Rangers signed off for another international break in far better health than the previous two this season, after Philippe Clement secured another win.

A Cyriel Dessers strike and James Tavernier penalty earned the win, on a day where VAR was heavily involved and the captain also sent a spot-kick wide.

The Rangers Review was in attendance at the Tony Macaroni, here’s the big talking points…

A day of decisions in Livingston

A trip away to Livingston marked Clement’s seventh match as Rangers boss. This side have enjoyed a good deal of consistency away to David Martindale’s men under a succession of managers, despite the synthetic surface. With that said, a game at the Tony Macaroni always features an added edge of uncertainty and another variable to control on the road. Four changes to the starting 11 saw a degree of rotation and rest. Leon Balogun was selected to combat the size of Joel Nouble and Tom Lawrence merited his first appearance since injury. Ross McCausland had more than earned a start and while the same could, perhaps, not be said of Cyriel Dessers, Clement will need to quickly ascertain whether the big-money signing has a part to play to compete with Danilo. A first half goal to add to his strikes against Hibs and Dundee in recent weeks ought to help matters. Rangers had the ball in the net three times before the break and missed a penalty, with VAR twice ruling goals not to stand. Connor Goldson had scored from the second phase of a corner, but Dessers’ run was juged to be offside. Then, after McCausland’s sharp run was found by Tavernier and obstructed by Shamal George, the captain fired high and wide from the spot. McCausland had the ball in the net after firing into the top corner but Abdallah Sima committed a very soft foul in the goal’s build up. This game, which could’ve feasibly ended before the interval, took a second half Tavernier penalty also awarded by VAR to eventual secure the points. A consistent feature of Clement’s tenure so far has been the lack of satisfaction at taking the lead. Clearly, there’s no instruction to sit in and keep the game tight after taking the lead as displayed recently at Dundee, Hampden and in the first half against Sparta. Rangers don’t settle when one ahead.

McCausland takes his chance

McCausland has benefitted from regime change in the dugout because, for the first time since Giovanni van Bronckhorst departed, Rangers are playing with natural width in their midfield and this squad has simply not been built with that in mind. The 20-year-old has been talked up by his manager, in Clement’s own understated terms, but crucially has not looked out of place once coming on from the bench. McCausland created three openings from the bench against Sparta, playing with his head up and threading passes on either foot. Making his first start for the club today the winger was Rangers’ best player before the break. Confident and aggressive to drive forward he saw an early shot flash over before his first big action of the half arrived, as he won a first half penalty when darting behind and receiving a Tavernier pass that looked slightly soft on the replay. The pair worked in tandem on the right and after the game’s opener, the Northern Irishman should’ve had its second. When a cross was turned back across the face by Sima, McCausland found the top corner on his right foot – demonstrating as he had done in midweek a two-footed ability that’s gone slightly under the radar. Clement clearly favours playing with two wide players capable of adding energy and intensity. All the signs so far suggest that for McCausland, the change in manager may well have arrived at the exact moment his Rangers career required. There’s good cause to be excited about his emergence on the right.

Why direct play is helping

Clement inherited a team who’s style of play was too slow and at times, a lack of variation left every passage of play in front of the opposition’s defence. For example, it’s been notable that adapting to the limitations of Borna Barisic in the build-up, Clement is using the full-backs obvious strength of left-footed delivery to ping balls behind and look forward, rather than always going backwards and around the opposition block. Generally, Clement wants his team to trade off a little control of the ball in place of a more chaos for opponents to counter. As was very much the case in the first half of Thursday’s meeting with Sparta Prague. Here, the Belgian boss kept Sima as high as possible from the left-hand side when his side were defending, helped by the fact that the home side only played with one on each flank lining up in a back three. On the other side McCausland’s direct approach to stand up and attack his man one-v-one, matched with the vision of Tom Lawrence also comfortable to deliver throughballs quickly, the visitors carried real threat whenever space was available. This materialised in a couple of moments before Dessers’ eventual opener, coming direct from a Livingston attack as Lawrence brilliantly found the curved run of Dessers. The home side committed men forward and playing in a front two, especially after the game’s first goal, this presented plenty of opportunities for quick forays through the park. Under Clement, while it will take time to develop the patterns and rhythm to break through teams camped in their penalty box, he’s introducing a tempo in open play and relentless style that bodes well.

Lawrence, Dessers and the mood improved

Dessers demonstrated the good, bad and in between making his first start since Danilo’s real emergence at Rangers. His goal featured an excellent outside to in run followed by a slightly fortuitous finish. At times he linked play well but should’ve arguably done more with shooting chances towards the end of the half. And, in keeping with appearances to date, there was an offside or two for good measure. What is clear is that the summer arrival who struggled so visibly before Clement’s arrival is showing off his quality in moments and contributing numerically. While Danilo is undoubtedly first choice, depth is vital as Clement looks to return from the international break with a squad in far healthier shape than the one inherited. Lawrence also epitomised that theme. At times the No.11 gave up possession to cheaply and is obviously still building sharpness but the attacker gives his manager vision on the ball and capability over range that others do not. With a stronger bench, another win and more players coming into form all is looking up under Clement. Having walked into a squad who’s confidence was on the floor, the manager’s passed the first bout of his spell at Ibrox impressively. A season that looked done just weeks ago is now full of hope.