Keeping Nkunku quiet will be key for Rangers says Laudrup

Man United target Christopher Nkunku, with 50 goal contributions this season, is a star on a different level at RB Leipzig… shutting him out will be key for Rangers’ chances of making the Europa League final, writes BRIAN LAUDRUP

  • RB Leipzig stand in the way of Rangers and their first European final since 2008 
  • Christopher Nkunku has scored 30 goals and provided 20 assists this season 
  • Brian Laudrup believes it will take a team effort to keep the Frenchman quiet
  • Giovanni Van Bronkhorst will have some big team calls to make on Thursday
  • Rangers have kept the likes of Jude Bellingham and Marco Reus quiet already

Having dominated in Dortmund, Rangers will now aim for a lightning strike in Leipzig. 

The absence of both Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe means Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side won’t be able to play quite the same way as they have to date on this outstanding Europa League run.

There’s no doubt my old club have been extremely unlucky with injuries up front, but I don’t see that as ending their hopes of winning this semi-final. Far from it, in fact.

Rangers are just one step away from making their first European final since 2008

Standing in their way are RB Leipzig who have talented forward Christopher Nkunku

Rangers have shown great determination and tactical intelligence to get this far. More of the same in Germany on Thursday night can keep the tie very much alive and set up a real shot at reaching Seville inside Ibrox next week.

Roofe might be back by then. Time will tell. But while Rangers have a striker conundrum to solve for the first leg, I think their key to progression might well lie in limiting the influence of a player who has been directly involved in no fewer than 50 goals for RB Leipzig this season.

Christopher Nkunku has been in incredible form. Leipzig have talent throughout their side, that’s obvious. To me, though, Nkunku is the one on a different level.

Curb him as much as possible and the path to another remarkable aggregate victory could open up.

Nkunku has scored 30 goals and provided 20 assists across all competitions this season

That includes a remarkable hat-trick against Manchester City back in September

That’s easier said than done, of course. With 30 goals and 20 assists across all competitions, Nkunku’s numbers are eye-popping.

It’s not about one individual being tasked to shut him out of the game. It will take a team effort to monitor his movement, allied with excellent communication and decision-making. A huge task? Yes. But it’s not beyond this Rangers team.

They have seen off some mighty talents already this season think of Jude Bellingham, Marco Reus and the rest of that Borussia Dortmund squad. Nkunku is right up there with any of those opponents.

He might not be quite as well known at international level, but that’s because he has one of the hardest jobs in world football to gain more recognition. When you’re a French attacker, you need to get Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and many others out of the way.

Nkunku has two senior caps at the age of 24. More will soon follow if he can maintain his development.

He has pace. He can play on the right wing or the left, but I think he is better through the middle because he has more options in terms of his passing.

Rangers have shut down talented players already this season including Jude Bellingham

Brian Laudrup feels it will take a team effort to monitor Nkunku and keep him quiet

Nkunku can take players on and score from different angles, but we’re not talking just about speed and power here. There is real finesse. He can finish delicately off both his left and right foot. All possible types of goals are in his armoury.

He’s got the swagger, too. There is real style about him. I don’t think the Rangers fans will enjoy watching him on Thursday night for obvious reasons but for neutrals he can be such an entertaining player. His combination of creativity and finishing is rare.

Yes, Leipzig have Andre Silva as an out-and-out striker and gifted playmakers like Dani Olmo or Emil Forsberg. But in terms of being able to produce something from nothing, Nkunku is the main man.

Leipzig have said they won’t sell him this summer. Let’s wait and see on that. Because a player at his level can’t stay with them for a long time. He would be fantastic near the top end of the English Premier League or La Liga.

But let’s go back to Rangers and how they plug the striker gap.

I’m sure it will have caused Van Bronckhorst and his coaching team to lose a little sleep. Fashion Sakala did very well against Motherwell on Saturday but Thursday night is a completely different test. Is he the right man through the middle? I’m not sure.

Rangers boss Giovanni Van Bronkhorst has some big calls to make in the first-leg on Thursday

Rangers tried Sakala as a central striker in Braga earlier this month. It didn’t go well.

The Zambian has pace, but I often think it’s better used on the wings. The issue is that Rangers are likely to be under a lot of pressure. Therefore, their striker might have to play with his back to goal to provide an escape. That isn’t Sakala’s strength.

What he can do is stretch teams with runs into channels. So it depends whether Van Bronckhorst thinks there will be sufficient space to release Sakala effectively or not.

It’s a tricky call. If it’s about holding up the ball and being a fulcrum to bring others into play, then Joe Aribo as a false nine might be the best option. He has the ability, vision and height to fulfil that role. But Sakala’s speed and unpredictability will definitely have a part to play in the tie.

If you just looked at the respective budgets, it shouldn’t really be a contest. Leipzig’s finances dwarf those at Rangers.

But money doesn’t guarantee success in the short-term and the Germans have had to come through a period of recovery after the difficulties of Jesse Marsch’s time in charge.

Rangers will be without key forwards Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe in Germany

The American tried to change a lot of things after Julian Nagelsmann left to become Bayern Munich’s coach. It didn’t work. The club went backwards and Marsch was sacked in December after just five months in the role.

Domenico Tedesco has done extremely well to refocus the team, taking them up to fourth in the Bundesliga. But, I repeat, this is not an impossible mission for Rangers.

Looking towards the weekend, it feels strange to have an Old Firm game sandwiched in between two legs of a European semi-final.

Celtic moved another step closer to becoming Premiership champions by beating Ross County last Sunday, so people on the outside might think it’s time to consider things in a more tactical way. 

Accept the league is gone and let’s concentrate solely on Europe. But this is Glasgow.

No one wants to lose an Old Firm game. And absolutely no one wants to effectively lose the title in a match against your rivals.

I can’t see Van Bronckhorst resting any players. There is still too much at stake on Sunday and I’m sure he will pick the strongest team available to him. Simple as that.

For once, though, the derby can wait. First, these Rangers players have a chance to go and achieve something truly special. I hope it’s a task they embrace and enjoy.

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