WHEN the dust had settled on an emotional night at Ibrox against RB Leipzig, it was tempting to reflect on the journey of Rangers.

The rise from the days in the Third Division back in 2013 is worth a movie on its own, but it’s equally important to remember the significance of qualification to the group stages back in 2018.

The Gers have showed incremental improvement from that campaign, culminating in a knockout run which has claimed Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leipzig since the turn of the year.

The Rangers Review tracks the evolution of the team from initial qualification in 2018 to their run to the final in 2022.

Ufa 1-1 Rangers, August 2018

“I think tonight we became a team,” said Steven Gerrard after Rangers qualified for the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2010/11. “This is a big moment for the club. Tonight, we relaunched Rangers.”

The former Rangers boss was speaking after a resilient second leg showing from his side against Russian outfit Ufa, with his side securing a 2-1 aggregate victory after playing with nine men for the remaining 24 minutes in the away leg.

Gerrard’s side were reduced to ten men before half-time when Alfredo Morelos was shown a second yellow card, yet the remainder of the contest offered the first glimpses into Gerrard’s European blueprint.

Rangers successfully shepherded Ufa into wide areas as they aimed to protect their aggregate lead.

In the example below, the Ibrox side are able to retain pressure in the middle third despite having a numerical disadvantage.

As Ufa pass the ball into midfield, Ovie Ejaria immediately pressurises the receiver and forces him to play a quick return pass.

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Kyle Lafferty, meanwhile, cuts out the passing lane across the defence.

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With Ryan Kent and Scott Arfield matched up man-for-man, the Ufa central defender is forced long where Rangers have greater coverage.

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Ufa’s pass map on the evening shows how Rangers were able to guide their opponents’ attacks into wide areas, trusting the backline to cope with the crosses which would inevitably be delivered into the penalty area.

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Rangers 3-1 Rapid Vienna, October 2018

The victory over Rapid Vienna not only delivered Rangers their first group stage victory under Gerrard, but the manner of the performance underlined that 4-3-3 was the direction the team were heading from a tactical perspective.

Only four days previously they had slumped to a 1-0 defeat in the league to newly-promoted Livingston, using an asymmetrical 4-4-2 formation spearheaded by Lafferty and Morelos in attack.

READ MORE: Rangers rollover Dundee United with supercharged possessional patterns

Gerrard restored his side to a 4-3-3 against the Austrian outfit and he was rewarded with an impressive display on both sides of the ball, posting an xG differential of 1.83 having conceded just three shots on the evening.

Most impressive, however, were the rotations on the right-hand side, which continued to underpin Rangers throughout Gerrard’s tenure and also led to the equaliser for the Ibrox side.

Tavernier finds Daniel Candeias moving in off the touchline.

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As the Portuguese finds Ryan Kent between the lines, Tavernier has already filled the space vacated by Candeias on the right.

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With Morelos having drifted over the ball-near side, the Colombian then drifts into the space in centre of the penalty area to slide the ball home.

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Porto 1-1 Rangers, October 2019

Although Rangers failed to qualify for the knockout stages in Gerrard’s first season, the January additions of Glen Kamara and Steven Davis proved pivotal in the side going a step further in the following campaign.

Both, alongside Gerrard favourite Ryan Jack, formed the backbone an impressive performance and outcome in the 1-1 draw with Porto in the Estadio do Dragao in October 2019.

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It was a midfield trio which became synonymous with Gerrard in European fixtures.

With the ball, the synchronised movements of the trio helped Rangers alleviate pressure from Porto.

Jack would often drop into wide areas which allowed Tavernier to remain attached to the backline.

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Davis, meanwhile, would retain his presence in the centre to help with ball circulation, while Kamara would drift left to help connect play to the opposite flank.

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Rangers Review: Rangers ended the evening with more passes than their Portuguese counterparts, while the midfield trio similarly prevented Porto from finding joy with the ball in central areas, as illustrated in the direction of the opponents’ attacks.

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Rangers 3-2 Braga, February 2020

The tactical nuances of Rangers in Europe continue to be well-documented, but the visceral impact of the Ibrox atmosphere cannot be overlooked.

Never was that been more apparent than in Rangers’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Braga in the last 32 of the Europa League in 2020.

READ MORE: The systemic Rangers changes that have smashed Steven Gerrard's Europa League ceiling

The ties were sandwiched between a dismal run of just four wins from ten for Gerrard’s side domestically, played on an Ibrox pitch that Gerrard previously described as “awful”.

Rangers struggled to get a foothold in the game, failing to generate any attacking momentum as Braga raced out to a two-goal lead in the first leg.

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However, Ianis Hagi halved the deficit with a fine solo goal, before Gerrard gambled with his substitutions when Borna Barisic was forced off injured, moving Joe Aribo to left-back and introducing Greg Stewart in the forward line.

He was immediately rewarded with a tremendous goal from Aribo, coming in off the left-hand side and weaving through several Braga tackles, before Hagi’s deflected free-kick capped off a memorable comeback in Govan.

“Ibrox baby, it’s just different,” remarked the Romanian in his post-match interview, which summed up the impact the crowd had on the game’s outcome.

Rangers 0-2 Slavia Prague (agg. 1-3), March 2021

Just as Rangers seemed at their strongest domestically – certainly in terms of week-to-week consistency – Gerrard’s European blueprint was beginning to fray at the edges.

Defeat to Slavia Prague made it successive last 16 exits for Rangers in the Europa League, hinting that the team had reached its ceiling in the competition.

The Czech side proved a physically superior outfit to Rangers, successfully exploiting the space in the wide areas that Gerrard’s 4-3-3 mid-block conceded.

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Although the game was overshadowed by the abhorrent racist abuse towards Kamara, Gerrard was quick to emphasise the significance of Slavia Prague’s physicality in a game of fine margins.

It would influence his summer recruitment policy, which van Bronckhorst has recently reaped the rewards of.

Rangers 3-1 RB Leipzig, May 2022

The victory which sealed Rangers’ passage to a European final for the first time since 2008 underlined the shift in approach from Gerrard to van Bronckhorst.

The former boss enjoyed success in Europe with a regimented zonal defensive structure, with each player moving in perfect harmony to form an impregnable block.

However, van Bronckhorst’s style of play on the continent has been predicated more on individualism, simplifying Rangers’ approach by instructing his players to be more direct with the ball and to engage in one-on-one duels across the pitch without the ball.

Rangers’ pass map from the 3-1 win over RB Leipzig illustrates the clarity in their set-up.

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The introduction of more physicality in the form of John Lundstram and Calvin Bassey – both of whom featured in a three-man backline against the Bundesliga side – has raised the ceiling of the side in the Europa League.

By playing with higher risk, Rangers have produced higher rewards.