RANGERS will face Belgian Pro League side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in the Champions League third qualifying round.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side travel to Belgium for the first leg on August 2-3, before hosting the second leg at Ibrox the following week.
The Rangers Review tells you everything you need to know about Gers’ Champions League opponents.
Who are the Royal Union Saint-Gilloise?
Historically, Union Saint-Gilloise has been the third most successful club in Belgium. However, they recently spent 48 years in the proverbial wasteland before being promoted to the top flight in 2020.
The Belgian team is owned by Tony Bloom, the English entrepreneur who has helped build Brighton into an established English Premier League side in recent years.
They secured their entry into the Champions League qualifying stages by finishing runners-up to Club Brugge in the Belgian Pro League. In fact, USG led the league from Matchday 12 through to the Championship playoffs before falling horribly at the final hurdle.
Who are their men of danger?
Van Bronckhorst will be relieved his side will not meet the goalscoring prowess of Deniz Undav, who has returned to Brighton after scoring a remarkable 25 goals in the Belgian Pro League last season along with 11 extra assists. Dangerous Kaoru Mitoma’s loan spell at the Seagulls also came to an end this summer.
However, the Belgian side still retain the attacking qualities of striker Dante Vanzeir, who was called up to the Belgian senior squad last season as he scored 15 league goals for Union Saint-Gilloise. Teddy Teuma is the creative center in midfield, with the Malta international providing eight assists last season as he closes in on a century of appearances for the club.
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Who is their manager?
Karel Geraerts was appointed as the new coach of Union Saint-Gilloise this summer following the departure of Felice Mazzu to the vacant position at Anderlecht.
Geraerts had served as Mazzu’s assistant during their rise from the second tier, with the 40-year-old likely to retain many of the team characteristics that underpinned his title charge last season.
What formation do they play?
Mazzu were married to a 3-5-2 formation as Union Saint-Gilloise rose to the near-peak of Belgian football, with forward duo Undav and Vanzeir forming a deadly partnership in front of goal.
Early indications from pre-season suggest the Belgian side are keen to preserve those foundations, with Dennis Eckert having arrived from FC Ingolstadt to replace the outgoing Undav in attack.
However, USG were equally pleased to slip back into a five-man defensive form against the league’s biggest hitters last season, which could serve as a lesson for van Bronckhorst’s men. Towards the end of last season, for example, Union Saint-Gilloise settled into a 5-3-2 formation at Anderlecht before prevailing with a 2-0 win despite only 38% possession. .
What does their summer transfer activity look like?
The Belgian side have been active in the market after recent departures, with 20-year-old winger Simon Adingra representing another potentially dangerous man for Rangers. Brighton bought the Ivorian from Danish outfit Nordsjaelland before being immediately loaned to Union Saint-Gilloise.
Meanwhile Ross Dykes, a 23-year-old defender who joined Accrington Stanley, has had an encouraging start to life at the club after scoring twice in pre-season.
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How did they do in pre-season?
USG lost 4-0 to van Bronckhorst’s former employers Feyenoord in a recent pre-season outing, with four different players on the roster.
They also played out a goalless draw with Brighton earlier this month as they held Sporting CP to a 1-1 draw in a recent friendly.
Should Rangers be sure to progress?
USG represent the optimal draw for Rangers on paper, with the Belgian side having been significantly weakened over the summer following Undav’s departure.
Van Bronckhorst will also be boosted by the prospect of the Ibrox second leg, with Rangers putting Borussia Dortmund, Braga and RB Leipzig to the sword in Glasgow under similar circumstances during their run at Sevilla last season.
However, they faced the same scenario in the Champions League qualifier against Malmo last season, with Antonio Colak’s quick brace after the interval silencing a boisterous Ibrox atmosphere.
Clubs of a comparable – or lower – level to Rangers also present a potential blind spot in van Bronckhorst’s European system. While Gers could play underdogs against Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig last season, they struggled to win in both legs against Red Star Belgrade and Braga.
The Ibrox club have moved fast in the transfer market with Calvin Bassey ready to follow Joe Aribo out the door, and the hope is that the clarity should help van Bronckhorst’s preparations ahead of the first leg in Belgium next month.