THE RESULT was obviously a disappointment, but the performance offered a glimmer of hope for Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Rangers.

Wednesday night’s 3-0 defeat at home to Napoli all but killed off any real chance of progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League and capped off a miserable run for the men from Ibrox, who have now shipped 11 goals without reply in their past three outings.

A quick glance at the scoreline would tell you that this defeat was simply more of the same after Rangers were humbled twice in quick succession by Celtic and Ajax, but the nature of the display provided grounds for some cautious optimism in Govan.

Up until James Sands’ dismissal on 55 minutes against the Italians, Van Bronckhorst’s side were in the game against Napoli until the Serie A league leaders’ quality eventually shone through. But even though there were a few silver linings that supporters could take away from the loss, clouds of uncertainty hang over Ibrox.

Van Bronckhorst’s team selection on Wednesday night was noteworthy, to say the least. None of the seven summer signings were named in the starting XI for the European tie, and there was even a recall for veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor as Jon McLaughlin dropped to the bench. In fact, only two players that got the nod midweek – James Sands and Jon Lundstram – were not on the books back in 2018, when Steven Gerrard’s side embarked on their first Europa League campaign.

Some of the new players were injured. Some haven’t reached match fitness since arriving in the summer. But there were also those who were fit and available for selection, and the fact that Van Bronckhorst opted for the old guard is telling.

It is a curious state of affairs. Rangers have come on leaps and bounds since the early days of Gerrard’s tenure, yet the core of the squad remains largely unchanged. Van Bronckhorst’s apparent decision to lean on that collective experience was made in the hope of harnessing the players’ continental know-how, of reigniting the team’s ability to consistently punch above their weight in Europe.

It worked for 55 minutes or so until Sands was handed his marching orders and now, as Rangers prepare to host Dundee United this afternoon, it will be fascinating to see if Van Bronckhorst elects to double down.

The defence, in particular, remains a point of contention. Left-back Ridvan Yilmaz and centre-half Ben Davies – the club’s two most expensive acquisitions of the summer – have barely featured since pitching up in Glasgow’s south side while they build up their fitness. Rangers’ other defensive recruit, Scotland internationalist John Souttar, has been sidelined with injury but Ibrox chiefs will have known such an outcome was a possibility, given the centre-back’s fitness issues over the years.

It means that Sands has been left clutching the short straw, filling in in a position where he hasn’t looked all that comfortable. The American’s versatility has always been one of his strong suits and while he gave a good account of himself in central defence during the early exchanges of the season, his performances in the last three games make it difficult to rely upon the 22-year-old against top-quality opposition.

With Souttar and Davies – an unused substitute against Ajax – on the road to recovery, alongside Swedish centre-half Filip Helander, it feels safe to assume that Van Bronckhorst will soon enough have a partner for defensive stalwart Connor Goldson. Misfortune has left the Rangers manager with his hands tied to an extent but in the interim, there is little doubt that the trio’s absences leave the Dutchman short of options.

Borna Barisic is another whose place in the starting line-up is coming under increasing scrutiny, yet whose position is apparently unimpeachable. The Croatian’s crossing technique and ability in the final third are beyond question but there is a lingering sense that such attributes no longer outweigh his deficiencies in Van Bronckhorst’s system. Indeed, for a large spell of last season Barisic found himself playing second fiddle to Calvin Bassey, and it is only the latter’s move to Ajax that has restored the former to the starting XI.

Yilmaz was recruited to provide an alternative option at left-back and the Turk is another to have struggled for game-time since sealing his move to Ibrox. Of the 12 occasions he has been named as a member of the matchday squad, the 21-year-old – signed for about £5million – has been an unused substitute nine times.

Even between the sticks, Van Bronckhorst has been forced into regression. It was only at the end of last season that supporters called for McGregor to be dropped in favour of McLaughlin and for the latter to be first choice for the new campaign but a few unconvincing performances appear to have cost the goalkeeper the No.1 jersey. McGregor’s two penalty saves, and all-round display against Napoli, have not exactly harmed the 40-year-old’s case for selection either.

Left-back, centre-back, goalkeeper: three positions that were identified as in need of an upgrade heading into the summer. Yet, as we head into the first international break of the season, Van Bronckhorst still finds himself relying on players he had last year to fulfil those roles. In a campaign where squad depth will be more important than ever due to the winter World Cup, the Rangers manager appears to find himself short of options just when it matters most.