Braga in the quarter-finals.
The Gers have not lost a home game in this tournament since their very first European fixture of the season back in the middle of September, when Steven Gerrard was still in charge and Van Bronckhorst was unemployed.
Roared on by their passionate supporters, Rangers will look to make a fast start in a bid to cancel out the aggregate deficit as quickly as possible. Getting back on level terms quickly would be a major psychological boost, and it would ensure the atmosphere at Ibrox does not go flat or run out of steam. We can expect the home team to come flying out of the traps in the second leg.
RB Leipzig are not in a position where they can dedicate their full attention to the Europa League. They will contest the DFB-Pokal final later this month. And in the Bundesliga, they are still locked in a battle to finish in the top four. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have secured their spots in next season’s edition of the Champions League, but Leipzig, Freiburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Koln and even Union Berlin are still in contention for third and fourth place.
Rangers have little to play for in the Premiership, with Celtic on the verge of regaining the title. They do have a Scottish Cup final to come, but the Europa League will be their priority for the rest of the campaign.
It is unclear whether that will make a difference on Thursday, but the fact that Leipzig were in action three days earlier suggests they will not be as fresh as Rangers. This will be a test of their nerve and character as much as their quality. They will come under heavy pressure, particularly in the opening stages, and will have to stand up to that.
In each of their three home games in the knockout stage up to now, Rangers have led after 30 minutes. Back the Gers to be ahead at that point of Thursday’s encounter too.
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|Rangers vs RB Leipzig Information|
|Teams||Rangers vs RB Leipzig|
|Location||Ibrox, Glasgow, Scotland|
|Time||Thursday, 5 May 2022, 3.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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