CONSISTENT in both the player and manager press conferences yesterday was recognition of the opposition.

“It was a tough game from the first minute, they had a really good shape and you can see that they analysed us really well,” Ianis Hagi commented.

“With a lot of young players they gave us a really hard time,” added Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

Dundee United manager Tam Courts may have been limited in his selection choices, but fielded a side full of youngsters well drilled and disciplined. The troubles their specific approach caused Rangers should be caveated with the fact that this was the Champions’ sixth league game of the month. A drop in tempo was to be expected at some point. 

Tactical alterations dominated the narrative throughout. Ambition constantly countered with restraint. Courts’ team found a weakness in the make-up of Rangers that Van Bronckhorst conceded requires attention - the reliance on Glen Kamara in the team's build-up play.

The tactical battle was evidenced minutes from kick-off. Without Borna Barisic due to illness, the eleven names on the teamsheet didn't have an obvious structure. Few foresaw James Tavernier playing at centre-back – a move that had been reverted before the fourth minute.

“It’s not ideal to play with Nathan [Patterson] on the left but I think today we also needed our full-backs to support. So we prepared our team in two different systems,” said the Rangers manager.

“Because we didn’t know how Dundee United would play. Normally they play 4-3-3, I think in one game earlier this season they played with five at the back. They changed back to that today so we had to alter.”

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Even with just two changes to the side that were so comfortable in midweek, the flow from Rangers’ play was absent. United cut off any form of fluidity at the source. With Kamara replacing Joe Aribo at No.8 – John Lundstram propped up the midfield. The visiting side’s diligent ploy to prevent whoever fulfilled that No.6 role from getting on the ball and playing through the pitch impacted proceedings significantly.

Van Bronckhorst continued: “We had Lundstram as the No.6 and Kamara a little bit higher up. We changed it during the game [with Kamara moving to No.6]. If we don’t have Kamara available in the build-up it means someone else is. I think we lacked a bit of bravery, especially from the back to commit into midfield.

“We were just passing, passing. If we could not find Kamara we just passed it back. If we don’t find Kamara, we need other players to commit themselves. Today we didn’t do it as well as before. That’s why we struggled a little bit, especially in the first half.”

The United front two worked hard to keep Kamara or Lundstram in their cover shadow – basically, making sure they blocked off any passes from each centre-back into the team’s creative hub by positioning themselves in line with the defensive midfielder. With the punchy passes from Goldson witnessed in midweek lacking, the home side couldn’t build up from defence as planned.

Possession was forced wide often. Patterson doesn’t possess the same left-footed delivery of Barisic and as such his overlaps were well-timed but poorly capitalised upon. Hagi endured a difficult first 45 minutes from the right-wing - often misplacing the final pass after promising initial work.

With only Scott Arfield, therefore, venturing beyond from midfield and Goldson’s dampened delivery, there was less success with angled balls over the top. That option bore little fruit.

At the break, Hagi moved centrally and Scott Wright played from the right.

“When you’re playing against a team that is defending really deep with five defenders, I always try to play with wingers who can keep the width and pace,” said Van Bronckhorst.

“With Hagi playing on his left [foot] it was more natural for him to come inside. We didn’t have the best positions on the pitch, so I knew Wright would play like a right-winger to allow Hagi to create danger inside.”

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Wright’s instructions were well followed. Twice by 50 minutes, the winger had gone beyond his marker into areas previously unventured. His direct running unsettled the melodic shifting shape that had blocked off any prior sniffs at goal and should have broken the deadlock before Tavernier’s penalty.

The captain’s cross was clearly handled and he converted with confidence. Covering for a lack of creativity from back to front throughout. 

Only rarely did Rangers’ back two penetrate possession. As their manager conceded, the team was overly reliant on Kamara to work his magic in getting the ball from A to B. United knew this and kept the access lane to the 26-year-old blocked as often as possible. 

The win nonetheless could be vital come May. The team and management staff have done remarkably well to inhabit such a record eight games in. Yesterday’s win still equates to three points. The triumph was found the hard way. “It was a tactical game,” concluded Hagi. “The coaching staff did a fantastic job.”