RANGERS supporters of a certain vintage would doubtless have been elated when they saw the Ibrox club’s starting line-up before the first leg of the Europa League last 16 double header against Benfica in Lisbon tonight.

Cyriel Dessers and Fabio Silva in the same side? Playing two strikers from kick-off is not something that manager Philippe Clement had previously done since moving to Scotland back in October. Did his team selection indicate a return to the halcyon days of Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist, Derek Johnstone and Gordon Smith or Ralph Brand and Jimmy Millar?

Many older fans despair of modern team formations and yearn for a return to an old-fashioned 4-4-2 line-up. Was Clement going back to the future against Roger Schmidt’s men. He did state at his pre-match press conference that his charges would not be sitting back and playing for a draw.

READ MORERangers player ratings as Butland and Silva shine in Benfica thriller

However, Dessers and Silva, who have taken turns leading the line for Rangers since the latter arrived on loan from Wolves during the January transfer window, were only given the nod because of the limited options available to Clement out on the flanks.

With Abdallah Sima, Rabbi Matondo and Oscar Cortes all unavailable due to injury, the latter had to move in to an unfamiliar role wide on the left. Dujon Sterling, meanwhile, slotted in on the right again with Ross McCausland not deemed fit enough to play for the full 90 minutes after the knock he suffered at the weekend. 

Rangers Review: Philippe Clement“We miss a lot of wingers,” said the Belgian coach when he spoke to host broadcaster TNT Sports before kick-off. “So because of that Dujon and Fabio will play on the wings.”

It was a far from ideal scenario. Rangers were facing formidable rivals who had never lost a Europa League game at their 64,642 capacity Estadio da Luz ground. Getting a result against Benfica away is difficult enough when the visitors have a full-strength squad at their disposal.

Still, Silva, the former Porto forward, was clearly keen to impress as he returned to his homeland. The £35m man initiated the move which broke the deadlock in the seventh minute. He played Mohamed Diomande into space in the opposition penalty box and the midfielder picked out Tom Lawrence with a delicious chip. The playmaker made no mistake.

That, though, proved to be a rare foray upfield for the away team during the opening 45 minutes. Strikers have traditionally been the star players for their sides. But tonight, as has so often been the case for Rangers during the 2023/24 campaign, it was unquestionably their goalkeeper Jack Butland. He kept them ahead until added-on time at the end of the first half.

The Englishman underlined that he is deserving of a recall to his national squad ahead of the Euro 2024 finals by producing two vital saves from David Neres and dealing comfortably with everything else which came into his area. He was only beaten when Benfica were awarded a soft penalty after a lengthy VAR check.

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But Silva set up Sterling for Rangers’ second moments after the equaliser. He received the ball from John Lundstram, cut behind Arthur Cabral and whipped a low delivery through several bodies and in to the six yard box. His team mate, who timed his run to perfection, had the simplest of tasks to side foot home and open his account in the professional game.

Rangers Review: There was more than a touch of good fortune to the strike. The cross went through the legs of Joao Neves. Still, the player who supplied the assist showed great composure and vision. He continued to cause the hosts problems in the final third in the second half and came close to putting his team 3-1 ahead on the hour mark. He forced Anitoliy Trubin to palm wide.   

This was the first European game that the 21-year-old had played for Rangers. But he is an experienced continental campaigner. He has previously featured in the Europa League with Porto and PSV Eindhoven and the Conference League with Anderlecht in the past. He experienced no difficulty competing against his country’s champions.

Could Silva give Rangers a vital cutting edge going forward in the rematch with Benfica at Ibrox next week and help them to secure a lucrative quarter-final spot? There is much work to be done in the second leg.

However, he was, despite not being deployed in his favoured berth, involved in both of his team’s goals tonight. It was an impressive showing. He will take great confidence from his personal contribution. He will, though, also be conscious there is room for improvement.

Silva was replaced by his good friend McCausland in injury-time. Clement might just, regardless of who he can pick, be tempted to stick with the same attacking personnel in Govan. He will not hear any complaints from supporters if he does.