McCulloch urges Gers to play safe in Europe

Midfielder believes Walter Smith's defensive tactics will work in Champions League
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The Independent Football

Lee McCulloch believes Walter Smith's cautious tactics can help Rangers once again reach the latter stages of European competition this year.

Smith's 4-5-1 formation guided Rangers to the 2008 Uefa Cup final after they just missed out on the Champions League knockout stages. Rangers only conceded two goals in eight games on their way to the final in Manchester, with five goals netted in those matches enough to see them past the likes of Werder Bremen and Fiorentina.

Smith's cautious approach was not universally popular as Rangers fans witnessed six goalless draws in Europe that season, with one of them prompting Barcelona playmaker Lionel Messi to brand Gers' play "anti-football".

But McCulloch is happy to go with the same system again in their Champions League campaign against Seville, Stuttgart and Unirea Urziceni. "I think the way we approached the games two seasons ago was spot on," the former Wigan player said.

"It is a 4-5-1 when we are defending but can quickly turn into a 4-3-3 when we are attacking. On the run to Manchester we defended brilliantly and, if we can be tight at the back, we know we have the attacking players to cause our opponents problems.

"When you look around Europe, this is a tactic a lot of teams use, including Manchester United, so I think it can be very effective in the Champions League. Of course, it is up to the gaffer to decide what tactics he uses but the 4-5-1 formation is tried and trusted and it got us to the Uefa Cup final."

Rangers kick off their European campaign next Wednesday in Stuttgart, who they faced during that marathon run two seasons ago. A superb goal from Charlie Adam helped the Gers to a 2-1 victory over the Germans at Ibrox and McCulloch felt they were unlucky to lose 3-2 in the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

"Over in Germany I thought we more than matched them and Charlie again got us off to a great start with a well-taken goal," the 31-year-old told Rangers News. "Unfortunately they scored in the last five minutes to get all three points so that was a sore one for us to take.

"But I think the performance from that night, and especially the one at Ibrox, will give us a bit of hope when we travel to Stuttgart next week."

Rangers first face Motherwell at Fir Park on Saturday, and McCulloch knows even more about their Premier League opponents.

The former Well striker said: "I have been following Motherwell's progress and they have a lot of young players coming through right now. I think their new boss, Jim Gannon, has come in there and done well given the circumstances and, Europe aside, I think they have made a good start. He lost Stephen Hughes, Brian McLean, Bob Malcolm and David Clarkson, big players at the club, and it would have taken a bit of time to get the squad settled again.

"But the players he has brought in look as though they will do a job so I think that Motherwell could be a team to watch out for this season, and I hope they do well.

"I have always said that they are my second team and I always look out for their results and to see who has been playing. Any time I get the chance to go and watch them I will."