Heading into the penultimate game of the Europa League group stage everything was still to play for. Rangers had the opportunity to secure qualification with just a draw, but a victory would leave us in top spot and keep us in control of topping the group.
Rangers had already beaten Standard away from home to open the group stage, but this would be a very different side with a number of players back in the mix having returned from a covid outbreak.
To start the game Rangers set up in the usual 4-3-3 as expected while Standard changed to a 3-4-3 for the first time in this Europa campaign, a notable switch from the 4-1-4-1 they utilised in our first encounter.
The switch from Standard proved to be a very effective one as they opened the game quickly and took control both in and out of possession.
They chose to press high right from the first whistle with a particular focus on James Tavernier to keep him from advancing. This kept Rangers in deeper positions across the board and unable to mount any meaningful attacking threat early in the game.
On the flip side, Standard were looking quick in possession and regularly finding dangerous positions by overloading in wide areas. It took only 6 minutes for them to take the lead through that very pattern of play.
An overload on the right side saw Tavernier left with a 2-on-1 and having to close out to the ball while leaving a runner in space, Goldson was unable to close the space quickly enough and the ensuing delivery resulted in a tap in from 6 yards.
This pattern would carry on for the next 20 minutes, Standard put in dangerous crosses from very similar positions on 5 occasions within the first 25 minutes as Rangers struggled to cope with the wide overloads that the 3-4-3 was allowing Standard.
It took 29 minutes for the first real bit of good play from Rangers in an advanced area, finally getting Barisic into the final third and Tavernier also able to advance on the other side.
This was the spark needed as it would see Rangers get more players into forward areas, the midfield now playing in Standard’s half of the field and Arfield in particular taking up that area just behind Morelos.
A few minutes later Rangers levelled the game and it came via Arfield taking up that very position, finding the gap between the Standard defence and midfield, a quick reverse pass through to Morelos forced a corner which Connor Goldson powered home.
Sadly, the lead lasted only 2 minutes as yet another cross with little pressure on the ball was fired across the Rangers 6 yard box for a tap in at the back post.
However, this Rangers team showed the character we’ve seen all season and kept going for the final 5 minutes of the half. It was Scott Arfield yet again causing Standard problems with his advanced runs leading to two great chances that he wasn’t quite able to finish.
Standard were unable to get out in the closing minutes of the half and a good bit of battling and skill from Kamara on the edge of the box resulted in Kemar Roofe’s shot being handled in the area for a penalty. Unsurprisingly, the captain stepped up to level the match with his 15th goal of the season.
To go in level against a good side despite a poor half by the teams recent standards shows the drive and mentality now coursing through the squad.
The second half was a very different story, a switch to a 4-4-2 from Steven Gerrard and Michael Beale changed the game completely.
It was now Rangers pressing higher and no longer allowing Standard to easily play out from the back. When Standard did find a way through the press, Kent and Arfield were now providing the fullbacks with cover to nullify the first half overloads.
The wide open crosses that led to both Standard goals were removed, instead their wide men were now being tightly pressed and forced to go back.
In attack Morelos and Roofe being central occupied the 3 man defence, Arfield and Kent also playing narrow brought the Standard midfield further back and allowed Barisic and Tavernier to easily overlap.
This led to Rangers players finding gaps between the defensive lines consistently, most notably Kent, Kamara and Arfield.
The 3rd goal was another example of it, Kamara found the gap between the lines before slipping the ball through to Kent running in behind who picked out a perfect cut back for Scott Arfield who yet again made another brilliant forward run into the gap between midfield and defence to fire home what would be the winning goal.
That story would continue, Rangers constantly finding those spaces and only several great saves from the Standard keeper kept the game close. Tavernier, Barisic, Morelos and Goldson all denied by excellent goalkeeping.
The manager also didn’t repeat what he called mistakes in the last European game by not making subs as the game progressed and the players tired. This time Joe Aribo, Bongani Zungu, Cedric Itten and Calvin Bassey were all introduced to keep the energy levels high and see the game out comfortably.
It was another brilliant European victory for the club and one in which the management deserve enormous credit for the changes they made that significantly turned the game in our favour.
With one game to go, Rangers are in control of who tops the group. Considering the quality of Benfica, Standard and Poznan, it’s been another fantastic European campaign so far.