PHILIPPE Clement has been urged to make a major tactical change that will end “unfair” abuse of Rangers captain James Tavernier and improve the Ibrox club’s attack and defence ahead of the Europa League meeting with Sparta Prague.

The Belgian manager could be without a specialist left back in the Group C game against the Czech champions in the Letna Stadium on Thursday evening after Borna Barisic suffered an injury early in the cinch Premiership win over Hibernian in Govan on Saturday.

Ridvan Yilmaz came on for his Croatian team mate and performed well in an emphatic 4-0 victory – but the Turkish internationalist was left out of the Glasgow giants’ European squad by former manager Michael Beale last month.

Clement, who admitted at the weekend that he was unsure how long Barisic was going to be sidelined for, is facing a potential selection headache going into the important encounter with Brian Priske’s side.

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He is unable to call on Leon Balogun, who has played at full-back in the past, while Dujon Sterling, who is capable of playing on either side of the rearguard, has not featured since coming on with a few minutes remaining in the Viaplay Cup win over Livingston at Ibrox last month.

But Dave Mackinnon, the former Rangers skipper and right back, believes there is a simple fix to the problem.

Mackinnon would like to see Clement abandon the 4-3-3 formation which his predecessors Beale, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Steven Gerrard all favoured and reckons the Sparta showdown is the ideal outing to do it in.

He is convinced that switching to a 3-5-2 set-up will bring out the very best in Tavernier - who has, despite netting no fewer than 20 goals in Europe in the eight years he has been in this country, often been criticised by supporters for his defensive lapses against continental opposition – going forward and ensure his old club are far more difficult to break down.

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“James is great value to Rangers,” he said. “Look at what he contributes in way of goals and assists. I am sure if you asked James whether he prefers to attack or defend he will say that he prefers to attack.

“From an ex-player’s perspective, I would like to see one or two changes in how the team is set up. As an ex-right back, the big thing for me was to defend first and foremost. If I could get forward I would get forward, but I would always try to get back.

“But I think it is a bit unfair on James that there is an expectation on him to get forward and score goals, which he does, and to get forward and get balls into the opposition box, which he does, and then to defend. I think it is extremely difficult for him to do all three things.

“So I would change the way Rangers are set up tactically. I would do one of two things. I would either put James forward into the right side of midfield and bring in Dujon Sterling at right back in a four man defence. Or I would change it completely and play with a three man defence in a 3-5-2 and put James at right wing back.

“It is difficult for Connor Goldson when James goes forward. Smart teams exploit that. If I am the opposition manager I would say to my players, ‘Look, as soon as it breaks down when Tavernier has gone forward, get the ball down the left side because there’s a gap’. Connor gets exposed. But if he is on the right side of a three he would be in a better position to stop the counter attack.”

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Mackinnon continued: “I think the criticism James gets is unfair on him. He contributes more positives than he does negatives. I think moving him forward into midfield or making him a wing back can help him. The last time I saw Rangers live against Celtic I thought that was the solution.

“I don’t know if I have ever seen Rangers do that. Maybe a new manager coming in will look at it with a completely fresh pair of eyes. Michael Beale was obviously there under Steven Gerrard. It didn’t change much under him. I think Goldson would be a lot happier if he moved across slightly. He is a good reader of the game.”

Clement, who won three successive Belgian Pro League titles with Genk and Club Brugge and masterminded Champions League group stage draws with European behemoths Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain during his time at the Jan Breydel Stadium, has used both 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 formations to great effect during his coaching career. 

Mackinnon, who has just released his autobiography Slide Tackles and Boardroom Battles, certainly feels that the former defensive midfielder has, with Ben Davies, Goldson and John Souttar all in his squad, the strength in depth which he needs at centre half to make the change. 

“Rangers have got enough good centre backs to start three of them,” he said. “When they change from a four to a three it will be difficult initially from a mindset perspective. But if they practice it every day in training they can perfect it. Fans want passion, but they also want organisation and stability. I am convinced that is the solution.”

It will be a big gamble if Clement goes with a 3-5-2 in his second game in charge of Rangers against Sparta in Prague on Thursday evening as the Ibrox club, who suffered a humiliating 2-1 loss to Aris Limassol in Cyprus three weeks ago, need to get a result to boost their chances of reaching the knockout rounds.

But it could help them to perform more consistently at home and abroad than they did last season, when they ended up trophyless, in the months ahead according to their former captain Dave Mackinnon.

The Herald: Former Dundee, Partick Thistle, Rangers and Kilmarnock player Dave Mackinnon