OVER three weeks on from their last outing, Rangers return to action tomorrow evening when they travel north to face Aberdeen.

Pittodrie has proved a relatively happy hunting ground in recent seasons and six points from six were secured in the North East last season. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side will be without key players but have demonstrated in previous outings their ability to navigate testing away ties.

With several first-team players missing, an understrength midfield and notoriously difficult fixture ahead, van Bronckhorst isn’t without a shortage of topics that require solutions ahead of the tie.

Restructuring the midfield

As detailed last week by The Rangers Review, van Bronckhorst’s move to a new midfield structure has demonstrated the club’s lack of depth at No.8. With both Joe Aribo and Scott Arfield unavailable for tomorrow’s trip, it appears unquestionable the midfield will need some minor surgery to suit the players that travel.

Under Steven Gerrard system normally superseded circumstances, but his successor has proven to be far more of a pragmatist when it comes to team selection and game-on-game tactical alterations. “Every game is another tactic, it’s not always the same,” Borna Barisic commented in today’s press conference.

READ MORE: Giovanni van Bronckhorst's Rangers Q+A in full: Hopeful of one more signing and reason behind Cedric Itten recall

The challenge, therefore, is to find the correct combination, a blend that doesn’t bow to the combative nature of the tie but facilitates Rangers’ attacking play. Will it be John Lundstram and Glen Kamara together with a No.10 ahead of them? That pairing looked stale against Dundee United but in an away tie with less requirement to break down the opponent it could offer a strong base. Newly-arrived James Sands seems unlikely to deputise from the start with Lundstram ready.

Replicating big-game performances

“We have to be ready for the first 20 minutes. They’re going to come out the blocks fast and try and jump on us, so we have to make the right decisions and get through that first 20 minutes. When we do that, we’re going to try and get control and let our quality come through.”

Comments made by Gerrard to Sky Sports ahead of his team’s 1-0 defeat at Tannadice last August pale in comparison to van Bronckhorst’s ’20-minute approach’ at Tynecastle last month. The Dutchman unleashed his team from the start as they raced into a two-goal lead by the 13-minute mark. The game was won and then the battle was fought after Rangers’ quality had dictated the result.

A continuation of that theme should spell success against Aberdeen. If Stephen Glass’ side do indeed start aggressively, the visitors must use the space afforded to punish the Dons as they did Hearts. In Scotland there is a near-obsession with this ‘battle first’ game plan – van Bronckhorst’s calm approach has to this point allowed his side’s quality to shine from the first minute.

READ MORE: Borna Barisic Rangers Q+A in full: Addressing transfer speculation and adjusting to new tactics

Replacing Joe Aribo 

Leading on from the midfield discussion, Rangers must find a way to mirror the impact Aribo has made in recent outings while he is with Nigeria at AFCON. The midfielder’s threat in behind and ability to knit together attacks has proved invaluable under the new regime – the former Charlton player appears unshackled at the tip of midfield and was the country’s form player at the end of 2021.

Could Ryan Kent play centrally to replicate Aribo’s off-ball movement? Will Ianis Hagi seize his opportunity in his favoured position? One of these two options will most likely to fill Aribo’s void.

Arfield’s absence means the shape deployed will likely resemble a 4-2-3-1 more than a 4-3-3 and that may well grant Kent the freedom to impact proceedings as a lone No.10 – with Fashion Sakala and Scott Wright occupying either wing.