THE defining feature of Rangers’ European achievements under Giovanni van Bronckhorst has been flexibility, and last night was no different.

The manager strayed from his usual man-marking system in Belgium to match up with Union Saint-Gilloise. In many ways, his team mirrored their hosts, opting for wing-backs, remaining compact and sliding with the ball. Two sides played in a similar fashion and the 11 more acclimatised to the specifics won out 2-0. But did van Bronckhorst ‘overthink’ his game plan, or was the outcome a symptom of his style?

"I always try to be flexible,” he told Premier Sports before the game.

“They [Union] have an interesting formation. They always play the same way and have a system we don't see a lot. We want to be dangerous in possession and very solid without the ball."

Variation has been van Bronckhorst’s strength and enabled Rangers to break the glass ceiling when playing as the underdog. They’ve adapted to opposition weaknesses, changed approach in-game to stem seemingly inevitable tides and retained an unpredictability throughout.

“We can play many ways, depending on the opponent, how they will play defensively,” he told Sky Sports last week.

By adapting to their opponent last night, Rangers struggled with and without the ball.

Every tactical system has its weakness and every coach a downfall. Van Bronckhorst is more of a pragmatist than an ideologue and last night his game plan didn’t work. As Craig Vickers highlighted pre-match, Union represented a bigger banana skin than stronger potential ties, given van Bronckhorst's approach has looked less effective against similar levels of opposition, Braga and Red Star Belgrade, away from home.

The Rangers Review recently published a long-read on the manager’s philosophy. It’s difficult to define in the same way that Steven Gerrard’s could be surmised. Gerrard nearly always played the same formation and made subtle tweaks within that settled framework, whereas the current Ibrox boss is far more likely to alter his methods of attack and defence.

Gerrard’s approach may have been unable to punch upwards to defeat Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig. But the meticulously-learned 4-3-3 could jab successfully, and consistently, against teams of a similar standard.

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Another manager regularly accused of ‘overthinking’ his game plan is Pep Guardiola. Speaking in Marti Perarnau’s ‘Pep Confidential’, he is said to receive this advice from a friend: “You wouldn’t attack in the same way from a mountain top as you would from a wide open countryside.”

Perarnau explains that while Guardiola is by every stretch of the imagination a football purist, with strict views on how the game should be played, he changes and alters game plans to fit specific opponents, believing that in doing so, his team will have a better chance of winning.

This example is not to draw comparison, but seek understanding. As demonstrated by van Bronckhorst’s quotes above, he wants to play “many ways” and “always tries to be flexible”, not attacking the same way in different environments. So often the positives of this methodology have shown up in Europe but yesterday, the downside came into view.

In decisive moments, Union could rely on rehearsed patterns and recognisable routines. Rangers, meanwhile, dallied and delayed, playing unoffensive passes where their opponents allowed and lacking collective cohesion. When Connor Goldson lost the ball high up the pitch late in the game and required bailing out by his goalkeeper, he screamed and cajoled at the lack of movement ahead of him. Ryan Jack could be seen exerting similar frustrations throughout.

In addition, the team’s best midfielder, John Lundstram, spent the game in defence and after going behind, the visitors looked to lack the ideas needed to muster up any chances. Admittedly, individual performances must be considered. Jack and Glen Kamara were off the pace in the middle and Antonio Colak endured another lonely evening up top. Teamwide, the ball did not move with the verve and tempo required to upset the opponent’s solid shape.

“We didn't do the basics in football. The quick passing, the control, the awareness of where the pressure comes from,” the manager said after the game.

“Defensively we didn't look strong, losing balls too much. I'm confident if we change these things around we will have a much better performance next week.”

The benefits of van Bronckhorst’s management style were made clear during the road to Seville. Many have said reaching the Europa League final was a feat Gerrard would not have achieved. However, after last night’s performance it’s fair game to throw a counterargument: Can van Bronckhorst match his predecessor's success when fighting in the same weight class?